Scott Fowler

The all-time best Panthers team? Fans get vote right — except for one big exception

Panthers fans ready for football and Cam Newton returns

Carolina Panthers fans turned out on Thursday, July 25, 2019 for the team's Kickoff Party at Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. Among the highlights was quarterback Cam Newton passing during drills and to receivers.
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Carolina Panthers fans turned out on Thursday, July 25, 2019 for the team's Kickoff Party at Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. Among the highlights was quarterback Cam Newton passing during drills and to receivers.

Who are the best Carolina Panthers to play every position?

It’s a timely debate. In honor of their approaching 25th season, the Panthers have asked fans to name their best all-time team. The results for this Silver Season squad will be announced at Fan Fest on Friday inside Bank of America Stadium sometime after 7 p.m.

The running vote totals show that fans have mostly made good choices, with one glaring exception at kick returner and a few other debatable choices in the closest races.

Based on covering every Carolina season since the team began play in 1995, here’s my own all-time 25-player Panthers team (indicated in the “Who Should Win” category) as well as the likely winner from the fans’ perspective (“Who Will Win.”)

If you would like to vote, go to panthers.com. Voting closes Thursday at 11:59 p.m. And please give some love when you do to Michael Bates, because he’s really getting robbed.

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Steve Smith scored the most famous touchdown in Carolina Panthers history on this play in the 2003 playoffs. Observer file photo

OFFENSE

Quarterback (1)

Who should win: Cam Newton.

Who will win: Newton, who has 79 percent of the vote as of Tuesday afternoon. Jake Delhomme, one of the most popular players in team history, is a distant second at 19 percent.

Comment: Listen, even Jake would tell you to vote for Cam. Although both directed a Carolina team to the Super Bowl, Newton was the only NFL Most Valuable Player in team history and has broken nearly all of Delhomme’s team records.

Wide receivers (2)

Who should win: Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad.

Who will win: Smith and Muhammad.

Comment: This one, like quarterback, is a slam dunk. Moose and No. 89 have received practically every vote. They both had long, productive careers and far eclipse the rest of the competition (Kelvin Benjamin? Devin Funchess? Please.)

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Panthers wide receiver Mushin “Moose” Muhammad is a shoo-in for Carolina’s “Silver Season” team. Muhammad had two different stints at Carolina and scored 50 touchdowns as a Panther. Observer file photo

Tailback (1)

Who should win: For the 30th anniversary Panthers team, it will undoubtedly be Christian McCaffrey. For now, I’m voting for Jonathan Stewart, the team’s all-time leading rusher.

Who will win: This is almost a toss-up. Stewart (32 percent), McCaffrey (31) and DeAngelo Williams (26) all have some shot at winning.

Comment: McCaffrey had the best season in the history of Panthers running backs in 2018. However, he’s only been in the league two years. Stewart has a slight lead over Williams in both rushing yards and touchdowns in a Panthers uniform, but Williams had more 100-yard games and gained a half-yard more per carry.

Fullback (1)

Who should win: Brad Hoover.

Who will win: Hoover, who holds a 68-30 lead over Mike Tolbert.

Comment: The race should be closer. Their statistics when they carried the ball are almost identical. Tolbert scored more TDs and made the Pro Bowl three times. Hoover played 10 years as a Panther compared to Tolbert’s five, though, so I’m narrowly picking him because of longevity. Fans truly loved “Hoov” as evidenced by the lopsided margin.

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Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is the team’s all-time leading rusher and is in a three-way battle with DeAngelo Williams and Christian McCaffrey for the lone tailback spot on the “Silver Season” team. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Tight end (1)

Who should win: Greg Olsen.

Who will win: Olsen.

Comment: This race should be tighter, but Olsen is creaming new Panthers Hall of Honor member Wesley Walls in the fan vote (81-18). That’s a clear case of recency bias — Walls made five straight Pro Bowls as a Panther, after all. However, I narrowly voted for Olsen, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons after joining the team.

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Panthers tackle Jordan Gross (left) and center Ryan Kalil will -- annd should -- comfortably make the “Silver Season” team based on fan voting. JEFF SINER jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Offensive tackle (2)

Who should win: Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton.

Who will win: Gross and… well… who knows?

Comment: The Panthers listed Wharton as a guard on their voting site, and he will make the all-time team there. I decided to use my own discretion and move him to tackle instead, because Wharton played both positions very well and the field at tackle is severely lacking after Gross.

But the way the Panthers have set it up, one of these four guys – Todd Steussie, Blake Brockermeyer, Mike Remmers or Byron Bell – is somehow going to make the all-time team. Hmmm.

Offensive guard (2)

Who should win: Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell.

