Jon Beason shed a tear during the national anthem in Charlotte last Sunday.
Not only because he couldn’t be there playing, but because of the guys who were.
The Giants linebacker spent the first 6 1⁄2 seasons of his career with the Panthers, most of them as the face of the team’s defense, if not the franchise.
A first-round pick in 2007, he went to three Pro Bowls for the Panthers, but he never got as far as they made it last Sunday, hosting the NFC Championship Game.
And then to win it so convincingly and head to the Super Bowl?
“To see the guys who are still on that team who have been through the 2-14 years where things were really, really bad, and to see all their hard work pay off and come to fruition now, makes me so excited and so happy for them,” Beason told Newsday. “But it’s very hard . . . There are mixed emotions. You want to see your boys go out and do well and you know you were a part of it.”
Beason was there for the infancy of this championship run. He still has some very close friends on the Carolina roster, from fellow linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly to running back Jonathan Stewart, center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen.
“The reason you get emotional is because as a player, it’s truly, truly only about the relationships that you build and the work you put in en route to winning a championship,” Beason said. “They’re on the brink of doing something special, something that has never been done in team history, and that’s what it’s about. You’re sad, but at the same time also happy for them.”
Beason recalled the dark years in Carolina, when the confetti was only a dream. But he was careful not to take any credit for what this year’s team has achieved.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a part of their success,” he said. “I would say that having played there and knowing the work that was put in, the way we went about our business, the way guys felt about having those bad years and trying to get in the playoffs and trying to become relevant and trying to gain the national spotlight — I played in three prime-time games in 6 1⁄2 seasons there, whereas in New York we play six a year — to see the work and knowing the staff and the coaches and the people there, it’s hard not to feel a part of it because you were there so long.”
It’s not all sweet emotions. Beason noted that he was especially excited to play against his former team with the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 20, but he was on season-ending injured reserve for the second straight year by that time.
“When you get traded, you are slighted to [hear], ‘Hey, the organization is feeling they can move on without your services,’ ” he said. “You want to go out and play well in that game.”
But most of those hard feelings have been pushed aside during this playoff run.
“I’m a fan, a friend and obviously a foe, but I pull hard for them,” Beason said. “I worked hard for them. I did what I could to try to make sure we were successful. To sit back and watch it come to fruition, it’s just a beautiful thing. It’s a fairy tale, and I’m just enjoying reading the book.”
Beason’s future up in the air. Beason, 31, said he has yet to have surgery on his knee, and how he recovers from the procedure will determine whether he plays in 2016. He has one year left on his contract with the Giants, and after missing 51 games in the past five seasons because of various injuries, he said he will consider retirement.
“Based on how I feel coming out of that surgery and how rehab goes will determine a lot for me and my future,” he said.
Beason is scheduled for a 2016 base salary of $2.8 million and a potential roster bonus of $2.2 million, making it just as likely that the Giants will decide his fate before he does. But Beason said in a radio interview earlier this month that he would prefer to do things on his own terms if this indeed is the end of his career.
The knee surgery is not complex and the rehab will not take long, Beason said, but it still will be a process. So why the delay?
Beason said he has other things pulling at him these days. “The thing that’s slowing me up more than anything now is I’m home and I have a 9-week-old daughter who I enjoy spending a lot of time with,” he said. “I just don’t want to miss any time.”
For the first time in his life, perhaps, football is not coming first. That could be an indication of where his future lies.