CHARLOTTE -- Carolina Panthers defensive end Otis Grigsby never wanted to give up the dream.
But when his own mother started hinting it might be time to surrender, he had to wonder.
After five years with four teams (including one in Europe), the 26-year-old Grigsby finally played in his first NFL game last week in St. Louis, and made a few plays to prove the wait was worth it.
"It means a lot," he said, with the same grin that couldn't be scrubbed off his face after the Panthers' 27-13 win, in which he played a significant role. "You put a lot of work into something, and you know everything you want doesn't happen the way you want it when you want it, and after a certain amount of time goes by you're like, 'Man, is it going to happen?'
"And then when something good happens you also look at it like, 'Don't get too happy about it because I'm still not where I want to be.' I'm nowhere near where I want to be. But this is a step in the right direction."
While the quest for quality personnel has become a multi-million-dollar industry for the NFL, Grigsby's the equivalent of found money.
The Panthers signed him in 2006 to send to NFL Europe, never imagining he'd last very long once he came home.
But a funny thing happened. He made enough plays in Europe, came home and made a few more, and although they cut him, they brought him back in December on the practice squad. And when they re-signed him in January, it barely merited a mention.
But the Panthers had this nagging feeling there was something there, so one more chance didn't seem to be such a risk. The way he worked when he was around made it an easy call.
"He's just such a hard-working, relentless guy in everything he does, and you need that in this league," Panthers coach John Fox said.
As recently as August, it hardly looked like he'd be hanging around. He wasn't anything more than a curiosity, known by "My Man," his nickname.
Grigsby kept hanging around and things kept happening. He'd make a play in practice and follow it up late in a preseason game.
Then guys missed some time with illnesses and injuries. And he just kept making plays.
Grigsby expresses nothing but gratitude for the chance, since he never imagined himself getting to this point.
He said when he was growing up, his mother, Loretta Grigsby, set him on a strict academic path. Weekends meant trips to the library, and he didn't play his first football until seventh grade. That's why four years worth of camps amounting to no full-time work had his mother suggesting he look in other directions.
"Yeah, lots of times," Grigsby said when asked if he ever considered giving up. "I mean, when your family starts telling you, 'Otis, law school's starting to look kind of good now ...' My mother raised me to be an academic kid, not an athlete. So playing football, being this far, was nothing I could ever imagined or expected or even dreamed of."
The Panthers are grateful he stuck with it. Much like the story of Al Wallace, who spent five years spinning wheels before becoming a contributor, the Panthers are getting good work out of a little-known part. Grigsby had two quarterback pressures in the opener, including a crucial fourth-down hurry in the fourth quarter.
General manager Marty Hurney said there was nothing specific that made guys like Wallace and Grigsby able to come on late in their careers, but they shared many of the same characteristics.
"You do see all the same intangibles, the same hard work," Hurney said. "There's a determination there on both their parts, they kept at it, they both had the tools and they finally got the chance."
Grigsby laughed, saying he thought the chance might have come his rookie year (2003) with Miami. Coaches kept telling him to be ready, but when it was time to declare the 45-man roster, his shoulder pads would always disappear from his locker.
That's why he tried to temper his enthusiasm last week, when line coach Sal Sunseri kept telling him to be ready.
"Sal came up to me, it was Friday, he told me to be ready," Grigsby said. "I was really on alert the whole time. I wasn't sure until I went to the locker and saw the pads.
"But even when I saw the pads, I still tried to calm myself, because I've seen the pads before."
With Stanley McClover missing practice again Thursday, the chance grows that those pads will be there again this week.
"Honestly, in my mind, I was telling myself it was going to be," Grigsby said. "When they came to me on Friday and said, 'Be prepared,' once they say (that) the only way you can be prepared is to go this direction. You know that some doubt might creep into your head but the bottom line is I have to act like I'm going to be in there."