The Carolina Panthers signal and celebrate first downs possibly more than any other team in the NFL. But try to signal for a first down against the defense and you’ll get Roman Harper in your face.
Harper, a 10-year veteran safety, won’t allow an opponent to signal first down on him, and he’s passed that along to his fellow defensive backs.
“It’s just the fact that you don’t let people celebrate on you,” Harper said. “You don’t let people show you up and continue to build confidence like that. It’s good for them to make a big play but you’re not going to let them showboat.”
There are various examples of Harper not allowing an opponent to signal first down on him this season. Usually after making a tackle following a first-down conversion, Harper will hover over the player to make sure he doesn’t point.
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In Week 6 against Seattle, receiver Chris Matthews caught a 12-yard pass from Russell Wilson and was pushed out of bounds by Charles Tillman. Matthews started walking down the sideline with his chest puffed out, and Harper got in his face, put his hands on his chest and turned him around.
Matthews put both hands up and then jogged back to the huddle.
“I don’t know what I say,” Harper said when pressed on why he does it. “I don’t know. Sometimes they don’t even celebrate and I’m still over there. It’s bad. It’s a bad habit that I have.”
Harper said it started at some point during his eight-year career with the New Orleans Saints, he and free safety Malcolm Jenkins decided they weren’t going to let opponents do it. Harper said he’s never been flagged for it in his career.
“Every time that we would play New Orleans, I would look at film and see Roman and Jenkins do that,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “They didn’t let you point the ball. If you scored, they were just ruthless. As somebody who did what they did, you hated it. But then if you’re on his team, man, I love that.”
Second-year safety Tre Boston remembered the first time he saw it on tape in his rookie season.
“I absolutely love it,” Boston said. “When he first incorporated that I was like right on. It’ll never happen again.”
But both players understand the inherent hypocrisy in this. Quarterback Cam Newton dabs and does a first-down signal in nearly every game in plays and the team loves it.
“I might go into somebody else’s home and go to their fridge and open up the OJ, but I’m not going to let anybody come in my home and do that,” Boston said. “We don’t allow it here.”