The Carolina Panthers open their 10th anniversary season before a nationwide audience on ABC's NFL Monday Night Football this week to conclude NFL Kickoff '04 Weekend in the team's first Monday night game since 2000.
"MNF" is celebrating an anniversary this year too, its 35th season. And what better way to kick it off than by featuring a matchup between last year's NFC champion Panthers and a team that would like to seize that crown, the Green Bay Packers.
"Last year was a great run, there's no question about it," says Panthers head coach JOHN FOX. "There were a lot of great memories for all our families, our fans, our ownership and players. But that race is over. We have to start the 2004 race now and we're excited about facing the Packers this Monday."
CHOICE DESTINATION: Green Bay, Wisconsin might be the NFL city with the smallest population, but it also has been the league's biggest winner since the start of the current free agency system in 1993.
The Packers made a splash that year with the signing of highly coveted free agent REGGIE WHITE, who spent 1993-98 with the club. His tenure was highlighted by a three-sack performance in a 35-21 victory over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. White, who played in 2000 with the Panthers, helped the Packers to winning seasons in each of his six years with the club.
A look at the NFL's winningest teams since the start of the current free agent system in 1993:
(Team, Record, Winning Pct., Playoff Seasons, Super Bowl Wins)
Green Bay Packers, 117-59, .665, 9, 1
San Francisco 49ers, 110-66, .625, 8, 1
Denver Broncos, 107-69, .608, 6, 2
Kansas City Chiefs, 105-71, .597, 5, 0
Miami Dolphins, 105-71, .597, 7, 0
WINNERS UNDER CENTER: They're both from the South. They've both retained their boyish enthusiasm for football. They both inspire intense loyalty from their teammates. And perhaps most important, they both win.
While Green Bay's BRETT FAVRE is already the standard that many measure other quarterbacks against, Carolina's JAKE DELHOMME is off to an impressive start of his own as a starting QB.
Favre is on the cusp of a number of significant milestones this season, including making his QB record 190th consecutive start; tossing his 350th career touchdown pass; and throwing for 3,000 yards for the 13th time in his career, which would tie DAN MARINO for the most such seasons ever. Meanwhile, Delhomme in 2003 led Carolina to the Super Bowl in his first season as a starter, earning praise for his late-game heroics throughout the season and playoffs.
The current starting quarterbacks with the best winning percentage (minimum 10 starts):
Marc Bulger, StL, 18-4 (.818)
Tom Brady, NE, 34-12 (.739)
Kurt Warner, NYG, 35-15 (.700)
Jay Fiedler, Mia, 36-17 (.679)
Donovan McNabb, Phi, 43-21 (.672)
Brett Favre, GB, 125-64 (.661)
Jake Delhomme, Car, 11-6 (.647)
Steve McNair, Tenn, 69-40 (.633)
Brad Johnson, TB, 58-37 (.611)
Michael Vick, Atl, 12-8-1 (.595)
MONDAY NIGHT MUSINGS - GREEN BAY PACKERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS
FIELDS KEEPS POUNDING
- Carolina Panthers linebacker MARK FIELDS makes his return to the football field Monday night after missing last season while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's disease.
"There are probably not many players in this league that I respect any more than Mark Fields," says Panthers head coach John Fox. "To see him go back out there will be very emotional for everybody."
Fields has been instrumental in the development of the team's charity involvement. This year, the Panthers, in conjunction with Fields and his wife Angela, have announced the establishment of a "Keep Pounding" campaign for cancer research, a follow-up to their "Drop the Hammer on Cancer" campaign last year that raised $125,000.
"We are very pleased to partner with Mark and Angela on this project, which is very close to the Panthers' family," says team president Mark Richardson. "The Drop the Hammer campaign was most successful, and we feel we can have similar results this year."
Carolina linebacker coach and former Panther Sam Mills, who was diagnosed with intestinal cancer last year, coined the phrase "keep pounding" during the team's playoff run to the Super Bowl.
Modeled after cyclist Lance Armstrong's foundation, the Panthers will sell rubber bracelets with Fields' number 58, Mills' number 51 and the message "Keep Pounding." Bracelets will be sold for $1 each at retail outlets and Carolina's Bank of America Stadium with the net proceeds donated to cancer research.
RIVERA VISITS TROOPS
- In late June, Packers Pro Bowl guard MARCO RIVERA joined FOX Sports analyst Brian Baldinger in a visit to U.S. troops in Kuwait and Qatar as part of an NFL-sponsored USO tour. Rivera signed autographs, posed for pictures and interacted with the servicemen and -women during the four-day trip.
At one of the stops on the tour, Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Christine Dare surprised Rivera by producing a Packers football for the Pro Bowl veteran to sign.
"The last thing I expected to find in Kuwait was a Packers football," said Rivera.
FAVRE IS TOUGH
- This offseason, Men's Journal listed Green Bay quarterback BRETT FAVRE as the "Toughest Guy in America," writing that "in 12 seasons with the Packers, Favre has known as much about pain and glory as any athlete of his generation."
USA Today also selected Favre as its toughest athlete, nothing that "the physical beatings don't keep him out. He shrugs off injuries. The mental pressures seem not to faze him as he takes another snap and fires a spiral through Lambeau's swirling gusts."
SUPER CAJUN QBs
- The Panthers' JAKE DELHOMME is only the latest in a long line of quarterbacks hailing from Louisiana who have played in the Super Bowl. Delhomme became the eighth Louisiana-born QB to do so last year when Carolina advanced to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"Somebody ought to do a study," says Carolina offensive coordinator Dan Henning. "I've had a lot of Louisiana quarterbacks and I don't know any of them that I haven't liked. Perhaps it's something in the water down there."
The seven other Louisiana-born quarterbacks to play in a Super Bowl: Terry Bradshaw, Bubby Brister, Stan Humphries, Kordell Stewart, Norris Weese, Doug Williams and David Woodley. And chances are this list will grow soon. Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Patrick Ramsey all were born in Louisiana.