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Tom Talks: Carolina Panthers get a look at a boxing legend’s son

Elijah Holyfield talks boxing and next level football

Carolina Panthers rookie Elijah Holyfield shares his background growing up with a famous father, boxing legend Evander Holyfield, choosing between boxing and football, and the skills he thinks he brings to the Panthers team.
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Carolina Panthers rookie Elijah Holyfield shares his background growing up with a famous father, boxing legend Evander Holyfield, choosing between boxing and football, and the skills he thinks he brings to the Panthers team.

The rain ramped up as players ran onto the field for the first practice of Carolina Panthers rookie camp. The rain was so thick that you heard them as much as saw them. They were like kids in every way.

For some players, it was a chance to prove they were worthy of a high draft pick. For some, it was a chance to prove they belonged in the NFL. For others, it was a chance, another chance, perhaps the last chance, to show all that they can do.

Man, they had fun as they made their way to practice, playing a game they had always played. We sometimes forget how much fun it is for these guys, despite the pressure, to just play.

Because I’m an idiot, I took a shortcut to the practice field that I always have, and because of construction it was blocked. I liked you before this, David Tepper. It’s personal now.

Because I don’t even own an umbrella, I stood behind a fence near the entrance to the field, 10 yards from the players. By the time I found the proper entrance, I had walked 2 miles and was waterlogged, my notebook ruined.

I’m still glad I went.

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I did get a glimpse of the player I most wanted to talk to, although he did nothing more than walk, and that’s former Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield. I always pick out an underdog at training camp and he always gets cut. It’s a gift. But if there’s a jinx, it doesn’t apply to rookie camp, and it can’t apply to Holyfield.

Holyfield ran a 4.78 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s tough to go more than a few days without hearing 4.78. Maybe the field was playing long.

I like the way Holyfield runs. And if he is like is dad, and I hope he is, he’ll be a Panther for a long time.

You remember the senior Holyfield, Evander Holyfield, the Real Deal. I spent a little time with him in Charlotte and at a Super Bowl. He’s a gentleman, so when he fought Iron Mike Tyson, I worried about his health.

Despite being shorter, Tyson outweighed Holyfield by seven pounds. At that juncture, Tyson was 45-1 with 39 knockouts, Holyfield 32-3 with 23 knockouts.

The theory was that Holyfield would be bullied. There was a bully, but it wasn’t Tyson. Holyfield wouldn’t let anybody do that. The stronger man, Holyfield pushed Tyson off him and followed with solid shots. The referee finally stopped the fight, and the World Boxing Association had a new heavyweight champ.

In the rematch seven months later, Tyson first snacked on Holyfield’s right ear and then sampled the left. The fight was stopped on account of cheating, and Holyfield, who was dominant, was awarded the victory.

Holyfield, a five-time champion, always was undersized. He wasn’t a pretty boxer or a fluid boxer or an especially fast boxer, and I have no idea what he did the 40 in. But he was courageous, and he always did his homework. He discovered ways to win.

Watch tape of Elijah Holyfield at Georgia. There’s nothing pretty or fluid or fast about his running style. But he’s quick in his movements and willing to take on defenders. Sometimes, he runs like a linebacker.

He reminds me of his dad. But there’s a difference. With his helmet on, both of Elijah’s ears are safe.

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John Daly drives to the 10th tee in a golf cart during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament, Thursday, May 16, 2019, at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa AP

Let John Daly ride

Tiger Woods turned sanctimonious Tuesday talking about John Daly. Daly will use a golf cart this week in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Carts are banned from the hilly, 7,459-yard Long Island course. But Daly received a medical exemption from the PGA’s Americans with Disabilities Act committee to use one.

It beats getting sued.

Woods talked about how he walked with a broken leg (at the 2008 U.S. Open). Sure. Woods was 32. Daly is 53.

Daly is allowed to use a cart this week because he tore a meniscus and suffers from osteoarthritis. The latter can affect a knee’s cartilage, tendons, ligaments and joint lining, which is a long way of saying that knees, like tires and relationships, wear out. What was the PGA going to say? You have to limp up the hills and roll down them.

According to Vegasinsider.com, the odds against Daly winning this week are 1,000-1. Woods is a co-favorite at 10-1.

