Panthers asking for it with wild new statue of owner


Panthers asking for it with wild new statue of owner

For reasons that evade, well, reason, the Jerry Richardson statue outside the Carolina Panthers’ stadium has become a matter of much discussion about narcissism, bottom-kissing, legacies and the vanity of powerful people who worry about them.

And all I can think of is all the statues of Joseph Stalin that were eagerly commissioned while he was alive and destroyed with extraordinary zeal within months of his death.

We will not discuss whether having Richardson standing between two panthers (allegedly representing offense and defense, as well as North and South Carolina) is an eyesore. That’s for art majors and the lesser of our nation’s hot-take dealers.

But Richardson’s right to have his pals build him a statue is not in dispute here. You can argue about what he’s done to earn it, and how many hundreds of millions of public dollars contributed both voluntarily and compulsorily made him statue-worthy, but someone wanted him to have this, so he has it.

[NEWS: Panthers owner Richardson receives statue outside stadium]

What is at issue is the more visceral matter of why he would want it at all, knowing what we do with statues and plaques and honoraria, which is “melt them down and do it again as soon as it’s safe to forget the original awardee.”

After all, Stalin shaped global politics for a century with a level of savagery almost unmatched on this planet, scaring those under his thrall to the point where he may have had the most statues commissioned of him in human history.

And as soon as he died, they came down, were melted, and got turned into decorative wrought-iron fencing and smaller statues of less offensive people. His legacy as a mass-murdering bastard kicked the ass right off the statuary, as it should be.

Statues are yesterday’s business, anyway. In a disposable age in which everything can be saved on cellphones (the ultimate diminution of the human experience), a statue is a needless redundancy that serves largely as a shiny bombsight for flocks of geese.

Sports owners think in terms of statues a lot, though, and just a tour around most modern stadiums and arenas will tell you that. Most of them honor players because people are far more attracted to a bronze rendition of Willie Mays hitting a home run whole in a near-genuflect -- it’s the human form at its best -- but a ring of statues is now considered as important to stadium construction as number of bathrooms.

But a metallurgic representation of an owner, even one standing behind animals who in real life would shred the human into delicious bite-sized bits just for amusement is merely a testimonial to the assumption that the owner is as important to the customer as the player, and that is demonstrably false based on this old truth: At no time in human history has anyone ever bought a ticket to a sporting event and asked to be seated as close to the turnstile as possible.

The games and their practitioners are what matter to the people who will admire the statue on a day-to-day basis, not the guy who handled the financing or blackjacked the local government to help get that done.

More to the point, the owner gets paid off in other ways, starting with the pay. The owner gets to name the stadium after himself (or herself, in those cases where a woman owns a team), even though most owners have sought out more money by selling said rights. In fact, Richardson has the stadium at North Carolina-Charlotte named after him, but that wasn’t done at his behest.

Moreover, a statue is a mythical representation of what is being sold inside, and sports are myth. Business is anything but myth, and owners like Richardson who believe they are part of the mythmaking machinery essentially forget or ignore what their assigned role in sports actually is.

Specifically, they get our money, not our hearts.

Richardson is an unusual case here, since he is one of the rare owners who played the sport at the highest level (he was a flanker for two years with the Baltimore Colts of the Johnny Unitas Era), and maybe thinks of himself as a player in his soul.

But he’s not that unusual because all the other players with statues didn’t have the statues put up themselves. He is wearing a suit. He looks like he’s going to a competition committee meeting, and the panthers look like they are there to keep reporters away. Mythologizing that aspect of the endeavor conflates the owner on an equal plane with the players in the hearts and minds of the customers, and that is plainly nonsense.

In short, all the honorifics Jerry Richardson is and has been may well be worthy of can be debated, but a statue is, well, just asking for it.

At some point, owners pass, and Richardson has said that upon his death he wants the team sold outside his family to anyone with the money who will pledge to keep the team in Charlotte.

The solution? Put the statue in Richardson’s office at the stadium, so that the one person most interested in it can admire it all day long, and after he passes, his family can take it with them. Otherwise, the public (and the occasional bird) will make its own determination of the value of the statue, and that can’t be guaranteed.

Just ask Joseph Stalin.

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

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One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas

Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?


Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?

When Jerry Rice retired before the 2005 season, he was the unquestioned greatest receiver in NFL history. Many even viewed him as the greatest player of all time. 

Rice certainly still holds that title for receivers and is in the debate among all players. The question now is, will anyone break Rice's three major receiving records?

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio and  NBC Sports' Peter King recently asked that exact question, so it's time for us to do the same.

The former 49ers star -- yes, he also played for the Raiders -- finished his career with the most receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197) in NFL history. If you include his rushing touchdowns, Rice actually had 207 total TDs. 

Let's start with career receptions, which has a real chance of being broken. It all depends on how long Larry Fitzgerald continues to play. 

Fitzgerald is No. 2 on the all-time list with 1,378, putting him 171 receptions behind Rice. The 36-year-old signed a one-year contract in January to come back for his 17th season with the Arizona Cardinals. He had 75 receptions last season in quarterback Kyler Murray's rookie year last season. 

Fitzgerald actually might be in line for a bigger season this year -- if the NFL even has a season. Murray will be in his second season under coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins could free up Fitzgerald.

If Fitzgerald continues to sign one-year deals with Arizona, there's a real chance he could surpass Rice's record. But that's a big if. Rice should hold onto the record for years to come if Fitzgerald only has another year or two in his tank.

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To no surprise, Fitzgerald is second in career receiving yards but is 5,812 yards behind Rice. Yeah, that's not going to happen. 

Julio Jones, 31, already has 12,125 receiving yards and has averaged 1,347 through his first nine years. Hopkins, 27, has 8,602 yards through seven seasons and has averaged 1,229 receiving yards per year.

For comparison, Rice averaged 1,090 receiving yards but that was over 20 years. If anyone has a chance, however small it might be, it's Julio. Good luck on maintaining that pace for another 10 years.

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And finally, there are the touchdowns. That record isn't going anywhere. Jones has 57 career receiving TDs and Hopkins has 54. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans have 48. From 1986 to '96, Rice averaged 13.7 receiving touchdowns. He scored nine at 39 years old with the Raiders. 

Rice simply was a machine. A 17-game schedule could help players like Fitzgerald, Jones and Hopkins get within range of Rice, but don't expect the greatest receiver of all time see his records fall.