Ahh, another Carolina Panthers training camp. All different, and yet all the same.
This is the 21st time I have watched the Panthers start a season, and some things never change. There is heat. There is humidity. And there is unbridled optimism.
Like almost every NFL team, the Panthers usually have at least one player either boldly proclaim or strongly hint during the training camp that the team will end up in the Super Bowl. In reality, the team has made the Super Bowl once in 20 years.
This year’s first proclamation was issued Thursday morning on “Move-In Day” by defensive end Mario Addison, who said to a group of us reporters: “We’re going all the way, man. We’ve got all the tools. All we’ve got to do is put it together, and I see a Super Bowl. I feel it.”
Was that a Super Bowl guarantee?
“We’re going to the Super Bowl,” Addison repeated. “I can feel it. If you speak on it, man, it’ll happen.”
Now Addison doesn’t necessarily keep a finger on the pulse of the Panthers at all times. He was shocked to hear, for instance, that Carolina offensive tackle Jonathan Martin had decided to retire a few days ago.
“Retired?” Addison asked. “This year?”
But that’s not to say Addison is wrong about the Super Bowl. The Panthers are coming off the first-back-to-back playoff appearances in team history. They won the NFC South and made the NFL’s final eight in the playoffs in both 2013 and 2014 before getting knocked out. And they have arrived in Spartanburg with a “better everything,” as Addison put it.
Addison himself had a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2014 and is athletic enough that he is speeding around Wofford’s campus on a contraption that looks like a Segway with no handlebars. He was a key part of a Carolina defense that ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in defense for the third season in a row (only Seattle and San Francisco have also been able to do that).
Still, we have seen Super Bowl predictions go wrong before. The most famous Carolina Super Bowl guarantee came from Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. He took out a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer in July 2012 to predict the Panthers would win the Super Bowl that season. Instead, the Panthers finished 7-9.
What Kalil did that year, though, was different only in the fact that he bought the ad and proclaimed his faith publicly. Behind closed doors, all 32 NFL teams do it.
“Every team says it every year, whether it’s publicly or not,” Kalil told The Observer back in 2012. “They say they’re going to win the Super Bowl.”
And why not? At the beginning of camp, nobody’s hurt. Nobody has lost a game in at least six months. Nobody wants a pessimist in a training-camp locker room.
But 31 of 32 NFL teams go home disappointed at the end of every season. Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen was asked Thursday about Addison’s guarantee and all but rolled his eyes.
“You guys know me by now – I’m not a big, bold predictor or a quote machine,” Olsen said. “We have a long ways to go. For us to sit here today and say – with just moving our bags in – that we’re going to make it. ... Would I be surprised if we did? No. But do we have a ton of work that needs to go in and a ton of things to fall into place before we put ourselves in position to accomplish those sort of things? Yes.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, an essentially optimistic man himself, was asked what he thought about Addison’s guarantee.
“Well, good,” said Rivera, smiling. “I appreciate it. As long as he doesn’t put it in the paper, we’ll be OK with that.”
We’ll take care of putting it in the paper, coach.
Now – starting Friday night with the first day of real practice – the Panthers have to try to take care of the rest.