CHARLOTTE, N.C.- You don't really shed a tear when the Panthers cut or lose certain players: Kerry Collins springs to mind. William Floyd wore out his welcome and left with little fanfare. Heck, I nearly threw a party when we parted ways with Norberto Garrido! With the revolving door of less-than-stellar talent then Panthers have employed, you'll be able to name another ten thrill-inducing cuts at the drop of a hat. But it's rare when we lose a guy and fans are filled with regret.
Pat Jeffers is one of the few. If there's a player I wanted to recover from an injury more than Jeffers, I don't know who it is. Pat gave the team and the fans that one astounding season of 1999, a season in which he became a human highlight reel. He fit the mold of a West Coast offense wide receiver to a ‘T'. Pat was tall and sure handed. He had a smooth kind of speed, never looking as if he was moving that fast at all. He could go over the middle and streak down the sidelines as well. It's those sideline plays I'll remember most: He would come straight at an unsuspecting cornerback (who didn't know about Pat's speed), then put on a move or two, and Pat would be gone for a touchdown! He was a bona fide big play threat that complemented the receiving skills of Muhsin Muhammad and Wesley Walls. Visions of future dominance danced in the heads of fans everywhere! With two 1000+ yards wide-outs and the constant Pro-Bowler at tight end, we would control the air for years to come. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.
In a preseason game against Pittsburgh the following year, Jeffers suffered an injury that would prove to be the end of his time with Carolina. (In fact, his knee injury may have been the event that began the downfall of George Seifert as well. Nothing seemed to go right from that point on!) Three unsuccessful years of rehab teased Panther fans, but #83 never regained that flashy form of 1999. He was released by a coach who didn't bring him in – By a coach who wasn't here to feel the excitement of 1999. That's not to say Coach Fox and Marty Hurney were necessarily wrong in cutting Jeffers loose. If nothing else, it shows a strength of decision-making absent in previous regimes. If he can't produce, he simply can't produce. They didn't let this drag on and on like the Biakabutuka situation. Even if the past is sweet in spots, it is the past. We have to make the tough calls and look at the present and the future.
In the end, we are left with those memories of what was and the ruined dreams of what might have been. Since his release, Pat Jeffers has declared his playing days are not over. He says he will be back. If he can rebuild himself into the player he was three years ago, I hope he does come back. I hope he gives the Panthers the first shot at signing him, if he's back to form. I just hope he doesn't come back at less than full strength. I don't want to see him get hurt again, and I don't want to remember Jeffers in less than top shape. I want to remember him gliding into the end zone, making fools of defenses everywhere.
So thank you, Patrick Jeffers. Thank you for the plays you gave us, and thank you for the memories you made. Thank you for being a loyal Panther while you were here – You could've whined during you rehab, complaining to the press about other guys getting your playing time. But you didn't. You restructured your deal when you didn't have to. You even took an outright pay cut, not the typical conversion of salary into bonus money, and you did it just to stay with the team – Just to try and get back on the field. On behalf of all Panther fans, I say thank you and goodbye, Patrick Jeffers. Good luck in whatever your future holds.