<
>

Panthers CB Cortland Finnegan gives up hoops for another shot in NFL

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- How did new Carolina Panthers cornerback Cortland Finnegan stay in shape during his seven-month semi-retirement from the NFL?

"I actually picked up my basketball game a little bit on the side," Finnegan said Monday after signing with the Panthers. "Being light-skinned, you think you're Steph Curry."

Finnegan found out quickly that his jumper isn't as good as Curry's, but he does have something in common with the reigning NBA MVP, who is from Charlotte.

Both are on undefeated teams.

Curry's Golden State Warriors are 18-0. The Panthers are 11-0, the only undefeated team in the NFL after New England lost to Denver on Sunday night.

But Carolina didn't lure the 31-year-old Finnegan out of retirement because of his jump shot. They brought him here to add depth at cornerback with starter Charles Tillman out indefinitely with a hyperextended knee.

Nickel corner Bene' Benwikere has replaced Tillman the past two games, meaning Colin Jones has stepped into Benwikere's role. Finnegan, when ready, will be a part of the rotation with Jones.

"I loved the thought of playing inside my whole life, just because I wanted to be Ray Lewis growing up," Finnegan said. "I like inside. Definitely can play outside if needed."

Finnegan has been living in Nashville since announcing his retirement in March. But he never turned in his retirement papers, leaving open the possibility of a return.

"Any guy that plays the game, they want one more snap," Finnegan said. "I got giddy putting on the helmet today. Practice is going to be my Super Bowl, so to speak, because it will be one more time I get one more snap."

Finnegan has been called one of the dirtiest players in the NFL during his time in the league because of his aggressiveness. Some have called him the Dennis Rodman of the NFL.

"The funny thing is, he's my favorite basketball player of all time," Finnegan said. "Just go figure it. All his antics outside of basketball, let's not go there.

"But I just love his work ethic. He came in and worked hard."

That's what Finnegan plans to do with the Panthers, who have the league's second-ranked defense heading into Sunday's game against the Saints.

Finnegan repeatedly said how thankful and blessed he feels to be in this position. He can't wait to wear his new No. 26 jersey, which he quickly reminded people is the same number 11-time Pro Bowl defensive back Rod Woodson wore.

Trying to be Stephen Curry, whose favorite NFL team happens to be the Panthers, just wasn't cutting it.

"No, it didn't do enough," Finnegan said of basketball. "I can't take my talents any further."

Football is another story, of course.

"I love this game," Finnegan said. "I hope I can come in here and serve these guys, from teaching somebody something or just making a play on the field."