Carolina Panthers

NFL legend Joe Theismann: Carolina Panthers team to beat in NFC South

Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann speaks at a luncheon held by the Charlotte Touchdown Club on Friday, June 19, 2015.
Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann speaks at a luncheon held by the Charlotte Touchdown Club on Friday, June 19, 2015. ddeaton@charlotteobserver.com

Former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann was the guest speaker during Friday’s luncheon hosted by the Charlotte Touchdown Club at the Westin Hotel.

For more than an hour, Theismann spoke about his historic football career and his relationship with former coach Joe Gibbs, who introduced Theismann to the crowd. Theismann led Washington to a Super Bowl win in 1982 and is the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards.

Theismann’s career ended after a Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants in 1985, when he broke his leg while being sacked by Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.

Before his speech, Theismann talked with the Observer about the state of the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton’s recent contract extension and the injury that ended Theismann’s career.

Q: What was your initial reaction to Cam Newton’s contract extension (five-year, $103.8 million)?

A: I was excited for Cam. ... Cam had himself in a situation where he’s a good enough football player. I think he deserves it, because that’s what the market bears. The big thing, I mentioned this on a radio show the other day, for Cam ... is don’t try to justify your money. Continue to improve as a football player and a leader of this football team. But don’t feel like you need to justify to anybody the amount of money you’re making. I think that’s one of the most important things and one of the pitfalls the guys fall into. Everybody is going to come up to him and say, “Now you have to earn your money.” You already have earned your money. Now it’s a question of getting better at your trade.

Q: During Newton’s press conference, general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera said they believe Newton can take the team to the “promised land.” How can you see him continue to make the progression he’s made and reach that?

A: Cam’s shown an awfully lot of toughness. He’s shown mental fortitude. He’s continued to improve at his trade, which is throwing the football. Nobody doubts his athletic skills. I watch him do things that are just phenomenal. It’s nigh on impossible to do some of the things. Physically, I considered myself a mobile quarterback. I watch Cam, and I’m humbled in a big way by his ability to escape. I think he has to become more accurate as a pocket passer. That’s the one element he can work on and continue to get better and better at. But it’s the team that’s coming together around him. You need to be able to run the football, you need to be able to play great defense and you need receivers you’re comfortable with. That’s what I think is going to happen this year. I still think Carolina is still the team in the (NFC South) division to beat.

Q: How can you see Carolina continue to improve around Newton on the offensive side of the ball and Luke Keuchly on the defensive side of the ball?

A: You bring in pieces. You add to the defensive line. You add to the secondary one or two players. I don’t think Carolina is that far away, and I don’t think they’re that far away in their mind either. Maybe two or three players if they add them in the right place. I think (Kelvin) Benjamin has to watch his weight. He can’t be a little, pudgy receiver. He’s a second-year kid, and that’s the one thing. I think the problem he’s going to run into if his weight gets out of hand, as a receiver you’re not going to be able to run as much, which means you’re probably going to wind up with more (hamstring) pulls than most people. You can’t make the team in the tub. It doesn’t do you any good. It’s an old saying, but it’s a true saying. The only way to get better in our business is to show up every day, go to work and learn. By missing OTAs, by missing minicamp time, you haven’t learned anything, and eventually somebody will replace you.

Q: You mentioned how quickly a career can come to an end. Given your injury, how can you see Newton live out his contract, especially as a mobile quarterback?

A: He needs to play smart football. Anybody that has the abilities he has, don’t take the unnecessary hits. He has nothing to prove to anyone about his manhood. He’s a tough guy. He doesn’t need to try to run over safeties. He doesn’t have to try to run over linebackers. He has to try to avoid them and avoid as much contact as he can, because the only way you’re good to your football team is when you’re on the field, not on the sidelines rehabilitating.

Q: What do you remember about that moment when you suffered your injury?

A: I remember everything. I can close my eyes today. I can see Joe’s (Gibbs) face. I can see (Washington trainer) Bubba Tyer’s face. I can feel the moister on my back. Off to my left was the big clock at 10:05 p.m. I remember that. I remember the sounds and the smells. It will be 30 years this year, and to me, sometimes it feels just like yesterday.

Q: What sort of relationship have you had with Lawrence Taylor since then?

A: We play golf together. We’ve played golf together. I just won’t let him stand on my left side.

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