Most NFL players spend the week focusing on Sundays. For Jerricho Cotchery, a 12-year veteran, it’s actually the day after that brings him the most joy at this point in his career.
“Our Mondays are awesome,” the Panthers wide receiver told Newsday after Sunday’s NFC divisional-round playoff win over the Seahawks. “We get to sit around and talk to each other, and it’s a real good group to be a part of. The one word that keeps coming up is ‘special.’ It is truly a special group. A family atmosphere. Guys just love coming to work.”
For another week, at least, they will get to do that. The Panthers will host the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game this weekend. They’re one win from the Super Bowl, a point that Cotchery has reached twice but never was able to get beyond. His Jets teams went to back-to-back AFC title games after the 2009 and 2010 seasons — his final two years with the team — only to lose to the Colts and the Steelers.
Now, at 33, Cotchery knows he might not get another chance.
“I’m just thankful to be in this position at this point in my career to be able to play meaningful ball,” he said before bringing it back to his teammates once again. “And to do it with this group — a lot of times guys are on teams that are really not that close, especially with older guys. But it’s a real close-knit group of guys who know how to have fun. It’s been a fun year. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”
Cotchery was a fourth-round pick of the Jets in 2004, making him the oldest drafted Jet still playing in the NFL. He spent two productive seasons in Pittsburgh after his seven years in green, then signed with the Panthers before the 2014 season. It wasn’t a splashy signing, but it turned out to be an important one for a relatively inexperienced team.
”I think he’s done more than just come out and catch footballs,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s helped us develop some young, talented football players.”
Cotchery had no initial desire to be a mentor, though.
“I wasn’t interested in leaving Pittsburgh for anybody else but this team here,” he said. “It had to be a contender at this point in time of my career.”
And it has been. The Panthers have won a playoff game in each of his first two seasons.
“When I got the chance to sit down with coach Rivera and see the type of guy he was, man, who wouldn’t want to play for him?” Cotchery said. “You knew right away he was a guy who could lead the troops. There are a lot of things that brought me here. I’m just thankful that they wanted me and that I came.”