Carolina Panthers

Love for a glove

CHARLOTTE -- He landed the biggest hit last week, so Na'il Diggs is the big man on campus this week.

Diggs, the Carolina Panthers veteran linebacker, is also the proud owner of the most coveted item in the locker room these days -- a simple black leather Everlast boxing glove.

"Oh, this old thing here?" Diggs said, grin widening at the mere mention of his prized possession. "You know, boxing gloves are used to knock people out. So, ... the person that gets that glove has done something pretty special."

The glove's a symbol of the kind of hard-hitting defense the Panthers have played thus far, as they've stormed to a 3-1 start with an offense that's been inconsistent at times. The constant's been the hard knocks they're doling out.

Whoever gets the big one each week gets the glove. It's only awarded after wins, and safety Chris Harris collected the first two. That had him a bit surly discussing this week's recipient. Think of the old George Foreman scowl, before he got friendly and started selling grills.

"I'm leasing it out this week," Harris said, shaking his head. "Just a one-week lease, that's all. I'm equal opportunity."

This week, it's all Diggs', though his winning move looked like something from wrestling moreso than the boxing ring.

In the second quarter of last week's win, he blew up Atlanta kick returner Jerious Norwood, who was at a full run when Diggs met him with a clothesline-looking tackle at the 17. Clean hit, Diggs never left his feet or did anything untoward, he just chopped Norwood down on a dead run, bringing one of the biggest cheers from the day from the Bank of America Stadium crowd.

It was the kind of hit that had teammates celebrating immediately on the field, and they'd roar later when they saw it in the film room.

"No, it was clear," Diggs said when asked if anyone disputed his receipt of the glove. "A couple of guys tried to fight it, but it was clear."

There's no real voting for the honor, as coach John Fox generally decides the winner. There's usually an obvious favorite. If it's close, Fox will put the contenders on the video screen in the team meeting room, and players will voice their choice "Gladiator" style, thumbs up or thumbs down.

Fox started the process last year, when rookie Jon Beason had the majority of the seven weekly wins.

"He won it by default because we went 7-9 and all my big hits came in losses," Harris said. "Nobody wants it in a loss. It's a little friendly competition back there. After a big hit in a game, I will go over and tap Beason and say, 'I think I got the glove this week.' We just have fun out there."

There's a pair of them, and one hangs on the door of the positional meeting room, while the other goes prominently in the locker of the player. On each is inscribed the date, the score and the player's name in silver marker. The season winner gets to take them home.

Harris treats them like other players steal them, referring to himself as "the rightful owner."

There's a reason for that, as he's one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the game, and the creator of 10 forced fumbles since coming to Charlotte last season.

But some feel there's some inequity in the voting process.

Defensive backs can get a 10- or 15-yard running start on a play, linebackers 5. Diggs had more than 50 to build up speed before dropping Norwood like a felled oak.

"If we can get one in the D-line room, good Lord," defensive tackle Damione Lewis said, rueful that it hasn't happened yet. "When we do get a big hit on, everybody's like 'Nah, that ain't good enough.' C'mon, man, we've only got 2 yards. They get to run through hits. We've got to run through blocks, fall, tripping and stumbling and make a big hit. It may be hard, but we don't get nothing for it.

"I think a 300-pounder hitting somebody's going to hurt more than a 225."

Maybe that's why boxing has weight divisions.

But for the Panthers, there's one champ each week they win, one man who can call himself the pound-for-pound champ.