Daly is in the field, albeit on a cart, because he won the 1991 PGA championship and thus has a lifetime exemption. He last won a PGA tournament in 2004.

Along with the cart, there’s another reason Daly was, is, and always will be criticized. He’s an outsider.

Envision a golfer. He does not look like Daly. Daly is thick, and he dresses as if he’s sitting on the hood of a rusted Camaro with a 12-pack of cheap domestic beer.

Some descriptions make him sound giant, but he’s not. I’m 5-9 and I post him up, especially if he’s sitting in a golf cart. He’s not as tall as I am.

Daly does not fit his sport’s country club image. He doesn’t address the ball. He whacks it. If his short game were as good as his long game, he’d have been phenomenal.

And if Daly, who is not a fitness fanatic, took care of himself, who knows how good he would have been. But if he had, he would not be Daly.

I’ve seen him several times, have accompanied his entourage on a golf course – I was the one who had a notebook in my hand and not a beer – and watched him get on stage and sing at a party when Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl.

One spring, Daly was at the Masters. He’d had a falling out with Hooters, his former sponsor, so he did not set up in the Hooters’ lot near Augusta National Golf Club. He set up in a parking lot across the street from the golf course. A New York reporter tried to talk to him, but Daly refused.

I walked to the parking lot and bought a $20 autographed John Daly cap, which my Boston terrier later ate, the only cap he ever ate, before I could give it away.

After the purchase, I asked Daly if he’d talk, and he said, yeah, while he worked. There was a long souvenir truck, a long table set up for autographs and many adoring fans.

What stood out more than anything -- except Daly’s lack of size -- was his style. He was without pretense. He’d smoke a cigarette, fling it to the ground, and light another. He’d smoke that cigarette, fling it to the ground, and light another. He’d smoke that cigarette, fling it to the ground, and light another.

I hope he has a great tournament. I realize the golf cart might confer an advantage.

But what does Daly do the best on any golf course?

He drives.

An inside look at the Panthers

I love the HBO show “Hard Knocks,” but “Hard Knocks” never had a chance with the Carolina Panthers. Until last season, the team did much of its work in the shadows.

But this is a different time. Tepper, who bought the Panthers before the 2018 season, let in some light. The Panthers will be featured on Amazon’s “All or Nothing.”

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Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper allowed a NFL Films crew to follow the team last season. Don Wright AP

“Hard Knocks” focuses on training camp. “All or Nothing” focuses on the season. The Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams (the Panthers open at home against the Rams in September), Michigan and the famous New Zealand All Blacks national rugby team so far have been featured.



That Tepper allowed the cameras in last season is interesting. What do the Panthers have to gain?

Well, they’ll mesmerize fans, introduce themselves to a nation that might not know them, and give stars and reserves an opportunity to show who they are. The access delivers a message: Hold us up to the spotlight; we have nothing to hide.

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Last season was bizarre. The Panthers won six of their first eight games, and every time you went to a Charlotte bar or coffee shop or turned on sports talk radio you heard that the team was not appreciated nationally, that the Panthers received insufficient consideration as a Super Bowl contender and that quarterback Cam Newton received insufficient consideration as a contender for MVP.

Fans get to be excited. But there was a whole lot of dreaming going on.

The Panthers were 6-2 when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers Nov. 8 in Pittsburgh on Thursday Night Football. Carolina scored the first time it had the ball on a 20-yard pass from Newton to Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers were up 7-0. Look how good they are.

The Steelers then began to score almost every time they had the ball. They led 21-7 after one quarter, 31-14 at the half, 45-14 after three quarters, and won 52-21.

Newton’s right shoulder began to go bad, and the Panthers lost seven straight. They didn’t win until the final game of the season, a victory against the New Orleans Saints, who had little reason to play.

An NFL Films crew was there for all of it, the potential and grandiose dreams, the pretty good and the extremely bad. The crew was in the locker room, the meeting rooms and some living rooms. To make “All or Nothing” work, the cameras have to take viewers inside.

I like that the Panthers agreed to do this. I want to see how they reacted when their season came undone. If a team begins 6-2, and finishes 7-9, drama is inherent.

