Aside from paddling my kayak around the prettiest lake in Pennsylvania and trying to get myself in shape for training camps, I did a fair amount of reading while I was off.
Among the books I picked up, two had ties to the NFC South. The first was “Hero of the Underground’’ by Jason Peter. You may remember Peter as the defensive end the Carolina Panthers took with their first-round pick in 1998.
Although Peter gets his life together in the end, this is not really a feel-good story and the language and subject matter makes it tough to recommend for younger readers. But it’s a pretty fascinating book and it’s not really about football.
Peter talks significantly about his college playing days at Nebraska, but once he gets to his time with the Panthers, the theme starts to change. In great detail, Peter explained how he got hooked on pain killers while with the Panthers and also experimented with illegal drugs.
Other than a very humane sendoff by coach George Seifert, who never showed much public personality in his time in Carolina, there’s nothing real enlightening about the Panthers. This book is more about Peter’s deep spiral into drug abuse after Seifert told him his injured body couldn’t hold up anymore.
After football, Peter lived in New York and Los Angeles. He writes that he continued to abuse pain killers and got heavily involved with cocaine and heroin. At one point, Peter wrote, he tried to kill himself.
I had seen an item on HBO’s Real Sports where Peter talked about his addictions. I covered his final three seasons in Carolina and don’t claim to know Peter well because he often wasn’t around due to a whole bunch of different injuries. But, when Peter was around, he seemed like a decent guy and there were no indications of major problems other than his injuries.
Peter makes some broad statements about how prevalent pain pills are in NFL locker rooms. I’ve got no reason to doubt him, but that’s a can of worms for another place and time. Bottom line, Peter wasted a few years of his life buried deep in drugs. But, after several unsuccessful attempts at rehab, Peter said he got clean and he’s done some work as a radio host.
The other book with NFC South ties I read was “A Few Seconds of Panic’’ by Stefan Fatsis. I should say I scanned the book and will read it in its entirety at some point. But what I was scanning for were the parts involving Todd Sauerbrun, Carolina’s former punter, who is one of the most entertaining and unique people I’ve ever met. Fatsis is a reporter who got permission to go through the preseason as a kicker with Denver when Sauerbrun was with the Broncos. Kickers and punters have to spend a lot of time together and Fatsis shares some Sauerbrun tales.
Some of Sauerbrun’s antics through the years have been humorous and this book includes a few new anecdotes. But it also shows a serious side of Sauerbrun, as he stands up and addresses the Broncos after being suspended for four games for taking a dietary supplement. In this instance, Sauerbrun, who often has been described as cocky and unfiltered, is humble and says all the right things.