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Please don’t overreact to Wednesday’s arrest of Carolina Panthers defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. for speeding and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
I do have a strong reaction -- surprise. Cox was driving a 2015 Nissan. Who knew a 2015 Nissan could reach 90 mph?
When the Panthers break training camp, you’ll see a lot of luxury automobiles and SUVs heading north on Interstate 85 at speeds of more than 65 mph. The tradition has been going on since the team ended its first camp on the Wofford campus.
Players are homesick. So they hustle home. I’m not aware of anybody getting busted for speeding until Wednesday.
There are 10 states in which marijuana is legal: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In the not too distant future, there will only be 10 states in which it is not legal.
Pot is like the lottery. Remember the outcry? Gambling is evil, evil I tell you. We will never have the lottery here. Wait, it can generate millions of dollars? Count us in.
Now that states have the right to legalize sports betting, that will come, too.
Cox is not an instrument of evil. He’s a 25-year-old who made a mistake. If he were speeding on a residential street, a street on which children play, the elderly walk and dogs run, the dynamic would be different.
Cox was on a freeway built for speed. If, for public relations reasons, the Panthers feel compelled to act, please do nothing more than slap him on the hand. Because when the season begins, that hand should be on the ground.
If 2019 is the Panthers’ final training camp in Spartanburg, this is how it ended for me.
After practice, I watched Luke Kuechly sign autographs for two children. One bent from the waist, and Kuechly used her back as a little desk. I watched reserves sign for anxious children. Some of those reserves won’t make the team, but I assure you that the kids didn’t care. They were collecting the signatures of genuine (for now) NFL players.
I love to see players sign for kids. I have no interest in whether they sign for adults. How is it that adults get to the front of the line while kids are moved to the back? Gosh, I don’t know.
If I ruled the world, this would be a law: You can’t ask anybody younger than you are for an autograph. This would be unfair to Greg Olsen, at 34 Carolina’s oldest player. But he can handle it.
On Monday night, my last evening in Spartanburg, we spent time downtown. So many stores offered Panther specials, shirts and jerseys, food and drink. Spartanburg isn’t merely happy to host the Panthers. Spartanburg is proud to host them, and by doing so it owns a piece of the most popular sport in the U.S.
Walk down Spartanburg’s Main Street and you’ll see incredible old and often unoccupied buildings, some being prepared for whatever comes next. Some of the buildings are conventional, some stately, and some ornate. As you walk you think, Love to see what I could do with that space.
We talked about moving to Spartanburg. We won’t. But it was fun to think about.
After a visit to Bond Street Wines, a great Main Street wine bar, and The Kennedy, a fine restaurant, we returned to the Marriott. The Buffalo Bills, who were in town for a joint practice with the Panthers, were there, and had confiscated the top six floors, one for each game they won last season.
Because Buffalo took over the hotel, we couldn’t get to the concierge lounge. Did we run back to Charlotte? It was like taking a hit. Do you stay down or get back up. We rose.
In the hotel bar, the first person we ran into was Dan Morgan, the former Panthers middle linebacker who is director of player personnel for the Bills. Had Morgan stayed healthy, he would have been a Pro Bowl regular. Man, did he work.
We talked to Brandon Beane. He was a Panthers intern out of UNC Wilmington when I met him. Now he’s Buffalo’s general manager.
We spent a few minutes with Jake Delhomme, who will work 10 games as Carolina’s radio analyst this season.
He still lives near Lafayette, La., still trains horses, and still is the same guy. Playing quarterback in the NFL is the most special job in U.S. sports. But Delhomme never acted as if he was special because his job was.
We just talked. He talked about running into Cam Newton, and how big Newton is. He talked about the former Panthers with which he stays in touch. There are many. I told him I had seen his former teammate John Kasay preach Sunday, and how natural Kasay was. Delhomme says Kasay always was.
We just talked. You know what I like about Delhomme, Beane and Morgan?
You ask how their family is doing.
They tell you, and then they ask about yours.
The Panthers’ versatile Reggie Bonnafon
Reggie Bonnafon, who as a rookie last season was on the Panthers’ practice squad, is asked if our interview is the second he’s done as a Panther.
“Third,” he says.
Bonnafon has been discovered.
