We’re going to start a new feature, which will probably run a few times a week. We’re going to call it “Today in NFC South History."
The concept is pretty simple. We’ll just look back at a big event that happened on a particular day, review what happened at the time and then take a hindsight look at the event and what it meant.
I scrolled through the archive and it didn’t take me long to choose Feb. 14, 2009 as the perfect date to start this series. Something that almost never happened since his arrival in the NFL in 2002 happened that day. Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers talked at length.
The normally-shy Peppers gave perhaps his longest quote ever as he sent a message to the Panthers that he didn’t want to be hit with the franchise tag and wanted out of Carolina.
"Basically the fan support has been tremendous,'' Peppers said. "Basically what I would say to these people is you have to take the emotional part of it out and place yourself in the situation. If you were being held back at your job and you fulfilled your contract and all of the obligations you had contractually and did all of the things you were supposed to do and worked seven years and it was time for that contract to expire and you wanted to do something different, and you were told, 'You did all of that, but you still have to stay.' I don't think people would be willing to live under those same standards that they want to place on me. So what I say is put yourself in my shoes and look at the situation instead of being emotional about it.”
We all know what happened next. The Panthers let Peppers walk into free agency. He signed with the Chicago Bears and has produced 30.5 sacks in the last three seasons.
Still, Peppers’ departure from Carolina was a monumental event and there still is a large mystery as to why things deteriorated to the point they did.
Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, could have been the King of the Carolinas. He certainly was the best athlete the Panthers ever had. If he had stayed, he would have gone on to become the best player in franchise history.
This divorce wasn’t about money. The Panthers tried hard to keep Peppers.
But Peppers never had the type of personality that let him embrace the spotlight. Put some of the blame on him. But put some on the Panthers, then run by coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, for repeatedly asking Peppers to be something he wasn’t -- a vocal leader.
That forced Peppers out of his comfort zone and out of Carolina.