On his last carry DeAngelo Williams took a huge hit from 230-pound linebacker Jonathan Vilma. He rose slowly, walked to the bench and walked the length of the bench. He was quickly joined by head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion. But whatever was hurting him he appeared to shake off. Williams joined Jonathan Stewart on the bench and then meandered down and joined the tight ends. He looks fine.
It's the game everybody expected -- the big play Panthers against the grind-it-out Saints.
Fans are louder now, on Carolina's first drive of the second quarter, than they've been all afternoon. On third and 11 from the Carolina 14, the Panthers succumb to the noise and the philosophy of their head coach and play it safe. They hand the ball to Jonathan Stewart. He fumbles. The Saints have the ball on the Carolina 16.
Then the Panhters make another big play. Cornerback Chris Gamble steps in front Marques Colston, at 6-4 a favored target when the Saints get close to the end zone, picks off Drew Brees' pass and returns it to the Carolina 45.
The makeshift bars were set up on Poydras Street, and the closer we got to the Louisiana Superdome, the more there were. Instead of drinking in parking lots, fans drank as they walked the street.
To lure fans from the French Quarter, teams try to turn every game into a party. Before the New Orleans Hornets played the Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Arena Friday, hundreds of fans stood outside the gym. A band played. Beer was handed out free to season ticket holders. Everybody else had to pay $1.
The crowd in front of the Louisiana Superdome included a surprising number of Panther fans. They weren't the ones yelling, "Who dat?"
Woke up early this morning and decided to go out and run. I'm on the top floor of the hotel; you need a special key to get up here. It's a nice hotel but inexpensive. You hear that, Charlotte Observer. It's inexpensive.
I turn the corner to get to the elevator and have to step over a guy passed out face first on the floor. He's wearing only boxers.
Good morning, New Orleans.
I step outside and see a guy walking behind me. He's pulling a bag and using a cane. I open the door to the street and hold it at least 10 seconds. He doesn't say thanks. He doesn't even think about it. Like a fool, I say, "You're welcome." What I should have said is, "Is white trash one word or two?"
On the street I step over chicken bones and fast-food paper bags. I turn the corner and an old guy is passed out on a stairwell. Halfway down the block, the bar is hopping. It's 6:36 a.m.
New Orleans isn't for everybody. If, for example, you look for a chain restaurant when you travel, you probably won't like it here.
There is a spirit and an odd beauty, however. Some days you have to work harder than others to find it.
Many of the bars are open as I run slowly, too slowly, through the French Quarter. There's a lot of dog walking but the streets are mostly empty. Somebody has a truck with a cardboard sign on the back: 17-N-O.
Not bad. And it's much better than the team of destiny T-shirt the malls sell. There is no destiny other than the one we create -- despite what the NASCAR folks say.
A shirtless guy, thick guy, goes through a garbage can and pulls out an empty wine bottle. He looks pleased.
I work my way to the Mississippi River, always a great place to run. The sky opens and the water flows. On Saturday, a guy next to the river was playing a saxaphone, and not particularly well. He had a box in front of him for tips. I had already given a dollar to the guy playing a blues riff on his guitar and $2 to the man with the band in front of Cafe du Monde.
The sax guy finished about 10 seconds after my kids and I walked past, and when nobody gave him money, he flipped.
"You're cheap!" he screamed at the group in front of him.
We also walked past a woman who stood next to a wall and sang. She was the kind of singer Simon makes fun of. My older kid said he almost gave her a $10.
To stop, he said.
A block from the Mississippi I pass the bench where on Saturday I heard a well-dressed guy say into his cell phone, "I see dead people in my bed every night."
Buddy, I know the feeling. The last year of my first marriage, I saw one, too.
Even if it's finally legal for the Charlotte Knights to build their Class AAA baseball stadium downtown -- uptown is what everybody else calls it -- I don't see it happening. And that's unfortunate.
There was momentum once. The Knights had offered to pay their share and a little bit more, and prominent Charlotte politicians eagerly endorsed the project. Despite our silly quest to force strangers to call our city World Class, a minor league team playing downtown was fine with most of us.
The idea of catching a game after work or driving downtown and building the night around the Knights was appealing. Fresh air and baseball are a fine way to end a day. I know a restauranteur who planned to open a shop downtown only because of the ballpark.
But progress encountered Charlotte real estate attorney Jerry Reese. Reese regularly files lawsuits to impede any progress on the stadium. I've talked to him. He is a fan of baseball, and I think he sincerely believes that Charlotte can support a Major League team.
He's wrong, as every study conducted attests. We'll tear it up on weekends when the bleachers are full of fans from our town as well as Greensboro and Greenville. S.C. But during the week, unless the visitors bring glamour, the bleachers often will be empty.
Major League teams in cities that begin with an M -- Miami, Minneapolis and Milwaukee -- flirted with Charlotte when they wanted a new stadium. But they were pretending. They were never serious.
The NFL is the national pastime in almost every city, Charlotte included. Despite interest in the New York Yankees-Philadelphia World Series, television ratings don't lie.
The delays have stopped momentum. Although the ballpark has not gone up, the costs have.
The problem with playing in Fort Mill is that it is not a destination. The stadium is out of the way, and the team won't draw consistently no matter how much money the team invests.
Downtown Charlotte would work beautifully. Class AAA baseball there would be a huge hit.
Sadly, I don't see it happening
A former NFL head coach walked up at halftime and said, "See what happens when you don't turn the ball over."
That's a factor. Here's another: Lost in the big plays of the first half could be the performance of Carolina's offensive line. It shouldn't be. The line not only stopped Arizona, it knocked the Cardinals backward.
Jake Delhomme's passing rating at halftime is 145.4. Just a guess, but if he sustains that, the Panthers win.
They lead 28-7 at the break.
Don't know what's going to happen later, but so far this is the team we expected to see when the season began. The Panthers are running beautifully and blocking beautifully and when Jake Delhomme stops handing off, he has thrown efficiently. He went four for six on the game-opening touchdown drive. He just hit Steve Smith with a 50-yard touchdown pass after a pump-fake.
But what really distinguishes this game is that it's entertaining. It's fun to watch. The Panthers are making big plays, not small and feeble ones, on the road against a good team. With 7:33 remaining in the second quarter, they lead 21-7.
Their best offensive play no longer is a safety.
The Arizona Cardinals are staying in the same hotel I am. Since Saturday was not a big night -- ate the hotel bar and watched Oregon overwhelm Southern California -- I was here when the team walked past. Here's what I can tell you about their mood. They looked bored.
NFL teams always do the Saturday before a home or road game. The rest of the world is out there at least attempting to have fun. And Halloween is one of the great days on which to be a parent. Few things are more fulfilling than watching your kids dress up and seeing how excited they become when you take them door to door to collect candy.
Some of the adult parties aren't bad, either. I went to what I thought was a costume party Friday. I wore the jersey of a certain former defensive back, and attached to it with masking tape a piece of toast. My wife wore a basketball jersey and -- I really can't go into the rest of it.
We walked in,realized that nobody else was in a costume and heard a woman say, "Look how cute they are in their jerseys." I removed the toast and gave half to one dog and half to the other. It was still a very good party.
The Cardinals hope to have their party tonight. They looked somewhere between focused and dazed Saturday. They clutched pieces of paper and were herded from meeting to meeting. A few craned their heads to try to catch the Oregon-Southern California score.
Saturday was terrible for all USCs. As bad as the California USC was in its 47-20 loss to the Ducks, the South Carolina USC was even worse in its 31-13 loss to Tennessee. At least the Trojans competed.