Yet he remains the running back voted Least Likely to be Mentioned when people assess the scramble to back up Christian McCaffrey. The incumbent, Cameron Artis-Payne, is beginning his fifth season with Carolina. Rookie Jordan Scarlett was drafted out of Florida in the fifth round. Elijah Holyfield is a rookie free agent out of Georgia.
And here’s Bonnafon, 6-foot-0, 215 pounds and 23, who has the most interesting resume of them all.
Bonnafon grew up in and played for Louisville. As a freshman, he played quarterback, starting five games. As a sophomore, he played quarterback, running back and receiver. As a junior, he played receiver and running back. As a senior, he played running back.
In Carolina’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Bears, Bonnafon rushed four times for 23 yards. He was targeted four times by Carolina’s quarterbacks, and caught four passes for 30 yards.
’m standing behind a Spartanburg end zone when a Panther runs a perfect corner route. The lines are so straight and the cuts so sharp it’s as if there’s a straightedge to guide him. The receiver is Bonnafon, and he grabs the pass in the right corner of the end zone.
“I can always improve, so that’s something I’m really focused on, having clean efficient feet, no wasted steps,” he says.
In college, playing a specific position is like choosing a specific major. Bonnafon had three.
“It really just stems from me being so versatile my entire life,” he says. “Even dating back to little league I just played multiple positions. Over the course of high school, college, I played receiver at a high level. So for me to be a running back, obviously there are different routes. But at end of the day, it’s still the same techniques, still in and out of breaks.”
Do you feel more like a running back than a receiver?
“I feel I’m a football player,” says Bonnafon. “That’s the best way I can describe it. My goal is to become a complete football player. I’ve played so many different positions I’ve gotten away from just putting myself in a box. I think that comes with maturity, selflessness, things like that. Whatever position, it could be defense for all I care, as long as I’m out there between the lines.”
Do you ever wish you had specialized, and could apply all your experience to one position?
“Me playing multiple positions is a blessing, and that’s why I’m here,” Bonnafon says. “A guy loses his position as quarterback and kind of fades off and things don’t go as planned. But I’m blessed and fortunate enough to have the athletic ability to transition to something else and play at a high level.”
Good answer. But here’s the truth about every football player I’ve ever interviewed. Once a quarterback, they are always a quarterback.
I know you want to say, “Hey, Cam Newton, give me the ball and get out of the way.”
“Coaches know I can throw,” he says. “Norv (offensive coordinator Norv Turner) messes with me sometimes and says I still think I’m a quarterback. Seven was my college number, and I tell Kyle (quarterback Kyle Allen, who wears 7) he looks like the real No. 7. I can still sling it. I don’t work on it too much, but still have it in my tool box.”
Bonnafon, who as you know can run, played with a quarterback at Louisville, Lamar Jackson, now with the Baltimore Ravens, who can run, and plays with a quarterback in Carolina, Newton, who also can move.
“Cam is a lot bigger but as far as running ability they have special things that they do,” says Bonnafon. “They’re very durable guys who leave it all on the field. And it shows in the passion they play with and the will that they have for each and every play. It was a blessing to play with Lamar in college and with Cam in the pros.”
Bonnafon stays on the field for 15 to 20 minutes after practice on the day we talk this week and works on pass protection and routes, as he does after every practice. Rookie running back Holyfield is thrown 100 balls after every practice. The young backs put in overtime.
“Just trying to get every slight edge that I can,” Bonnafon says.
Yet the late morning Spartanburg humidity is thick enough to make a mannequin sweat.
You said Newton and Jackson have passion and will. You do, too.
“For sure,” says Bonnafon. “”Definitely. It’s not going away.”
John Kasay’s message
When people occasionally ask why I don’t go to church, I tell them I’m more spiritual than religious. If they ask me to define spiritual, I tell them it means I don’t have to go to church.
But I’m happy I went Sunday to Moments of Hope, David Chadwick’s new church. Speaking was John Kasay, the former Panthers kicker and future member of the team’s Hall of Honor. Kasay played for the Panthers their first season, 1995, and played through 2010. He was the last of the original Panthers on the roster.
If you wrote about the team, you felt as if you knew Kasay, and were fortunate you did. He was accountable. Only once do I remember him sitting in front of his locker after a game and asking if he could have a few minutes before he talked. He had had a bad game, rare for him, and of course he was willing to talk about it. But he wanted to wait until everybody had arrived.
