Have you ever made an obvious mistake in your job in a public setting?
I certainly have. Dozens of them, in fact. Over the course of the past two dozen years while writing for the Charlotte Observer, I have issued thousands of sports-related predictions and opinions in print and online.
A few of those still haunt me — and seem to come up whenever I talk to a group of readers, as in “Weren’t you the guy who wrote …”
Yes. Yes, I was. And it only seems fair that since I often skewer others who make big mistakes, I should do the same for myself occasionally.
So if you don’t mind, could you hold this sword for me? I’m about to fall on it.
No, this isn’t any sort of prelude to a retirement column — I’m way too young and have way too many kids for that. I just felt like making fun of myself. So here’s my own personal list of the five dumbest predictions I have ever made for this newspaper.
5) Sergio’s collapse
In 2005 at Charlotte’s annual pro golf tournament, Sergio Garcia played a gorgeous first three rounds and took a six-shot lead into the final round. My column in that Sunday morning’s Observer began: “The Wachovia Championship officially ends today, but it really ended Saturday afternoon. Sergio Garcia has already won this golf tournament.”
Garcia lost all six strokes of that lead on the final 18 holes. He managed to get into a three-man playoff for the title, but he lost that, too.
Lots of readers enjoyed reminding me of this over the next week, including one who teased me by sending along a picture of the front page of the 1948 Chicago newspaper that included the famous banner headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
4) Clapping for Gilbert
In 1998, the Carolina Panthers made what is easy to see in hindsight as the worst personnel move in franchise history. They gave away two No. 1 draft picks to Washington as compensation for the right to sign defensive tackle Sean Gilbert to a whopping $46.5 million contract, the most money paid to any NFL defensive player at the time.
This was such an enormously high price to pay for a defensive lineman that it would have been hard to justify for anybody outside of maybe a J.J. Watt or Reggie White in his prime.
Gilbert remains a nice guy, but he never came close to living up to the price tag. (It wasn't his fault the Panthers paid it, of course.) The move was part of the reason head coach Dom Capers got fired and the Panthers went 4-12 that season.
Here is an excerpt from my wildly off-base column when Gilbert’s impending arrival was first announced in 1998: “Getting Sean Gilbert to agree to come to Charlotte is one of the boldest moves the Panthers have ever made. I applaud them. Seriously. I'm actually clapping in between words right now.”
3) Panthers predictions, Part 1
Because I have been picking Carolina games and overall season records almost since the team’s inception, there’s a lot of material to work with here.
But one thing I never saw coming was the 2003 Super Bowl season, when Carolina went 11-5 and then rode a startling wave of momentum all the way to the ultimate game.
I picked the Panthers to go 6-10 that season, which stood as my worst single-year Panthers prediction, until …
2) Panthers predictions, Part 2
I don’t always blow Panthers forecasts. Last season, for instance, I picked Carolina to end up 10-6 and make the playoffs as a wild card. The team ended up 11-5 and made the playoffs as a wild card. So that was close.
The two previous years, though? Whew. I’m the kind of guy that keeps casinos in business. When sports gambling is eventually legalized throughout North Carolina, I better not partake.
In 2015 and 2016, I made two of the worst back-to-back seasonal picks for Carolina that I ever have. In 2015, I picked the Panthers to go 8-8 — opining that the loss of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason would be a “colossal blow” from which the offense would never quite recover.
Carolina, of course, went 15-1. Cam Newton was the NFL's Most Valuable Player. Benjamin wasn’t missed one bit, and the Panthers made it to the Super Bowl once more before losing to Denver.
In 2016, I tried to make up for that misstep by going to the other extreme. This time I forecast the Panthers to get to the Super Bowl and win it, figuring that 18 returning starters from a Super Bowl team the year before would be more than enough to do that.
Instead, Carolina went 6-10.
1) The 2006 NBA draft
This one is embarrassing. Before the 2006 NBA draft, the Charlotte Bobcats had the No. 3 pick. In a column that was actually about something else, I felt fit to include this sentence: “Just two words on whom that pick should be: Adam Morrison!!”
The choice was bad enough, but why did I also feel compelled to use two exclamation points?
I doubled down on this bad idea after watching Morrison work out for the Bobcats in June 2006. I wrote: “He hit about two of every three 3-pointers I saw during shooting drills. If Charlotte stays at No. 3 and Morrison is there, the Bobcats absolutely should take him.”
The Bobcats did take Morrison, of course, and he became an iconic sort of draft bust — one whose very name is enough to provoke cringes from all Charlotte fans.
So there you have it: five of my most forgettable moments as a sports columnist at the Observer.
I’m sure there are more, and I would look them up. But I need to go watch “Dumb and Dumber” one more time. It’s really my kind of movie.