Talk Becomes Reality
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 15 September 2003

For your post-mortem Monday, we offer the following words of, cough, condolence from the large and flapping mouths of the Carolina Panthers following their 12-9 win against the Bucs. The time for talk is at hand. First, Martin Gramatica, this one's for you. You may have heard that the Panthers don't like you very much. They still don't. This statement comes from Kris Jenkins, the Carolina defensive tackle whom teammate Brentson Buckner said is better than Warren Sapp. Well, we might wait a bit before buying into that one, but we quote Mr. Jenkins because he blocked two kicks, including a seemingly simple PAT at the end of regulation that would have won the game for the Bucs. ``That's huge. You watch film and you see [Gramatica] jumping up and down all the time, and you're thinking, `Man, I just wish somebody would just block the ball so we don't have to see him jump and kick,' '' Jenkins said. ``We got him. When he made one, he just gave a high- five and left. I like that.''

We're not forgetting you, Mr. Buckner. If anyone earned the right to woof a little bit, you did. Buckner caught an unbelievable amount of ``oh yeahs?'' and pointed fingers after his assessment of Jenkins/Sapp ignited Words War I, but who's got anything to say now? ``The Super Bowl was last year,'' he shouted as he headed to the Panthers' dressing room following John Kasay's game-winning field goal in overtime.

Later, he amplified. ``It got real personal out there,'' he said. ``The closer it got, the more you got down to the wire, the more pressure there was on each team to win. A little push turns into a big push in everybody's mind. We're in the same division, so this is turning into a rivalry. You're going to have those type things. It was bad blood out there because [the Bucs] felt I was disrespecting them. I wasn't disrespecting them; I was respecting my own teammates. As long as you're breathing the same air as me and putting on your uniform same as me, I've got as good a chance to beat you and that's all I ever stated.''

Besides, after the way Carolina's defense shut down Jon Gruden's offense Sunday, it didn't seem like bragging. It seemed like reality. Meanwhile, back at Jenkins' locker ... ``If this was the last game, I guess I'd be going to Disney World,'' he said with a winner's smirk.

Ah, but there was so much happiness there. Why limit ourselves to one location? Strong safety Mike Minter stood a few feet from Jenkins and bathed in the joy. It's been a while since Carolina had really earned the right to howl at the moon, or especially to howl at the Super Bowl champs. It was an opportunity too good to waste. ``It was a heavyweight boxing match out there, baby,'' he said. ``They were throwin' 'em, we were throwin' 'em, they had some low blows, we had some low blows. In the end, it came down to the last second,'' he said. ``That's what you expect when you get two great teams battling in a situation like this.''

Great? The Carolina Panthers, uh, great? Speaking of words that haven't been used in the same sentence too often ... but things change. The Panthers greet this morning 2-0 with a road win against the team that won the biggest game, they remind us, of last season. They are young, talented and starting to feel like the Bucs must have felt back in '97. As signature wins go, this one was John Hancock with a flourish. ``I'm hurting in every joint possible,'' defensive end Mike Rucker said. ``That was tough, but that's what we love to do. Basically it was a back-alley street fight, two teams just slugging it out. Fortunately, we were the ones left standing when it was done. I really feel the things we went through last year, we've had a lot of those same things pop up in the first two games. We showed we learned a lot from that.''

The coincidence is inescapable. Carolina lost 12-9 in Charlotte last year after outplaying the Bucs most of the game. To come to Tampa and win by the same score well, let's head back to Jenkins' locker ... ``I'll say we made a strong case [for having a better defensive line than Tampa],'' he said. ``That's not for us to decide, it's for you to decide. The media has the biggest say so, so I'll leave it at that. I was just supporting my teammate in his claim, but you all can decide who's best.''

That's a debate sure to be rekindled Nov. 9 when the Bucs go to Charlotte, but in anticipation of that, we leave you with these words from Rucker and Minter as they stampeded toward Carolina's locker room. ``We shocked the world, shocked the world, shocked the world,'' Rucker said. ``To be the best, you have to beat the best. And we just did.''

And from Minter, this exclamation mark. ``You'd better start believing.'' Or at least start listening.