When the last practice ended the last act of training camp began. Carolina Panther veterans rounded up the rookies and herded them to the goalpost at the edge of the Wofford College practice field.
Not all the veterans did this; many hustled to the shower and then to their car for the ride back to Charlotte. But some veterans stayed, and once they had gathered all the rookies they began to encircle them with masking tape. The circle was big enough to include 167-pound rookie Larry Beavers and 330-pound rookie Duke Robinson and all the rookies between. Around them, and around the goalpost, the tape went.
"Hey, where's Mike Goodson?" asked safety Joe Fields, who is one season safely removed from being a rookie. He repeated the question, this time louder. "Where's Mike Goodson?"
I couldn't tell if Goodson was in the scrum beneath the goalpost. The Panthers have 24 rookies on the roster. One of them is cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Although Munnerlyn played for South Carolina, and although he might have been the best and biggest surprise of camp, he was not immune.
As the tape wound around him, he looked as if he was going to try to break free. But he stayed. If the veterans didn't get him now, they would get him later.
The taping of rookies is a tradition at most NFL camps. It's not like hazing. Hazing is a dumb and dangerous and practice; amazing it still exists, at least in some outposts at some fraternities, in 2009. You figure civilization would have had its way with hazing by now.
Taping is merely a way to let rookies know that even though they have survived the rigors of camp, they are still rookies. Only their feelings get hurt.
Linebacker James Anderson participated in the taping. So did Steve Smith. Julius Peppers was in there. See, he is, too, a regular guy. Thomas Davis and Na'il Diggs. were active
Once the players were taped, and of course they could have broken the tape but they didn't dare try, they were doused with water and Gatorade. Veterans shook up bottles and sprayed.
Davis and Diggs, however, climbed a retractable tower above the players and dumped buckets of water and Gatorade on the rookies. Some of the rookies couldn't see it coming. One senses they were surprised.
Head coach John Fox watched from a distance. Fox told the rookies they had to meet tonight. He said the NFL called and ordered a test on the rookie symposium they had attended. But coach, one asked, what if we didn't attend the symposium?
Fox wasn't ready for this one, but he was quick. He said players who had not attended would be offered a summary of the meeting and receive 10 minutes to study. Then Fox walked away.
Man, the first night away from training camp for the rookies, the first night back in Charlotte, and they have to go in and take a test about information most had forgotten the first night?
Jake Delhomme also addressed the rookies. He told them that Fox had made everything up. There would be no test.
Despite the good news, Munnerlyn was not in good mood. After the rookies, who were soaked by one liquid or another, were released, he complained to anybody who would listen.
"These are my game cleats, man," Munnerlyn said. "I gotta wear these in the game. This ain't right."