Wharton gets appropriate sendoff

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Not many football players can say they played every regular-season snap of their career -- pee wee league, junior high, high school, college and NFL -- within two hours of his home.

Travelle Wharton can.

He was born in Greenville, South Carolina, played high school football in nearby Simpsonville, played college football at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and spent 10 seasons with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He almost broke his string in 2012 after signing with Cincinnati, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp and never played a regular-season down for the Bengals.

The Panthers picked Wharton up last season in an emergency situation because of injuries and he started 12 of 16 games at left guard.

Now he's calling it quits.

It was no secret. Wharton hinted soon after the season, after watching good buddy Jordan Gross announce his retirement as Carolina's longtime left tackle, that he was done. That the Panthers didn't seriously pursue him for another season made the decision that much easier.

Fortunately the player who never got the credit he deserved was given an appropriate sendoff. His "official'' retirement was announced on Tuesday at the Richardson Building during a break in Carolina's training camp.

In attendance was team owner Jerry Richardson -- making his first appearance at camp -- head coach Ron Rivera, general manager Dave Gettleman, Gross, many of the current players and lots of family.

They paid tribute to a player whose 115 games played and 111 starts ranks second among Carolina offensive linemen, to a player who had the versatility to start at left guard and left tackle, to one who showed class in everything he did and said.

Gross fittingly introduced Wharton and admitted as a going-away present that Wharton beat him in a 40-yard dash after their last practice together before the NFC Divisional playoff loss to San Francisco.

Good thing Wharton did that before Gross lost 70 pounds to look more like a tight end.

Wharton capped the event with a moving speech about how lucky he was to have played his entire career so close to home, and to have been surrounded by so many players and coaches that remain friends.

I know this has nothing to do with speculation on when wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will return from a bruised left knee or when Cam Newton's left ankle will be 100 percent.

I know this has nothing to do with anything that will factor into how the Panthers will do this season -- aside from the fact the character Wharton always displayed is what Richardson wants the organization to be about.

But it was a moment that was worth sharing as the team prepared for an off Wednesday before resuming practice on Thursday.

"It was an awesome experience playing in the NFL,'' Wharton said. "But to do it at home was amazing."