Roman Harper created a bit of a stir last week when he looked at the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks, looked at his own Panthers team, and declared that Carolina simply was better. It was a bulletin-board boast from a 10-year veteran that raised eyebrows and illustrated the moxie of the team that has been overlooked for most of the season despite having the top record in the NFL.
He was proved correct. The Panthers beat Seattle, 31-24, Sunday in a divisional playoff game.
“I think they’re at home right now,” Harper said with a shrug on Wednesday of the Seahawks’ ruffled feathers. “So, yeah.”
Now Harper is bird-calling another winged opponent. The Panthers are facing the Cardinals in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. So how does this matchup feel?
“Yeah, we’re better,” Harper told reporters in Charlotte. “We’ve just got to go out there and play. I feel like we’re the best team. We’ve been the best team all year long. We’re not going to shy away from that. We’re going to continue to be who we are.”
Harper is one of only three Panthers players with a Super Bowl ring, having earned his with the 2009 Saints. For most of his teammates, though, this is their first time this far along in the postseason. So they are taking a more muted approach.
Coach Ron Rivera won it all as a backup linebacker for the 1985 Bears. Rivera downplayed the Super Bowl, even avoiding saying those two words. He referred to the prospect as “the next game” after the Cardinals. He wants his team focusing on Sunday’s contest, not what could happen after it.
And Cam Newton said the only thing different about Sunday’s game will be the media attention. “We could have this game in the parking lot, we could have this game on the practice field,” the quarterback said. “It’s just a football game.”
The stakes, though, are much higher. Neither the Panthers nor the Cardinals has won a Super Bowl, and one of those teams will get another chance at it. It could very well be the Panthers, who have a 16-1 record and yet are largely overlooked. They would become the ninth team to advance to the big game with one or no losses, and the first one-loss team to do so since the 1985 Bears (the 2007 Patriots were 18-0 going into Super Bowl XLII).
Yet the Panthers are not spoken about with the reverence reserved for those teams. The way to fix that lack of respect is to prove Harper correct again. To not just say they are the best team in the league, but to prove it by winning it all.
“I told them it’s something special to have that dash at the end of your name,” Harper said. “When people look at your player profile it’s ‘Josh Norman — Pro Bowl, Super Bowl champion.’ That’s something special and I want that for everybody in this room.”