Stand next to Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and try to envision blocking him.
More than any defensive lineman I’ve been around, in any locker room on any team, you can’t. Hardy is 6-foot-4, weighs 290 pounds and is an athlete. He played basketball for Mississippi only his freshman year, so he didn’t have the basketball career former Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers did. But there’s a menace to Hardy, an unpredictability, that Peppers lacks.
Plus, he’s funnier.
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Hardy had four sacks in Carolina’s 21-20 victory Sunday against Atlanta. He has 15 for the season, which ties the Panthers record set by rushing linebacker Kevin Greene 15 years ago and is one-half more than Peppers had in 2008.
Somebody Hardy didn’t know asks him if he had ever dominated the way he did Sunday.
“Man, I dominated breakfast when I woke up so I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hardy says. “I dominate everything I do. Silly question. Next question.”
When a guy says next question, the next question has to be good. Fortunately, I had one.
What did you have for breakfast?
“Cereal,” Hardy says. “I killed it. No spoon.”
The Atlanta offensive line was lunch. Hardy lined up at left end and right end and in the middle. He and his pass-rushing teammates were more dominant than any Panthers defensive line has ever been. They set a single-game team record with nine sacks (the old record was seven).
Hardy alone had three more sacks than the Atlanta defense. He’s in his fourth season. He had seven sacks his first two combined and 11 in 2012.
Hardy, 25, will be a free agent when the 2013 season ends. He will get paid, I assume by the Panthers.
Somebody asks Hardy about the Pro Bowl; last week, he was selected to his first.
“I’m talking about championships right now,” he says. “They pay a whole lot more for that. You know I like the money.”
After a pause he says, “I’m not lying to you.”
How did Hardy, after two learning seasons, put himself in position to get paid?
“ ‘G’ is the workhorse of this defensive line,” says tackle Dwan Edwards, who is in his 10th season. “Nobody works as hard as he does. It’s a pleasure to come out there and watch him kind of grow up and turn into a professional.
“He can do it all, inside, outside. I’m glad he’s on our team, I’m glad I get to play with him. Salute to ‘G’.”
Hardy returns the salute. As reporters crowd around him, he introduces the defensive linemen who stand on his right.
“We rely on each other, pull strength from each other, and we go out and do what we want because we practice like that,” Hardy says.
He says he wasn’t aware he had four sacks or that he had tied the Panthers’ season record until somebody in the media told him.
“I know we got the team record, and that’s all that matters,” Hardy says.
He adds: “Everybody was trying to get (a sack). Frank (Alexander) got the first one, and it just kept going from there. … It was contagious.
“It’s fun to even just congratulate another guy. Everybody is so excited. It’s not just about you’re out there doing your own dance. It’s like, ‘Oh man, we’re all in here, we’re all doing it.’ We’re better as a collective and that feels good.”
On Hardy’s head was a black NFL Division Champs cap, and he wore it as if it were implanted.
“You’re never taking this off my head, good luck with that one,” Hardy says.
Around Hardy, teammates chant and dance. You’re in the playoffs, can you describe the feeling?
“If I had some words for you, man, I’d give them,” Hardy says. “I’ve never been here before. I’ve never been in the playoffs before. I’m dumfounded. I’m lost in the lights.”
Not true; a football player who refrains from talking about an individual record but excitedly talks about one he shares with teammates is far from lost.
“He’s a high energy guy who loves to play this game,” linebacker Thomas Davis says. “Whenever you get a guy like that he’s going to produce. I think the sky’s the limit for the kid.”
Hardy is too good a quote to lose in free agency, and he can play a little, too.
I hope he’s back.
“You and me, both,” Davis says. “You and me both.”