In the days before the team takes off for California on Sunday, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera will put in the game plan for Super Bowl 50, try to locate tickets for his friends and family in the Bay area and find someone – anyone – disrespecting his 17-1 team.
The Panthers have used the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect schtick as motivational fuel throughout the season, and Rivera is not about to stop now.
Never mind that the Panthers opened as 4-point favorites to Denver (14-4) in the early betting lines in Las Vegas. Rivera will unearth some nugget to try to give his players a little edge as they prepare for the second Super Bowl trip in franchise history.
“There’s always something I will try to pick up on and talk to the players about,” Rivera said Monday. “It’s not just necessarily what I conjure up or bring up to them. But really how they approach it as well.
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“The hardest thing we talked about doing three seasons ago was becoming relevant. To do things that we’ve done in the past and not be recognized for it, that’s kind of a kick in the gut because these guys work as hard as anybody.”
To do things that we’ve done in the past and not be recognized for it, that’s kind of a kick in the gut because these guys work as hard as anybody.
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera
Here’s the thing: The Panthers have been widely recognized and praised for their near-perfect regular season, as well as their 31-24 divisional-round victory over Seattle and Sunday’s 49-15 pummeling of Arizona in the NFC Championship Game.
There were plenty of doubters early in the season calling the Panthers the worst 4-0 team, the worst 5-0 team, and so on. And quarterback Cam Newton remains a polarizing figure whose dabbin’ and Superman celebrations are emulated by young, hip fans but viewed as showboating arrogance by many older, more conservative folks.
But the last time the Panthers opened as underdogs was the Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas, when they started the week as one-point dogs but were favorites by the time they rolled over the Cowboys at Jerry World.
But why let facts get in the way of a good, old-fashioned, us-against-the-world rallying cry?
The important thing is Rivera’s players seem to internalize the slights – real or imagined – and take great pride in silencing the disbelievers.
The confetti was still falling after Sunday’s game when Panthers nickel back Cortland Finnegan approached a reporter on the field at Bank of America Stadium and asked how many passes Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald had caught. (That would be four for 30 yards, with two drops.)
The Panthers pulled Finnegan and cornerback Robert McClain off the NFL scrap heap late in the season following injuries to Bené Benwikere and Charles Tillman. There was more than one story written last week about how Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer would take aim at Finnegan and McClain with his caché of offensive weapons.
It didn’t quite go that way.
Instead, the Panthers forced Palmer into six turnovers in a dominant performance that had several members of the secondary crowing in the locker room above the strains of “Big Rings” by Drake and Future, who was on the Panthers’ sideline before the game.
“I’m not dumb to what goes on. I see stuff. People retweet, they send it to me,” corner Josh Norman said. “So all them guys that picked the Cardinals, great. (All those who said) they were going to blow us out because we’d never seen a wide receiver corps like that, great.
“That goes to show you how much they know because you don’t throw up 49 points (to) 15 just by waking up in the morning and going and putting your pants on.”
Norman was not the only put-upon member of the Panthers’ self-proclaimed Thieves secondary.
Second-year safety Tre Boston said the Panthers like it when analysts and pundits don’t throw roses at their feet.
“You’ve got to love when people doubt you. That’s what feeds guys in this locker room,” Boston said. “Every guy in this locker room has been doubted at one point. To doubt us all at one time? Not very smart. We like it.”
So Rivera – or more likely a Panthers staffer – will wade through social media over the next two weeks and uncover an insult or snub (NBC’s Rodney Harrison was happy to oblige at various points in the season).
Rivera didn’t care for last week’s narrative that the Cardinals’ 7-1 road record during the regular season made them well-equipped to win in Charlotte.
“So many people talked about them (being) road warriors and stuff like that,” Rivera said. “Heck, we had won nine games at home.”
Make that 10.
The Panthers will hear all they care to between now and Feb. 7 about Denver’s top-ranked defense and Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl swan song. The onslaught of Super Bowl media coverage is such that Rivera won’t have to bring the storylines to his team’s attention.
But he will anyway.
“There’s a great little saying about the lion. The lion always eats until he’s satisfied, then he sleeps,” Rivera said. “We can’t be satisfied. We just can’t.”
Listening to players talk Sunday – particularly those residing on Thieves Ave. – these cats still seem hungry.
“I heard they’re not doubting anymore. They said we’re favorites in the Super Bowl. So I guess finally they’re done doubting because they were wrong so many times,” Boston said. “We’ll take it, man. We’ll take it.”