Editor’s note: This column originally published on Aug. 17, 1996.
Hooray. Tshimanga Biakabutuka is a Carolina Panther. So let’s get behind him 100 percent. No, let’s get behind him 110 percent. You know why? Because he’s a Panther.
Yes, Biakabutuka missed all 27 days of training camp. And he might not be ready for anything more than a guest appearance Sept. 1 when the Carolina Panthers open the season against Atlanta.
And his holdout was long and boring and largely unsuccessful.
And his agents, the Poston Brothers, should be forced to go back to agent school. Did you know that agent school is not an accredited four-year university but a mail order outfit in a small town in Oklahoma at which Jerry Tarkanian once taught ethics?
You didn’t? No big deal. That’s not what counts. What counts now is that Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who left Michigan a year early so he could join the NFL and make lots of money, is making lots of money.
He flew to Charlotte Friday about 12:30 p.m. and signed the contract that made him a Panther about 2 1/2 hours later. At 7:08 p.m., the Panthers introduced him to the press. Because time was tight, reporters were asked to limit their questions mainly to football.
Told, however, that some fans were perhaps a tad perturbed about his holdout, Biakabutuka said he would “work hard to change the boos into cheers.”
As he does, his new team will back him 100 percent, maybe even 110 percent.
Asked if the acrimony that characterized the negotiations would persist, Panthers general manager Bill Polian said, “We’re all going to support each other. That’s the bottom line.”
There was love in the room.
But there were no Postons.
The Postons had to leave before the press conference began. They had flights to catch. The head Poston, Carl Poston, said he had never missed a press conference for one of his No. 1 picks. Carl Poston thinks the Panthers held the press conference as late as they did specifically so he and his brother could not be there.
Had the Postons been in the room, the love would have left.
So there was tough love in the room. Speaking of tough love, here is a question for Panther fans – what do you do now?
I know what you do. You do the same thing you did when Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning signed with the Charlotte Hornets after holding out and missing all of training camp.
You were darn mad at the time. Then Johnson set up near the basket in places Hornets had feared to tread. He took nothing from nobody, hit some shots, grabbed some rebounds, led. He also pledged a bunch of money to the United Way, some of which he has paid.
And Mourning blocked some shots and talked some trash and played more intensely than any basketball player in teal ever had.
And, not in weeks or months but in hours, you began to cheer. You didn’t just forgive them. You supported and admired and in some cases adored them.
And the first time Biakabutuka makes a lineman miss in the backfield, runs away from a linebacker and over a cornerback and turns a 3-yard loss into an 11-yard gain, you’ll do the same thing. You’ll love the guy.
But he has to do something first. And so far all Biakabutuka has done is sign a contract and attend meetings and make a press conference. Press conference dress was casual. Biakabutuka wore long blue denim shorts, a white and blue striped shirt and very white Nike shoes.
Every time he spoke, cameras flashed, tape recorders whirred, pens moved and pages turned. Biakabutuka looked shy. Actually, he looked as if he wanted to pick up a football and dash out of the room to another meeting.
“I just want the people to know I am happy to be a Panther, “ he said.
The people just want him to know they would be happy if he had dumped his correspondence school agents, sweated through camp with his teammates and signed a contract 28 days ago.