The Carolina Panthers last played in front of fans on Jan. 1, when they lost their 10th game of the season. It was a waste of a season. But when they open training camp Wednesday night fans will not hold that against them.
The beauty of sports is that you get to start over every year. The longer training camp goes, the less fans will care about the absence of former general manager Dave Gettleman or the 6-10 record in 2016.
More than any other sport, the U.S. moves to the beat of the NFL. That’s true in almost every market, and it’s certainly true in Charlotte.
Training camp means that for the first time in more than half a year we get football. We see which rookies and free agents emerge and which fail to. We see players you’ve never heard of from schools you’ve never heard of play like starters. As temperatures rise and familiarity gets old, we hear and see the offense’s contempt for the defense and the defense’s contempt for the offense.
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I might abandon one training camp ritual. Every season I ask coach Ron Rivera to name his training camp MVP, and every season Rivera complies. I’m surprised players haven’t tried to bribe him, or me, to keep their names off the Observer’s website.
Rivera’s camp MVPs tend to get cut or traded. Within the year they’re playing in Winnipeg, working construction or both. So, yeah, I might revive it.
I will abandon one ritual. I spend time with the last player to leave the field after the final practice of camp. I want the guy who is sweating while his teammates move in air-conditioned luxury up I-85. Two camps ago it was Josh Norman, the very good Washington cornerback.
The temperature was in the upper 80s, and Norman was on the grass on his back. One man from Carolina’s equipment department stood on Norman’s left and another on his right as they took turns firing hard passes at him. I wasn’t the only witness. Rivera saw it, too.
I couldn’t be in Spartanburg when camp broke last summer and I can’t be in Spartanburg on Aug. 13 when camp breaks. But I’ll offer a bonus. Look at Spartanburg real estate. It’s like Dilworth. Why wasn’t I told before the market took off? Ah. Because I didn’t believe it.