Who will win: Turner and Wharton.

Comment: The Panthers listing Wharton as a guard means he’s likely to triumph over Norwell (Wharton leads, 25-17). Turner is way ahead for No. 1, and should be.

Center (1)

Who should win: Ryan Kalil.

Who will win: Kalil.

Comment: Kalil has pancaked the competition, getting a whopping 95 percent of the votes so far.

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Panthers linebacker Sam Mills played for the team during its first three seasons, from 1995-97, and also originated the phrase “Keep Pounding.” Observer file photo

DEFENSE

Defensive tackle (2)

Who should win: KK Short and Kris Jenkins.

Who will win: Short and Jenkins.

Comment: Short you know about – he’s still going strong in the middle. But in the early 2000s, Jenkins was perhaps the most dominant defensive tackle in the game.

Defensive end (2)

Who should win: Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker.

Who will win: Peppers and Rucker, unless Charles Johnson gets a late voting surge.

Comment: Peppers is a future Hall of Famer. Rucker and Johnson had a similar career arc and you really could go either way on that one. Mario Addison will need a big finish to his career to dislodge either one in five years.

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Carolina Panthers linebackers Thomas Davis (left) and Luke Kuechly teamed together for seven years to form one of the NFL’s best linebacking tandems. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Linebacker (3)

Who should win: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and the late Sam Mills.

Who will win: Kuechly, Davis and Mills. They have left the rest of the field in the dust in terms of fan voting.

Comment: Keep pounding, indeed – linebacker is the strongest position in Panthers history. Best example of that: Hall of Famer Kevin Greene only has 4 percent of the vote and won’t make this team.

If the Panthers website staff had decided to make the defense a 3-4 instead of a 4-3 — and maybe it should have — Jon Beason, Greene or Dan Morgan would have secured the fourth spot.

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Mike Minter was clearly the best Carolina Panthers safety in history. He now is the head football coach at Campbell University. Observer file photo

Cornerback (2)

Who should win: Josh Norman and Eric Davis.

Who will win: Chris Gamble and Norman.

Comment: Norman is a given. But for the second spot, Gamble (35 percent) is blasting Davis (12 percent) in the fan voting, and I really don’t know why.

Davis had five seasons of at least five interceptions as a Panther. Gamble had only two, although he did have a longer career. You can make a case for Gamble, certainly, but this race should have been much closer.

Safety (2)

Who should win: Mike Minter and Kurt Coleman.

Who will win: Minter and Charles Godfrey.

Comment: Minter is the runaway leader in fan voting, and should be. Godfrey leads Coleman (21-18) for the second slot. I voted for Coleman because his 2015 season with the Panthers, as the team marched to the Super Bowl, was the best season any Panthers safety has ever had. Godfrey did play longer for Carolina, though.

SPECIALISTS

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Carolina placekicker John Kasay scored 1,482 points during his career as a Panther, which is almost exactly twice as much as Graham Gano (742). Observer file photo


Kicker (1)

Who should win: John Kasay.

Who will win: Kasay.

Comment: Kasay, the team’s all-time leading scorer by about a million points, has torched Graham Gano in the fan voting (79-21). Gano’s 63-yard field goal last year and booming kickoffs couldn’t usurp the beloved Kasay.

Punter (1)

Who should win: Todd Sauerbrun.

Who will win: Either Sauerbrun or Jason Baker.

Comment: Sauerbrun had some serious off-field problems, but his leg was a bolt of electricity. I once experienced that first-hand when we went to a nearby high school field and he boomed punts at me for awhile.

Kick returner (1)

Who should win: Michael Bates.

Who will win: Ted Ginn Jr.

Comment: This, my friends, is a travesty. Bates made the Pro Bowl every single year for the Panthers as a special-teams player from 1996 to 2000. He returned five kickoffs for TDs. Five! He once averaged 30.2 yards per kickoff return in a single season. And I’m not even getting into the fact that Bates, a former Olympic sprinter, also covered kicks and punts and was terrific at that, too.

Talk about recency bias. Ginn was a breathtakingly fast receiver for the Panthers for three seasons. But as a returner Ginn was absolutely average – he had no touchdowns as a returner in any of his three Panther seasons.

Yet Ginn leads Bates by a likely insurmountable margin (50-35 percent) because most younger Panthers fans have no clue about how good Bates — who I bet will make the Panthers Hall of Honor sometime down the road – really was. That’s my biggest quarrel with the team that will be announced on Friday.

Steve Smith, Wesley Walls Jordan Gross and Jake Delhomme were announced as the Carolina Panthers’ Hall of Honor Class of 2019.

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Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”
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