Debating who belongs on the hypothetical Mt. Rushmore for an organization or sport is a trendy barstool topic these days. Essentially, you’re recognizing the four most important individuals for that sport or organization. NBC’s Pro Football Talk is asking fans to vote online to determine a Mt. Rushmore for each NFL franchise.
They released two versions of the Panthers’ Mt. Rushmore, the fan’s picks and Mike Florio’s picks. The fans went with Steve Smith, Jerry Richardson, Julius Peppers and John Kasay, while Florio had the same list, except for Sam Mills over Kasay.
I filled out my ballot this morning, which has two picks that weren’t on either PFT list. I’ll explain why, below.
The Obvious, Steve Smith
I feel confident that each ballot filled out on PFT had Smitty punched in as one of the four options. If he wasn’t unanimous then there was either an honest mistake or an axe to grind. There isn’t a legitimate argument against 89 being one of the four most influential Panthers. Five Pro Bowls, over 11,000 yards receiving, a four-time captain, I could go on and on. I don’t need to.
The Owner, Jerry Richardson
The Big Cat’s place on the Panthers’ Mt. Rushmore is also obvious to me. Without him, there wouldn’t be an NFL franchise in Charlotte. Do I disagree with several decisions he’s made? Sure, but that’s a blog post for another day. He brought the team here. He deserves Rushmore status.
The Tougher Sells, Delhomme and Fox
This is where I’ll probably clash with the majority of Panthers’ fans, who are still scarred by Delhomme’s six turnover performance against Arizona in the 2009 playoffs and Fox’s 2-14 swan song in 2010. I choose to remember Jake and Foxy at their best, not their worst.
Jake’s gutsy 2003 season will forever be a part of Panther lore. The 323 yard, three touchdown Super Bowl performance, the NFL record eight game-winning drives, it was exciting. It was special. His record as a starter in Carolina was 53-37. Does that sound nice right about now? The last three seasons, the Panthers have been 15-33. Sure, he wasn’t nearly as good after having Tommy John surgery in 2007. But you can argue no quarterback has been successful after Tommy John surgery. It affects football players differently than baseball players. Don’t blame him for the huge contract and diminished production toward the end of his tenure in Carolina. Blame Marty Hurney. Who in their right mind would turn down $20 million guaranteed to continue playing a game they love?
As for Fox, he coached three of the Panthers’ four playoff teams. If you remove the 2010 season, when he was left with a gutted payroll and Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, his record was 71-57. Again, that sounds pretty nice right about now. He didn’t make the playoffs in back to back years. I hear that, but Capers, Seifert and Rivera have all combined for one playoff appearance. Fox is without question the best coach in the organization’s history. None of the other three are even close.
The Tough Omissions, Mills, Kasay and Peppers
The Panthers’ first Pro Bowler and first leader, Sam Mills, was tough to leave off my Mt. Rushmore, especially considering his coaching role after retirement and his courage fighting cancer. His famous Keep Pounding speech is a large part of the organization’s identity. There can only be four, though. I’ve ranked him behind the owner who brought the NFL to Charlotte and three other guys who were the organization’s core for close to a decade.
Kasay was a tough omission, also. He was a very good leader and placekicker for 16 seasons in Carolina, but I just can’t put a placekicker on a Mt. Rushmore, not when it would push a coach or a quarterback off the list.
I didn’t forget about Peppers 8 seasons in Carolina, his 81 sacks or his five Pro Bowl nods. I just can’t stomach putting his face on our hypothetical mountain after he left Carolina for a bigger market in his prime. That’s just asking too much.
Agree? Disagree? Weigh in.
~Lewis Woodard, WFNZ Sports Radio The Fan 610 AM
Find Lewis on Twitter @LewWoodard