It’s OK to jump on NHL playoffs bandwagon

The Carolina Hurricanes play the Boston Bruins Thursday in Raleigh. If the Hurricanes lose, their season ends. I won’t watch. The only playoff hockey I’ve seen is when I was waiting for takeout.

I kind of envy the fans who are new to the Hurricanes and the NHL. Yes, you get criticized for being new, for being bandwagon fans. But that doesn’t matter. Everybody was new once.

New is good. It’s great to find new restaurants, bars, trails, parks, cities and countries.

The beauty of a sport is that, whether you’ve been following it for decades, months or weeks, you care. Suddenly a team becomes yours. You cheer loudly when it wins, and commiserate loudly when it loses.

There’s been much more talk in Charlotte about the Hurricanes the last month than there was even in 2006, when Carolina beat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games to win the Stanley Cup. But there’s more talk about almost everything now than there was 13 years ago if you include social media.

I’d like to be caught up in the frenzy. I saw a group of about guys run into a bar called Lucky Lou’s, most of them wearing Hurricanes’ garb, to catch their team on TV. Man they looked excited.

I didn’t know the game was on. When people talked about the playoffs Tuesday night, I assumed they were talking about the opening game of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors-Portland Trailblazers Western Conference finals.

I like watching the Charlotte Checkers, because the team has been generous to me. I got on a bus and went on a road trip with them. They let me spend part of a game in their penalty box. I think I was assessed a five-minute penalty for weak transitions.

But I can’t sustain interest. Even though I grew up in hockey country, Minneapolis, I never played. I never learned to skate well enough to play. I haven’t put on skates since I was 10. I went to a Catholic elementary school, and Catholic schools had great basketball gyms. I wanted to be there.

Faking interest should result in prison time. Nobody’s obligated to like hockey any more than they are basketball, boxing, ballet or country music.

I was in a house in Augusta, Ga., and country star Eric Church briefly came by. Seemed like a nice guy, but I had no idea who he was. He had a friend in the house, and the friend put on a Church CD. That was twang-less country. It was good.

So, enjoy hockey, and please ignore the long-time fans from Boston or anywhere else who believe you are lesser because your fandom is new.

Ratings for the NHL conference finals are at a six-year high.

If I was a long-time fan, and I met a newcomer, I know what I’d say.

Thanks.

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NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces that the Charlotte Hornets had won the 12th pick during the NBA draft lottery Tuesday in Chicago. Nuccio DiNuzzo AP

No, NBA draft lottery isn’t fixed

The credit card machine at the pump wasn’t working, so I went in the store to pay the cashier. I never pay inside (although to protect my card I should). Since I was in there, I bought my first N.C. Powerball ticket.

I believed I had a chance to win.

This must be how the Charlotte Hornets felt Tuesday night before the NBA draft lottery. If the Hornets got lucky, they’d win the first pick in next month’s draft and the rights to Duke forward Zion Williamson.

Williamson would make the sun shine brighter and the rain less frequent, transform the team and the fan base, and give free agent point guard Kemba Walker a reason to stay.

The Hornets did not get lucky. The lottery has not been kind to them, and since they resurfaced as the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, neither has the draft. They’ll draft where they were projected to, at No. 12.

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Since 2004-05, the Hornets/Bobcats have seven times drafted 12th or within three spots of 12th.

In 2005, they drafted Sean May 13th. In 2008, they drafted D.J. Augustin ninth. In 2009, they drafted Gerald Henderson 12th. In 2011, they drafted Walker ninth. In 2014, they drafted Noah Vonleh ninth. In 2015, they drafted Frank Kaminsky ninth. In 2017, they drafted Malik Monk 11th. And In 2018, they drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom the Clippers drafted 12th, and two second-round draft picks.

The only transcendent talent in that group is Walker. He wasn’t an immediate star, and but through will and work he became one.

If Charlotte is true to its draft history, it will acquire a player who, like Bridges, will be solid.

Some of you think the lottery is fixed. In related news, you believe that officials don’t like the Hornets or Panthers because they play in a market that, by NBA and NFL standards, is not particularly big.

The lottery that allegedly proves the fix is in was in 2012.

