The Carolina Panthers team store stays open for an hour after a home game. I walk in Sunday after Carolina’s 24-7 victory against Detroit and search for a specific jersey. I see 1, 13, 59, 67 and 88.
I don’t see 97. Where’s No. 97? The store is jammed with fans. Did 97 sell out?
No, says a helpful store employee. You have to place an order. We don’t carry that number.
To say that No. 97 carried the Panthers Sunday would be a slight exaggeration. But Mario Addison did spend the fourth quarter introducing himself to Carolina fans and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Addison, No. 97, helped fill in for deactivated defensive end Greg Hardy. Addison didn’t start but had 2 1/2 of Carolina’s four sacks.
Each of the sacks came in the fourth quarter.
“You know, I have speed, man,” Addison says. “Speed kills. I see the tackle a little tired so I turned it up a little more and ran around him.”
Around Addison is a throng of reporters. Until Sunday, a throng for Addison was one. Hardy and Charles Johnson, two of the team’s highest paid players, start at defensive end. Addison occasionally comes in on third down.
Here’s what you should know about Addison:
He has a beard.
He’s from Alabama and played at Troy. At Tarrant (Ala.) High, the Birmingham News named him all state – at running back.
He talks in sentences and not paragraphs.
He was not selected in the 2011 draft. Chicago, Indianapolis and Washington signed him and waived him. Washington signed him to the practice squad and Carolina plucked him off the squad and signed him on Dec. 4, 2012.
Last season Addison played 14 games for the Panthers and had 2 1/2 sacks. The Panthers were sufficiently moved by his work that last June they signed him to a two-year extension.
If there’s a Panthers special team, he’s on it.
He’s 6-3 and 260 pounds.
He can move.
Is Addison faster than you?
“Oh, yeah,” says Charles Johnson. “Big-time. I can’t even deny.”
Addison does most of his work in practice, behind a high fence above which fans can’t see.
Addison “is a guy who was told he was too small,” says linebacker Thomas Davis. “He was told he couldn’t play this game, or play the position he wanted to play, and he went out and proved a lot of people wrong.”
Is he as fast as everybody says? Is Addison as fast as you are?
“Hey, you go back and watch the film and you’ll see,” says Davis. “I would definitely say so.”
Addison has been a specialist, a pass-rusher.
“He’s a different kind of player than all of our defensive ends, a little undersized,” says Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “And if he doesn’t win initially, he gets locked up. But if he can win initially, make a move, use his quickness, then he can make a play for us. He energized us and came up big at the right time.”
No matter what we do for a living, we have a role.
And when our role suddenly expands, the quality of our work has to.
“I think a really good team is only as good as the bottom half of the depth chart,” says center Ryan Kalil. “And I think fortunately for us we have a lot of really good guys. And our (second and third teams) have been doing a great job seizing the opportunities.”
You work against Addison in practice. What do you see?
“Mario honestly is one of the fastest guys I’ve ever been around,” says Kalil.
You mean one of the fastest defensive ends?
“You should see him at practice,” says Kalil. “He runs around like a linebacker.”
I even know which linebacker.
The throng leaves and Addison prepares to clean up.
But before he does, there’s one question fans want answered.
How fast are you?
“If I tell you then everybody will know,” says Addison. “I got a little something something.”
Someday, perhaps, you’ll have a jersey in the team store.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen