SPARTANBURG -- Coming to grips with the fact this was going to be his last season was hard for Mike Minter.
Realizing he might not even be able to get that far appears to be gut-wrenching, for him and the Carolina Panthers.
Minter, the veteran safety and emotional leader of the team for most of the last decade, said Friday he's considered retiring before the start of the regular season.
"Yeah, ... yeah," he replied with a soft nod when asked Friday afternoon if there was a chance his career could end soon. "I wouldn't lie to y'all. Yeah, that's a possibility.
"I wouldn't say I'm leaning that way, because you know, I want to do this. But is it a possibility, yeah it's a possibility."
Those words were as unexpected as they were poignant, because this season was supposed to be a farewell tour for Minter, a final chance to enjoy what has been a marvelous career here.
Originally drafted in the second round of the 1997 draft, he's been here through most of the franchise's highs and lows.
He's been known for being tough and smart, one of the most durable players in the league in recent years. He saw his career nearly end early because of a staph infection and he played on a broken foot in the Super Bowl loss four years ago.
So for him to admit he wasn't sure he could wrap up his career on his terms because of the pain in his knees shows how much he must hurt.
"If people were to show you my X-rays from when I came here, you'd be shocked," Minter said. "You'd say 'How do you do what you did all these years?' It'd be amazing. That's God.
"I was bone-on-bone when I came here, after I had my ACL surgery (in 1994 at Nebraska) it tore everything up. Bone-on-bone from then on. Then I had the staph infection my second year (1998) which totally ate up my knee. And I thought that was the end of my career. I remember going through the offseason thinking 'Man, this is it. I'm going to be done in two years.'
"There's no other way of saying, it got healed. It's amazing what God can do with some broken up stuff."
Minter laughed easily at several points during the interview, which began innocently enough when he was asked about his increasing time off during camp. He's skipped four of the 11 practices and has been limited in the ones in which he did practice because of the aching knees, and has taken limited reps in the others.
But after hinting at his thoughts of the future, Minter said he knew coming into this camp there was a chance he might not be able to finish it.
"I tell you what, it's like overnight," he said. "You wake up the next day and it just doesn't feel the same. But that's where we're at right now. I'm sitting here looking at Week 12 right now saying 'Wow, if I feel like this right now in training camp, Week 12's going to be really bad.'
"You know what, it's something (retirement) I'm definitely thinking about man, really."
Minter recently discussed the situation with coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, and that he planned to let them know before the end of camp.
He was careful to say that he wanted to give himself more time to make the decision, to give himself every opportunity to play again. He said going through a scrimmage like today's, and going through a preseason game like next week's at New York would go a long way toward telling him whether he can continue. Then again, he might already know.
"Not being able to go two times a day, that type of stuff," he said while shaking his head. "You start to think shoot, maybe this is it right here."
If this is it, the Panthers began to cover themselves with Thursday's trade for Chicago safety Chris Harris.
When asked when Minter told them he was thinking about quitting, Hurney hedged, not wanting to create the impression the trade (for next year's fifth-round pick) was a desperation move.
Aside from Harris, they have sore-kneed Nate Salley and journeyman Deke Cooper along with rookie C.J. Wilson.
"He's told us about it, and we support whatever decision he makes," Hurney said. "You train yourself to be flexible in this business, and now we've got to wait and see. It is what it is at this point.
"You could lose a player for the season to an injury at any point in time, so you're kind of used to having a contingency plan."
No one's handicapping his odds of playing, and Minter said he might not know for some time.
" That's a great question," he said, when asked for a percentage chance he'd give himself. "I don't know. To be honest with you, I don't. It's day-to-day.
"You find out day-to-day how you react, how you go. Then, you let the Lord's will take its course. I don't know. I wish I could tell you but I don't know yet. But when I find out, I'll let you know."
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