As of Sunday afternoon Panthers center Ryan Kalil had not contacted the Observer about placing a Super Bowl 50 ad, either to congratulate his teammates or guarantee a victory against the Broncos.
As most Panthers fans know – and the world will be reminded this week – there is precedent here.
Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Observer before the 2012 season to publish a 14-paragraph letter he’d written that began with the headline, “Why the Carolina Panthers will win Super Bowl XLVII.”
Kalil later said he wrote the letter and bought the ad to serve as a rallying point following a few down years.
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But Kalil explained last week that his target audience wasn’t necessarily Observer readers or Panthers’ fans, but his teammates.
“That team that year I felt was talented enough, and I felt if guys bought in enough to coach’s philosophy that we could play well and make a run at it,” Kalil said a couple of days before the Panthers left for Santa Clara. “There was a lot of outsiders telling us we wouldn’t win more than three games. We had a lot of young guys on the team and my concern was guys would buy in to what was being said.”
It took a while for Kalil’s message to sink in. The Panthers lost six of their first seven games in 2012, an ugly start that prompted team owner Jerry Richardson to fire general manager Marty Hurney after a listless loss to Dallas following the bye week.
It also was a tough start for Kalil, who sustained a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in Week 5 against Seattle and was out for the season.
But as they did in 2011, the first season for coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers put together a strong finishing kick and ended up 7-9.
They’ve made the playoffs every years since, an unprecedented run of success for the franchise, the seeds of which Kalil believes were planted by the 2012 team that fell short of his Super Bowl prediction.
“Obviously there were still some growing pains with us. But there was something there,” Kalil said. “I don’t think this season’s a fluke. I don’t think it’s by accident. I think this has been in the works for a long time.”
Kalil, a second-round draft pick in 2007, is one of five players left from the 2-14 atrocity in 2010. (A sixth, cornerback Robert McClain, was a Panthers rookie in 2010 who returned in December).
Kalil bounced back from the foot injury to make the Pro Bowl during the 12-win season in 2013. He earned his fifth Pro Bowl berth this season, tying Steve Smith, Julius Peppers, Wesley Walls and Michael Bates for the most appearances in team history.
But instead of suiting up in Honolulu Sunday, Kalil left for San Jose, Calif., the Panthers’ headquarters during Super Bowl week.
Kalil is the rock on an offensive line that will be tested by a Broncos’ defense that led the NFL in sacks during the regular season and hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 17 times in the AFC Championship Game.
He’ll be the lineman primarily responsible for identifying the Broncos’ fronts and stunts. And since Jordan Gross retired, Kalil also is the person tasked with keeping Newton humble, something that is no easy feat.
Kalil likes Newton and respects his toughness and the way he plays. But he also likes giving him a public jab every so often, like pointing out that Newton’s Christmas gifts to his teammates were actually freebies from Newton’s sponsors.
Kalil’s also not above poking fun of himself, such as the time he showed up at Bank of America Stadium for an interview with NFL Network wearing a bear suit. So it would not have been too out of character for Kalil to take out another Super Bowl ad.
But he said this team didn’t need any motivational prodding in the preseason, and it certainly doesn’t now.
“This is a team that cares about each other. Unbelievable work ethic, unbelievable personality. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” Kalil said. “A lot of guys in this room care about each other and don’t want to let each other down. This team doesn’t need any extra help or any extra convincing on what we want to do.”
For the record, Kalil has no regrets about the original ad, which ran just prior to the start of training camp.
“Instead of just saying what we always say, that we’re going to win the Super Bowl, I put it out there for everybody to see,” Kalil said. “And I wanted to see how many teammates would back me up.”
Three years and a Super Bowl trip later, they still have Kalil’s back.
“You know what? We’re here a few years later,” said right tackle Mike Remmers, who wasn’t with the team in 2012. “If you’re a fan, you better be happy with that.”