What is in a name?

You are comfortably settled in your spacious Bank of America Stadium seat during player introductions and you hear the names Goings and Bennett across the public address system with much fanfare. During the course of the game other names such as Bennett and Cramer are seen on the field of play and flashed on the Jumbotron. And for once these names are not being called out by the refs or carted away to the training room.

They are making things happen. They are doing whatever it takes to salvage the season. As you sip upon your cold beverage of choice on this warm Carolina autumn day visions of Canton begin to parade in front of you.

And that would be Canton, Kansas during the summer Prairie Days festival. I mean these are guys who given just about any other scenario could just as well be ranch hands as they are running backs in the NFL. The rash of injuries on this team has caused us to spend about as much time each week doing interviews as they do team drills. I would not be surprised to hear game day programs are issued to the players on Wednesday just so they know who their teammates are come Sunday.

Perhaps I am exaggerating just a tad. I tend to use my creative license here with the same regularity as a mulligan on the golf course. Inside the Charlotte beltway we have had the pleasure of Brad Hoover and Nick Goings coming up big when called upon for several years now. They are both secondary role players who have always played tough when called into action by the coaching staff. They are the sort of guys you need on a team to make the stars look good. These are the 'glue guys' that get teams into the playoffs and beyond. The unfortunate thing is that when the stars are down, these are the guys the fans and the press dump on as lacking talent and ability to win.

But I think we all know Hoover and Goings bring talent and ability to the table. Who can forget that special Monday night introduction we got to Brad in 2000 when he rushed for 117 yards and a score to beat the Packers? It was the birth of H-O-O-V-E-R in Charlotte. And while Nick has been a steady 3rd down guy and backup FB for this team since 2001, yesterday he finally got his coming out party and rushed for a very Stephan Davis like 121 yards and 3 scores. For sure Nick has got it 'goings' on for this team heading into the second half of this season.

Bennett and Cramer are the new guys on the block. Both of them out of work players signed by a team setting new records for injuries in the backfield. Bennett is still largely an unknown around here, but he has found the endzone once. He has averaged a rather paltry 1.3 avg on 5 carries. He does play decent on special teams and that is always a big plus. Bennett may or may not be around next season, but for the 2004 Carolina Panthers he does possess the most important quality. He is not injured. Cramer was signed from some teams practice squad this past week and appeared to play fullback better than just about everyone since some guy named Howard suited up in a Panther uniform. Will be interesting to see how he performs against a much better defensive unit from central Florida next Sunday.

What is probably the most endearing thing about this group is that as far as pro athletes are concerned, they are a group of guys us Joe Six-Packs can sort of identify with. On the economies of scale, they are the lower middle class. Like many of us, they head into the 'office' each day with lots of uncertainty. Are they going to get enough reps at practice to get noticed by the coaches. Are they going to get a chance to play during a game. Are they going to be traded and suddenly find themselves on a plane making phones calls on where they are going live. Are they simply going to be waived and sent home to perhaps never play football in the NFL again. They are not the big names like Manning, Moss and Owens who seem to dance upon a field of diamonds and gold each day of their lives. These are the guys that get to see the fame and fortune sitting at the locker next to them every day of the week knowing that they are perhaps an fumble or injury away from never getting a shot at the good life. While it is easy for us fans to dismiss all NFL players are ultra rich primadonas who are out of touch with reality. There is a significant portion of NFL players who do live in the real world and face the same challenges that many of us have. And in the cases of marginal players who spend their lives bouncing from practice squad to practice squad, they live a gypsy nomad existence that many of us would not wish on our worst enemy.

Amidst all the devastation of this season I am happy to see a group of no name players come out and show the league they can play. I like these guys because they cannot afford to take anything for granted. They have the group agents that juggle their futures with 100 or so other players. They are the players who have the anonymous faces on Madden NFL 2005 or perhaps did not even make it into the game. And to the big suits on Madison Avenue in New York City, they are just scrubs. I think there is also some poetic irony that we are fielding an offensive unit here in the Queen City of Banking that is probably slightly more blue collar than the PSL owning fans who watch them play. The concept that the average fan in attendance at Sunday's game probably has a better annual salary than some of yesterdays starting lineup harkens back to an older time and place in American history.

Have I sucked up enough? Anything to get on the players Superbowl ticket friends and family list ya know.

Seriously though, who can't find this a good story? Especially in a week that has seen NBA players take their violence into the stands and lousy college football players in South Carolina acting like they are playing in the prison league system. I think I have reached critical mass in my life for negative stories about anything or anyone. This team of ours has had the absolute worst of luck. Normally teams this snake bitten fold and just play for the end of the season. But not our boys, they are going to go down clawing and biting. They know the playoff light is just about extinguished but it does not appear to deter them one bit. You may very well need the game program next Sunday to pick out who is who for any given formation. But if you need to name them something, proud will probably work just fine...

Marc Stanton owns and operates PantherFanz.com

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