The Carolina Panthers on-field chemistry is undeniable. The team favored to win Sunday’s Super Bowl is also known for its close off-the-field relationships thanks to the time players spend together when they’re not working.
Take the Thursday night get-togethers at Cam Newton’s, for example.
He’ll invite a bunch of the players over to his uptown residence after practice for a casual night of food and games as a way to unwind. Quarterbacking the team off the field isn’t part of his contract, but players say it helps bring them closer.
“Almost every week we go over there,” running back Fozzy Whittaker said. “It’s just a way to bond and fellowship with each other. And eat great.”
Newton polls his guests on what they want to eat, whether its Mexican food, pizza, wings, burgers, you name it. A favorite of the team? Price’s Chicken Coop.
“Seventy wings and five apple pies,” running back Brandon Wegher said. “It gets demolished. And that’s just the running backs.”
Added cornerback Cortland Finnegan: “We probably laugh more than we eat.”
Tight end Greg Olsen is one of the funniest, Finnegan added, as is cornerback Lou Young.
“Lou can impersonate anybody. You give him two more minutes talking to you and he’s gonna impersonate you,” Finnegan said.
Nobody’s safe from being made fun of, long snapper J.J. Jansen said.
“Doesn’t matter if its Cam or the long snapper. Were all targets to be attacked. Even the head coach,” Jansen said.
And there’s very little talk of work, players say.
“That’s our personal time for ourselves to get away from it a little bit,” Whittaker said.
Instead, there’s a lot of basketball and Thursday night football watching. The guys say they play spades, Uno, dominoes and lots of video games.
“When we get together, it’s basically like a big Madden tournament,” fullback Mike Tolbert said.
Its not just Cam’s parties, though, said safety Tre Boston. Players also often end up bowling or going to another player like Thomas Davis’s house.
“Not only are we close in the locker room, but when we get off the field and into the world ... we’re a big family,” Boston said.
Their fun has continued on the road. Some of the players took a break Tuesday to venture north from their hotel in San Jose up to San Francisco. They did some sightseeing – Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square – shopped and ate at Ruth’s Chris.
“We bought disguises. We all bought sunglasses, I bought a hat, everybody wore hoods. Nobody really recognized us,” Tolbert said.
Head coach Ron Rivera says the teams chemistry and goofiness (Newton’s notorious end zone dancing, for example) has helped them in games this year and is helping them stay focused amid the circus of Super Bowl week.
“We’re able not to be distracted. I think that’s part of keeping your personality and making sure that you are who you are. That’s helped us and I’m not going to have our guys change now,”