CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Scott Fowler//The Charlotte Observer) - Steve Smith turned out to have one last trick to perform at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
Smith was inducted into the Panthers’ Hall of Honor at halftime of Carolina’s 34-27 win over Jacksonville, along with quarterback Jake Delhomme, tight end Wesley Walls and offensive tackle Jordan Gross.
Batting cleanup for the speeches, Smith provided the grand finale at the end of the ceremony — a ceremony that was short due to the NFL’s strict rules governing how long halftimes can be for regular-season games and quite sweet due to the professional way it was handled.
All four former players were wearing specially designed Panther blue blazers. Smith whipped off his blazer and a T-shirt to reveal his No. 89 jersey underneath.
“I never thought I’d be able to wear a Carolina Panthers jersey ever again,” Smith said to thunderous applause, “so I thought for one last time I’d put it back on.”
Smith also put in a plug for retiring his former number 89.
“Now the next step,” Smith said, “make sure nobody ever wears this number again.”
Smith also thanked his three head coaches as a Panther: “George Seifert for drafting me, John Fox for believing in me and coach Ron Rivera for giving me a chance as well.”
All four players were given 60 seconds to speak. The first three speeches all lasted 45 seconds or less.
Walls spoke about finding a home in Carolina, saying: “I knew good and well in my heart when I landed here in 1996 I had finally found a home; a home for my football career and a home for my family.”
Gross took an inspirational tack. Said the former offensive tackle: “You know there’s greatness inside of you and a winner isn’t nothing but someone who gets up when they’re down. So, in the words of my great friends, The Avett Brothers, some of the greatest men North Carolina has ever produced: ‘Decide what to be, and go be it.’ ”
Delhomme, the most outwardly emotional of the four men, said: “This is the greatest sports day of my life. It started here in this stadium at halftime of the Jacksonville Jaguars game in 2003. ... I never wanted to let you down. ... There’s nothing finer than to be in Carolina.”
Following the ceremony, banners in the northwest upper corner of the stadium were revealed, each bearing one of the inductees’ names.
▪ Although Cam Newton wasn’t playing — he missed his third consecutive game due to a foot injury — a lot of former Panther quarterbacks were at Bank of America Stadium. Beside Delhomme, former Panthers quarterbacks Steve Beuerlein and Kerry Collins also traveled to Charlotte to see the Hall of Honor ceremony and particularly to support Walls, as they were his primary quarterbacks during the Panthers’ portion of his career.
▪ Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore was the biggest threat in the passing game Sunday, accounting for just over half of Kyle Allen’s total passing yards (91 of 181). Moore’s best play was winning a jump ball on a 52-yard completion.
▪ “Riverboat” Ron Rivera’s gamble backfired early in the fourth quarter, as did offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s. With the Panthers nursing a 28-24 lead and with a third-and-1 from the Jacksonville 5, Turner called a rare pass for McCaffrey. His only possible receiver was covered, so McCaffrey had to dump the ball into the ground. Then, on fourth-and-1, the Panthers handed the ball to McCaffrey going left, but he was stuffed for a 2-yard loss.
It worked out for Rivera anyway — he became the Panthers’ all-time winningest coach with the victory, his 74th career win. He was given a game ball afterward, and then Rivera also gave a game ball to offensive line coach John Matsko, whose patchwork unit paved the way for 285 rushing yards (third-best in team history) for Carolina.
▪ Rookie defensive end Brian Burns’ “look-what-I-found” scoop-and-score touchdown came from 56 yards out on a fumble return caused by Mario Addison’s sack on Gardner Minshew. That gave Addison — who entered the game third in the NFL in sacks — 6.5 sacks for the season.
▪ Joey Slye finally came down to Earth with a thud after a great first month of the season. Slye missed only his second field goal of the year in the second quarter when his 56-yarder was partially blocked by Calais Campbell. Then Slye missed from 46 yards, to the right, in the third quarter with Carolina leading, 28-24.