When he played poorly, he acknowledged it and answered questions until the questions ended. When he played well, he played down whatever accolades came his way, often dismissing success by saying he was doing his job.
Kasay played his final season, 2011, for the New Orleans Saints. I went to the Saints’ locker room after an early season game at Bank of America Stadium, knowing he’d be there, yet still odd to see him.
I asked if he had found a French Quarter haunt he particularly liked, or a band.
Kasay was kind enough not to kick me. The question was sarcastic, as he knew. The parameters of his new New Orleans life were narrow -- hotel, practice, church, airport and games.
Kasay was obviously religious, and occasionally dropped scripture into an answer. But he didn’t proselytize.
On Sunday at Moments of Hope, he was free to. The subject he chose was challenging. He talked about disappointment, and how despair can follow. He talked about the low moments we encounter and will encounter.
He talked about Dave Dravecky, a very good pitcher who was diagnosed with cancer, came back, but ultimately lost his left arm and shoulder to the disease.
Kasay also talked about lying in the hospital with a broken left kneecap after he had worked to come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
I’m not going to get into scripture Kasay invoked. I’m a little rusty.
But his message was sufficiently eloquent that (A) I waited after he finished to walk to the front of the church and thank him, one of many to do so and (B) thought about his words for several days.
I don’t believe in fate or destiny. I do believe that the fortunate among us get to do what we’re good at and what we enjoy.
Kasay did that with the Panthers. He’s doing it at Moments of Hope.
Icy times for Raiders’ Antonio Brown
I love the Oakland Raiders. If they didn’t exist, somebody would have to invent them.
This was the team of the late Kenny Stabler, a quarterback I admired from a distance and was fortunate enough to spend time with. I’d hoped he’d be who I thought he was. He was better.
Jon Gruden probably is too severe, stern and serious to coach the Silver and Black, although he and Oakland owner Mark Davis appear to share a barber. But wide receiver Antonio Brown more than offsets Gruden. The Raiders need some players perceived as bad guys, and Brown’s problems extend from his head to his toes. If he were a fourth grader, Gruden would make him sit in the corner.
The NFL has demanded that players use a new helmet this season, and Brown doesn’t want to. He fought the edict to change to the new, presumably safer, helmet, and he lost.
Changing helmets is no small thing. On the field, it’s part of you. And if it doesn’t feel right, you don’t feel right. But there’s no way to successfully fight it. Tom Brady doesn’t like his new helmet, either. What’s he going to do? He’s going to wear it.
Brown injured his feet in a cryogenic chamber in Paris. The chamber pumps in cold air at a temperature as low as 100 degrees below zero. A session can last two to six minutes. Benefits include relief from pain and muscle healing. Several prominent athletes engage in it, as do many non-athletes.
You don’t have to go to Paris to find a cryogenic chamber. There are several in and around Charlotte.
But if you engage in cryotherapy, you probably should bring common sense. Brown’s feet weren’t sufficiently protected from the extreme cold, and the result is blisters the size of golf balls if not tennis balls. He has been unable to practice.
Because I grew up in Minneapolis, I participated in cryotherapy as a child, although we had a different name for it – winter.
We avoided blisters on our feet. We wore boots.
Short takes: Christy Martin throws first pitch
▪ Christy Martin will throw out the first pitch Thursday night before the Charlotte Knights-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders game. Martin and her foundation are dedicated to working to prevent domestic violence. Thursday night is the Charlotte Knights Domestic Violence Awareness Night. The game starts at 7:04 p.m. She’ll sign autographs before the game.
Martin, a long-time women’s world lightweight champion who fought for Don King, will promote a boxing card Saturday at CenterStage@Noda. The main event is a rarity. It will feature two women, Logan Holler of Charlotte (formerly Columbia) and Samantha Pill of Fairmont, W.Va. For more information, go to www.christymartinfightnightcharlotte.eventbright.com.
Holler is 8-0-1 with three knockouts, Pill 4-1 with two knockouts. They are super welterweights (154 pounds)...
▪ Barry Slater set a house record at 10 Park Lanes by rolling a 298, 299, 279. An incredible 32 of the 35 balls he rolled were strikes.
Every time I get a strike, or hit a good shot in pool, I think: Now I know how to do it.
Slater does. Congratulations...