Some history: The NBA bought the New Orleans Hornets from George Shinn in 2010, and was looking for a buyer. The league couldn’t find one.

In April 2012, Tom Benson bought the New Orleans team. Two months later, the lottery finalists were New Orleans and Charlotte. The odds were with Charlotte; the Hornets were among the worst teams in NBA history.

New Orleans won. It won the rights to Anthony Davis, who was expected to be, and is, transcendent. Davis was the player every team wanted. Everybody else was among other players receiving votes.

Was Benson awarded the pick because he bought the team? Unless you believe in conspiracy theories, you know he wasn’t. If the lottery was fixed, wouldn’t the New York Knicks have won the right Tuesday night to draft Williamson? At 14%, the Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers had the best odds of winning the first pick.

New Orleans had a 6% chance, the Hornets a 1% chance. The Hornets won six more games this season than the Pelicans.

Should the Hornets have tanked? If so, how? As the season wound its way to a conclusion, they depended heavily on young players, and on Walker. If they bench Walker, why would he even consider returning? The Hornets had a shot at the playoffs, and they took it.

So: the draft isn’t fixed. The Hornets also aren’t. They are in a tough place. Walker is their only star, and Jeremy Lamb, another free agent, is Walker’s chief assistant.

If Walker stays, and the Hornets draft well, and their young players markedly improve, they could compete for the seventh or eighth spot in the Eastern Conference next season.

But I can’t even fathom them winning a playoff series. They haven’t won a playoff series since this version of the Hornets opened for business in 2004.

If Walker goes, the Hornets won’t have to tank. Without him, they won’t have to.

Short takes: A few thoughts for Hornets at No. 12

The NBA mock drafts, which tend to be more accurate than NFL mock drafts, have two players I like available when the Charlotte Hornets draft at No. 12.

One is Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, who is 6-foot-9, a good athlete, and hustles. The man works.

The other also is from the west, and is intriguing. He’s 7-2 Bol Bol out of Oregon.

Sure, you believe I like Bol because his name is easy to spell. I can’t believe he’ll be available at 12. If he had not suffered a bone fracture in his left foot five months ago, there’s no chance he would be.

The man shot 52% on his 3-point attempts. He’s like a giant Steph Curry. All right, I get excited. If he somehow is available at 12, the Hornets should be, too...

I drove to the area in which the Panthers will build their new headquarters and practice fields. You know what’s there? Rock Hill.

The money that state and city economists estimate a team, stadium, arena, ballpark or headquarters will generate usually is wildly inflated. Despite that, the incentives South Carolina has offered the Panthers to set up shop are a good move.

The NFL rules U.S. sports, and people long to be part of it. The Panthers will be a catalyst for development, and for the first time in world history help make Rock Hill a destination.

That team owner David Tepper is a billionaire is superfluous. This is an investment. Of course, it’s gamble. For South Carolina, it’s a good one...

E.J. Manuel retired this week. He’s 29, and was a reserve quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. When I think of Manuel, I think of one game.

On Sept. 15, 2013, the Carolina Panthers played the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo. The Panthers were supposed to be good, and the Bills weren’t. But Manuel, a rookie out of Florida State, was too new to know this. A first-round pick, he led the Bills 80 yards for the winning touchdown and a 24-23 victory.

Buffalo’s coach was Doug Marrone, and there was a sense that the Bills finally had their coach and their quarterback. As the game ended, fans stomped and screamed, so happy their team finally got it right.

What a future the pair had. The Bills could build around them.

But Manuel was benched before the season ended, and Marrone (now the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars) quit after his second season. Unless you’re New England, success in the NFL is transitory. When you get it, appreciate it. But don’t expect it to last...

Speaking of appreciate: If you don’t appreciate the NBA playoffs this season, you don’t appreciate basketball at its best.

The 2018-19 Golden State Warriors hadn’t been who they were. They won. But they were so businesslike. Take off the basketball shoes, and put on wingtips.

Kevin Durant became their star. When he got hurt, they became they team they were before he joined them. The Warriors played with joy, moving to the beat of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Oh, they are good, as the Houston Rockets will attest.

The Warriors play with joy now. They are again Curry’s team. No team is more entertaining, or effective.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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