It is a rare thing in professional sports to be able to call your own shot in terms of retirement – to have both the skill and the presence of mind to know how long you are physically able to perform on the stage and exactly when you want to leave it.
So I am glad Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis and center Ryan Kalil are both being granted the chance to call that last shot. Each man has said over the past three weeks that 2018 will be their final season.
The two team captains have each plied their trade for more than a decade and all for the same team. That’s another NFL rarity.
They will leave a legacy of grace and class, leavened with a sense of humor whenever things turned too serious. To listen to Davis and Kalil playfully argue about rules changes in the annual “P-I-G” toy basketball locker room tournament – Kalil is the league commissioner, Davis the closest thing the league has to a LeBron – is a joy. They are grown men who act like kids when they can but adults whenever they must.
I hope Julius Peppers joins these two veterans and plays another year in 2018 for Carolina. Peppers, 38, is older than both Davis (35 in March) and Kalil (33 in March).
Unlike the other two, Peppers is not under contract with the Panthers for 2018 and has not declared that he will play at all next season (although I have long felt that he will). Peppers was remarkably productive in 2017, tying for the team lead in sacks with 11 despite being a part-time player who only started five games. It would only make sense for Peppers to sign another one-year contract with the team that originally drafted him.
I hope for Davis and Kalil have a fairytale 2018 – but not one of those Grimm Brothers fairy tales where something awful happens to one of the protagonists. And that is certainly a concern.
Like every other football player who has ever braved the NFL’s violence for more than 10 years, Davis and Kalil have struggled with injuries at times. They don’t want a final season where they miss half the games. Davis has already admitted he may need to accept a reduced role with the emergence of Shaq Thompson; it is conceivable Kalil might as well.
That brings me to the final point of this column: The Panthers new owner, whomever he or she may be, has just been presented with a golden opportunity.
Kalil and Davis are two of the most beloved and decorated Panthers in history. Quarterback Cam Newton nicknamed Davis “Charlotte’s sweetheart” and calls Kalil a “calming presence” in the huddle. Davis and Kalil also have a lot of pull in the locker room on their respective sides of the room.
If I am the new owner, Kalil and Davis are two of the very first players I want to meet with once I buy the team.
How do they want their final season to go? What should the new owner – besides sign the checks, that is – do to ensure a smooth transition? Would they consider a joint celebration day for the final home game of the 2018 season – banging the “Keep Pounding” drum together, for instance?
Or maybe it would make more sense to do that sort of thing for the Panthers’ first home game of 2019. (Although the pair would then have to travel to Mexico to do that – I’m kidding!)
The new owner should also establish an actual Panthers hall of fame museum that is a physical room somewhere in the team’s home stadium where fans can gather.
And I don’t mean just a couple more statues placed outside. I mean a small, functional and free museum that opens in Charlotte in 2019 when the team celebrates its 25th season and which could be visited year-round. It would be a place where Panthers history can be celebrated with videos, photos, memorabilia and occasional appearances by former Carolina players. It would have a separate entrance open to the outside, much like the team store.
C’mon, this is easier than it sounds. It will cost money, but there’s an easy way to help that. Connect the new hall of fame to that very team store. Watch business there triple.
The history of Kalil and Davis would be intertwined with such a museum, of course. They have been major contributors to the Panthers since being drafted in 2005 (Davis) and 2007 (Kalil).
One or the other – and usually both – have played for more than half of the Panthers teams ever fielded. They have eight Pro Bowl appearances between them.
So Davis and Kalil should be honored – not only in 2018 when they are still playing, but also in that future Panthers hall of fame that I am hereby putting high on the new owner’s “to-do” list.