Roman Harper is one of the “OG’s” on a relatively young Panthers team. He’s been to the Super Bowl and knows what it takes to win at the highest level. Recently, the Carolina safety penned an article for the Monday Morning Quarterback describing why this team is currently undefeated.
The Panthers are 11-0, something I’m proud to have a small part in. At 32, I’m no beacon of wisdom in the NFL, though our team is so young and my hair is so gray my young defensive backs are calling me Uncle Rome in the locker room. These days guys are beginning to realize how rare it is to go undefeated for this long. As a veteran of the 2009 New Orleans Saints, a team that started 13-0 and won a Super Bowl that season, I get asked about success, and winning, and what an undefeated team looks like.
The short answer is I don’t know.
I thought I knew, before I joined these Panthers two offseasons ago. Now I’m not so sure. Back in 2009, after our 11th consecutive win, a fellow defensive veteran and I had our fair share of drinks on Sunday night to celebrate. After our 11th win in Carolina, I celebrated by playing two-man spades with defensive back Kurt Coleman.
As a team, the 2009 Saints embodied the party culture of New Orleans, and we embraced our role as celebrities of a small market. In short, we partied very hard. Here in Charlotte you’re more likely to see guys getting treatment and dancing around the locker room on an off day than you are to see them popping bottles. We came closer as teammates in New Orleans while off the field, and here in Charlotte we become closer on the field and in the locker room.
We had a quarterback in New Orleans who, like Cam Newton, was on the cusp of being considered in the top tier of passers. But Drew Brees was putting up gaudy passing numbers, and Newton is doing things that, while no less gaudy, are far from traditional. I don’t remember Drew doing a front flip over a defender to get into the end zone, or running QB power on third-and-10 for a first down. I also don’t remember Drew being the center of a social media storm.
In New Orleans, we gave up more yards than just about every NFL team, but we created the most turnovers. This Carolina defense is a bit stingier in all phases.
In New Orleans we had Jeremy Shockey, with the big hair and big tattoos, and Heisman trophy winner Reggie Bush. Darren Sharper was openly campaigning for a Defensive Player of the Year award. There was a focus on individuals, and it was a formula that worked for us.
Here there’s an understanding that we have a bunch of really good football players, but most if not all of them realize they wouldn’t be as good as they are if they weren’t on this team. Realizing that and understanding roles makes us a better team. No one cares about statistics when you’ve got guys like Jared Allen, a legendary sack artist, playing run-first. He’s not getting sacks, but he’s winning and he’s happy.
We had a coach in New Orleans who breathed fire into the team, who was able to motivate each individual in his own unique way and who was a celebrity in his own right. In Carolina we play for a quiet, confident man who can relate to anyone in the building and understands a locker room like no one else.
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Football teams adapt. They rupture and rebuild and mold to the times, on the field and off the field, which is why it’s so hard to compare teams that operated only six years apart. Nickel corners replace outside linebackers. Old-school, in-your-face coaches make way for people persons. Social media, a 24/7 swarm of information and opinions, replaces the Monday morning newspaper and the local columnist with an axe to grind.
When I think of the things that have changed the most since 2009, the way fans consume the game today leads the list. In 2015 they’re closer to the game than they’ve ever been. The platform for players created by Twitter and Instagram makes it possible for Cam Newton to take a months-old hip-hop dance move and turn it into a national craze shared by millions and broadcast into the homes of people who would have never otherwise heard of Migos or trap music.
I think about all the things we did in New Orleans that wouldn’t fly in today’s world; rookies dancing shirtless in the club, players including myself partying during Super Bowl week and showing up late to team picture day. Today regular people can be newsmakers with a cameraphone, or agitators with a Twitter account. One bad night can change the perception of you team’s culture, which in turn actually changes your team’s culture. People we never would have had any consciousness of 10 years ago end up in your Twitter mentions with hopes that we pay attention. And for some reason, some of us do.
All of the scrutiny surrounding players and teams requires a new kind of coach— someone who can insulate the team and motivate with a consistent message. That’s who Ron Rivera is for the Panthers. Ron likes to say, “It’s all about our inner APE.”
APE stands for the three things we can control: attitude, preparation and effort. Ron says, “If you do those things the right way, you will be successful in life.”
You can go to the Monday Morning Quarterback to read the rest of Harper’s great article.