Chase Blackburn helped the Giants win two Super Bowls. He also played for the Panthers. And he’s starting to see similarities between the two franchises that haven’t always been very evident.
“Carolina, from when I got there, they’ve really evolved over the last few years,” Blackburn told Newsday in a recent telephone interview. “They’ve become a franchise that players enjoy playing for, too, and I don’t know that that was always the case.”
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And one of the biggest reasons for that, Blackburn said, actually came directly from the Giants.
Dave Gettleman worked in the Giants’ front office from 1998 to 2012, helping to build a pair of Super Bowl champions. As director of pro personnel, he was as much a part of shaping the rosters of those title teams as Ernie Accorsi or Jerry Reese. Then, in 2013, he was hired as the general manager of the Panthers.
Now look who’s knocking on Lombardi’s door. Not the Giants.
“I would say that was a big part of it, yes,” Blackburn said. “He’s helped that team tremendously.”
Blackburn signed with the Panthers in 2013 and played two seasons for them. Those were developmental seasons for the team. Cam Newton was a third-year quarterback when Blackburn arrived. Ron Rivera was a third-year head coach.
Now they are undefeated at 13-0, Newton is the presumptive MVP candidate, and Rivera seems to be pushing all the right buttons toward a Super Bowl title. The buttons that Gettleman has given him.
“He and I are constantly talking,” Rivera said. “I’ll come upstairs and after he watches the tape [he’ll say], ‘Did you see this?’ And I listen to him, and he listens to me. That’s when you’ve got good synergy. That’s the nice thing about it.”
The Giants used to rely on that as well.
“Dave’s a football guy,” Tom Coughlin said. “Give him a screen and a projector, whatever we call it today, and give him players to evaluate and he’s exceptional . . . We would always rely on Dave and his grades and his opinions about players.”
Gettleman has been part of six Super Bowl teams, including three winners. He was with Buffalo in 1990 and 1991, Denver in 1997 and the Giants in 2000, 2007 and 2011. The Panthers could be his seventh, and the first with him at the top of the flowchart.
It was Accorsi who headed the search for the Panthers’ general manager and recommended Gettleman, then 61, for the job in 2013. Gettleman had been passed over for a number of general manager openings, and a year earlier, he had taken a demotion of sorts in the Giants’ front office — going from director of pro personnel to senior pro personnel analyst — to widen his base. He needed to take one step back to take two steps forward.
And now his Panthers are several paces ahead of everyone else in the NFC.
Newton this past week called Gettleman “a great human being, a fair human being.” And he pointed out that his assessment of players is not only limited to the field.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for that,” Newton said. “He’s an unbelievable person who searches for talent and not just talent, but good [moral] talent. Guys that uphold their end of the bargain when they come here and guys that hold people to a standard. He knows that in this league, you have to produce whether you’re a player, a coach or even a GM. We know that. It starts with him and coach Rivera and it just trickles on down.”
Gettleman hasn’t always made the popular decision. He parted ways with key veterans such as Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Jon Beason (whom he traded to the Giants). He also gave Greg Hardy a franchise tag and $13.1 million in 2014 but saw him play only one game after his domestic violence arrest.
He also stuck with Rivera despite a losing record last season.
“If I had gotten let go last year in the middle of the year because I was on the hot seat,” Rivera said, “we may have never gotten where we are today.”
Despite that turmoil, the Panthers just clinched their third straight NFC South title.
“I know, and we all know, he hasn’t always been a fan favorite,” Newton said of Gettleman. “For him to be mentally tough throughout those stages and understanding that there’s a plan in place, it’s been great to see.”
And for those with Giants ties, very familiar.
“When I first got there, it had a different feel than it does now,” Blackburn said of the Panthers’ organization. “It feels like a championship-level team in confidence and expectation, which is what the Giants have always had since I’ve been there. The Panthers are moving in that direction, but the Giants have had that for a long time.”