Just two seasons ago

Just two seasons ago, questions were raised about the hiring of John Fox as head coach of the Panthers following a 1-15 season. Dealing with a roster filled with aging veterans, marginal talent, and questionable depth, Fox had his hands full in his first head coaching opportunity in the NFL.

Two short years later, the Carolina Panthers are headed to the Super Bowl.

Although making marked improvement in his second season at the helm in Carolina, the Panthers were strictly a defensive football team. Fox knew in short order to have the ability to compete in the NFC South division, his Panthers needed to improve on the offensive side of the ball.

Wanting to take advantage of a strong and improving defense, Fox was determined to upgrade the so-called offensive skill positions, if the Panthers were to become a competitive team.

"Everything we did as an organization was evaluated and the direction we have gone in was a decision made by the entire organization," Fox recently said. "Jerry (Richardson) is a great owner to work for and he has been extremely supportive in the way we have gone about getting this done."

Virtually a long-shot at the beginning of the season to be a .500 team, much less the NFC representative in the championship game, the Panthers are not the smoke and mirrors team, many of the opponents may have taken lightly early in the 2003 season.

The key element to the continued success of the Panthers could be seen as a gift from the Washington Redskins. Veteran running back Stephen Davis was released by the Redskins in a so-called salary-cap related move early in 2003. Not fitting into the scheme of head coach Steve Spurrier in Washington, Davis did not have to look far for a team that fits his on the field talents.

Carolina was looking for a durable running back, a veteran that has shown the ability to be dependable and carry the load. In Davis, the Panthers received just that, and much more.

"Stephen Davis is the model professional running back and exactly what we were looking for heading into the off-season last year," Fox said. "When he was released in Washington, we evaluated his play and consistency and knew he was a fit for what we wanted to accomplish here.

We wanted to run the football, control the line of scrimmage and clock with a power running game, but Stephen also has the strength, speed, and quickness to gain positive yardage when a play breaks down."

Playing solid, physical defense, limiting turnovers, and controlling the game-clock behind a relentless rushing attack, the Panthers are a football which plays under control. They take on the personality of their coach and believe they belong where they are.......on the doorstep of winning a championship.

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