Inside the Panthers

Panthers’ close Super Bowl loss refocused after latest New England Patriots report by ESPN

2/1/04: Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad stiff arms Patriots' Eugene Wilson en route to a touchdown in the 4th quarter during Superbowl XXXVIII played Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. JEFF SINER-STAFF
2/1/04: Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad stiff arms Patriots' Eugene Wilson en route to a touchdown in the 4th quarter during Superbowl XXXVIII played Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. JEFF SINER-STAFF

The Carolina Panthers have found themselves back in the New England Patriots’ Deflategate scandal, and this time with more anonymous sources wondering aloud if the Panthers were robbed of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

In a report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, an unnamed source says he is “convinced” the Patriots taped their practices leading up to the Feb. 1, 2004, Super Bowl in Houston where Carolina lost 32-29.

It would have taken place during the Spygate era, when the Patriots where found to be taping opposing team’s defensive coaching signals.

From the report:

The Patriots’ primary victims saw Spygate, and other videotaping rumors, as confirmation that they had been cheated out of a Super Bowl -- even though they lacked proof. The Panthers now believe that their practices had been taped by the Patriots before Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. “Our players came in after that first half and said it was like [the Patriots] were in our huddle,” a Panthers source says. During halftime -- New England led 14-10 -- Carolina’s offensive coordinator, Dan Henning, changed game plans because of worries the Patriots had too close a read on Carolina’s schemes. And, in the second half, the Panthers moved the ball at will before losing 32-29 on a last-second field goal. “Do I have any tape to prove they cheated?” this source says. “No. But I’m convinced they did it.”

When news of Deflategate broke in January, former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney made waves when he made similar comments on air at ESPN 730, a local AM sports radio station that he owns.

In an interview with the Observer in January, Hurney recounted how the Panthers had to practice outside at the University of Houston while New England’s practices—originally scheduled at Rice University—were moved inside to Reliant Stadium where the Super Bowl would be played.

“You always hear people say or ask questions about where you practiced, and those are questions people ask after you lose a close game like that,” Hurney said in January. “I know I drove (director of special events for the Super Bowl) Jim Steeg crazy. Normally the league gives the better hotel location to one team and the other team gets the better practice facility. They were downtown, and we had to drive 40 some minutes to practice every day.

“It had rained and the practice fields were muddy, but the Patriots said their practice field was unplayable so they went inside the Texans’ dome and practiced all week. I drove Jim Steeg nuts all week saying why can’t we get inside if they’re inside.”

The OTL report highlights questions from coaches and/or players on opposing teams in New England’s three Super Bowl victories during the Spygate era. Former St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz remembers the Patriots being ready for a number of red-zone plays the team had installed the week of the Super Bowl.

The Rams lost to the Patriots 20-17 in a game where St. Louis was favored by 14 points.

“It was hard to swallow because I always felt something happened but I didn’t know what it was and I couldn’t prove it anyway,” Martz told OTL. “Even to this day, I think something happened.”

Two former Panthers players from a Super Bowl team that lost to the Patriots chimed in on Twitter Tuesday morning. Frank Garcia, who played for Caorlina from 1995 to 2000, played for the Rams in the Super Bowl XXXVI loss. Al Wallace was a defensive end for the 2003 Panthers.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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