Three masters were at work at Bank of America Stadium early Sunday afternoon. One celebrated a 30-7 win, one had his day cut short and the other's work day started way earlier than the first two and wouldn't end until Tuesday afternoon.
We're talking about Mr. Smith, The President and The Professor.
Steve Smith hauled in six balls for 122 yards and a TD. If he hadn't dropped another potential TD in the fourth quarter, the day could have been even better. After the game Mr. Smith went to Washington, not exactly coming out and endorsing John McCain, but not exactly throwing him under the team bus, either.
"I haven't made up my mind yet. But one wants to raise taxes and one doesn't."
Reggie Bush, aka The President, has never been a fantasy football star, but every time Reggie Bush touched the ball it was as if someone sucked the air out of the stadium with all the gasps. His longest run of the day, a 29-yarder late in the first quarter, included a half-dozen cutbacks. That sprint kick-started a nine-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. Bush accounted for 36 of those yards on three plays.
"He reminds you of the one guy in high school who was so good that he never looked at the playbook," said Panther cornerback Chris Gamble, who more often than not had to shoulder the Bush tackling load with Ken Lucas as the men encountered two-five either running past the D-line or lined up at wideout. "You know the guy who just takes the handoff and then sits back, figures out what he's going to do, and then takes off. You're like, man, that ain't in the playbook."
Neither was an injured knee, which knocked Reggie out of the game at halftime.
Even Panther fans were disappointed.
The only person at the BOA moving faster than Smith and Bush was ESPN's John Clayton, who took his place on the second row of the press box and proceeded to put on a one-man NFL multimedia information spectacular. He lined up live shots for ESPN TV, he phoned in interviews for ESPN radio and shook hands with nearly everyone in the stadium, somehow remembering every name and face, from local beat writers to football bloggers to Panther staffers.
After kickoff he watched all eight one o'clock games at once on his laptop, randomly updating everyone around him.
"The power is out in Buffalo."
"Croyle is down in Kansas City."
"Huard has an injured hand."
"See, that's just bad coaching when you have that many guys in one place at one time."
All the while The Professor simultaneously updated his personal stat sheets, trolled NFL websites, taught a friend how to use an RSS feed, made fun of a colleague's broken chair and typed away with his left hand while cleaning up a spilled cup of coffee with his right.
"All you need to know about John Clayton is to watch how other writers interact with him," said one Charlotte scribe. "When local guys who spend every day with a team are asking John for inside information then you know he's pretty damn dialed in. He's also the nicest guy you'll ever meet in this business."
There are a lot of people who think that Reggie Bush and Steve Smith might one day earn enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To do that, The President will need a lot more of second, third, and fourth quarters like his first on Sunday. And Mr. Smith is going to need to a truckload more of those double-team breaking dashes to pay dirt.
In the meantime, if they need directions to Canton, The Professor can help them out with that. And when they get there they can go look at the Dick McCann Memorial Award that lists the greatest writers in NFL history.
The one with "2007- JOHN CLAYTON" freshly engraved at the bottom.