I went to pick up takeout Tuesday night and, since I was sitting at the bar and didn’t want to be rude, ordered a drink. Two sips in a second drink appeared.
“The gentleman over there bought it,” the bartender said.
At a table in the corner of the room was the gentleman – Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
I’m not going to name the restaurant because, the bartender tells me, several Panthers occasionally hang out there. She’s not bragging. Years ago I ran into former Panther Julius Peppers at the bar. He did not buy me a drink.
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Munnerlyn, 25 and a veteran of five seasons, is a guy you want on the team you write about. He’s accessible and funny and a perpetual underdog. A seventh-round pick out of South Carolina, he’s listed at 5-foot-9. He is aware he is undersized.
On the field, Munnerlyn will do what he can to beat you. He figures he has to, so he does. His style can get him in trouble. A second-quarter head-butt Sunday of San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree turned a 4-yard run into a 19-yard first down.
If the head-butt was the main event, Crabtree was invested in the preliminaries. But it was Munnerlyn who was caught and penalized.
Yet coaches have to be careful about muting Munnerlyn. He invests the defensive backfield with his personality.
I asked the Captain if he remembered running into each other last offseason at a Charlotte Bobcats game. He was a free agent then, too. I told him then that I hoped he’d be back, and he smiled and said he also did.
Munnerlyn would sign a one-year contract with the Panthers and in 2013 he had his best season. You cannot keep the man on the bench, and I guarantee that coaches have tried. When starters take the field, Munnerlyn is among them. Even if he didn’t start, he’d probably run out there until somebody reeled him back in.
Munnerlyn wants to play, he wants to win, he wants to beat you. Here he is again, one more offseason later, and he has no contract and no idea what will happen next.
I told him that next time I saw him I’d buy. I mean, I’m the one with the job. But I didn’t say that. I don’t even know if he drinks.
As we talked, a customer began to gesture behind Munnerlyn, quietly at first and, when I didn’t answer, wildly. The customer repeatedly mouthed the words, “Who’s that? Who’s that?” and I think he jumped several times to get my attention.
OMG: The customer, an adult male, didn’t want to miss a possible encounter with a potential celebrity.
After I left Munnerlyn, I walked to the guy and whispered, “That’s Steve Smith.”
“Thought so,” he said triumphantly.
As I took my seat at the bar I heard a loud voice say, “I am not Steve Smith!”