John -Being in the NFC South, playing in the Louisiana Superdome at least once a year; what was it like to see the Superdome completely sold out and in that kind of shape? How did it make you feel?
Mike - First of all, I’ve never seen it like that, I’ve been in this league for 10 years and I play them every year and it was the first time I had ever seen the Superdome look like that. It’s exciting because what it does is shows you how our sport brings people together. No matter where they come from or what they’ve been through it’s amazing how one sport can bring people together. To see the excitement, it was a pretty awesome moment.
John -It didn’t seem like they could have scripted it any better with the Saints going out and just killing the Falcons, which goes a long way to help us out being down in the division after a slow start.
Mike -They definitely couldn’t have scripted it any better man. (laughing) We definitely have to come out Sunday (against the Saints) and take care of business. If we can come out and take care of business Sunday we’ll be right back where we need to be.
John -That leads me into my next question. As far as the Saints are concerned there are two trains of thought on how they’ll proceed from here. One theory is that they will continue to ride this emotional high and continue their momentum, where as the other thought process is that they will falter after hosting the Monday night game and will come out sluggish. How do you think the Saints will react and how will you all prepare for that?
Mike -Well first of all we’re going to prepare for the first scenario. These guys are going to come in with momentum, they’re 3-0, they got a big win Monday night in Atlanta and they feel good about themselves, which they should. We’re going to prepare for a Saints team that’s a good Saints team. We’re definitely going to have to bring our A game.
John -Going back to the Tampa game; how hard is it being in a divisional road game, having a good start, pulling ahead and then seeing a lead disappear? How hard is it to get that momentum back?
Mike -It’s hard, when you have the momentum going your way, crowd is out of the game and they get a big play or they score and now the crowd gets back into the game and it gives the (home) team energy. Momentum is a hard thing to get once it’s going against you. You’ve got to give credit to our offense for stepping up when we needed it, it was huge for us to get into field goal range. John (Kasay) came in and knocked down the fifty yard field goal. He’s been on fire all season. It’s amazing what he’s been doing, that’s how God does it, and it’s so good to see him(Kasay) shine when everyone thought he was too old to do what he does. It’s hard to turn it around and like I said you have to give credit to the offense for stepping up and making the plays when we needed them most. Then at the same time, the defense, when we punted to them and they had a chance to run the clock out, but we stopped them dead out and got the ball back for the offense to give us a chance to win. That’s what it takes to turn momentum around, when it’s time to get a big play somebody has to come up with it.
John -They say it’s the tough wins that build championship teams, and that’s one thing I love about the Panthers, they have more heart than most. Over the last several years we’ve had people to look up to for example Mark Fields and Sam Mills with all the emotion they stirred up. How do you think the face, or the personality of the defense has changed with Buckner, McCree and Witherspoon all leaving?
Mike -I think you still have the same face because we still have the same corps of guys that have been together for over five years, Dan Morgan, Mike Rucker, Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, we’ve been together for four or five years and we’re the nucleus of the defense. What you do is add players around your nucleus and that’s what we do every year, we add different guys to fit it. We add guys that are similar to the guys we lost; I believe that’s what makes us so successful. I think the biggest thing is that we’re losing the names you know, but you’re still involved with the guys talent wise. Sometimes you get better talent, in the case of the D tackle, Kemo(eatu), a younger, bigger, stronger guy. Witherspoon is hard to replace, but in years Thomas Davis will become that dominant force at linebacker spot. McCree, when you replace him with Shaun Williams, we got Colin Branch you have guys that can step in and play the kind of role that McCree played last year. As far as that is concerned the hardest thing about the National Football League is that you continue to have to learn from new players.
John -It is a bit of a carousel with free agency these days. That’s one area that has been of some concern with the fans, the changing of the guard at certain positions, for example at the center position on the offensive line. Guys haven’t really “gelled” yet with one another and then to have your starting left tackle, Travelle Wharton, go down for the rest of the season with an injury it’s a big concern. It’s been more of the same on the other side of the ball with Dan Morgan and his concussions, Na’il Diggs and the strained knee and other minor injuries that change the line up. Unit cohesion is very important and it’s good to see some of the veterans such as Chris Draft step up and fill the gap at middle line backer. I am excited to have the same guys in the line up, I think Davis will be a player that will light it up for several years as well as the outstanding play of Richard Marshall. How do you feel about the play of the young rookie so far?
Mike -Oh he’s a football player, that’s for sure. He’s a star in the making and we’ve got a good one right there. It’s going to be difficult because we’ve got three corners that can start and their all young so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out. But Richard (Marshall) is definitely a guy you can look at and know you can count on. Anderson has been solid when we called on him too.
John -Going back to the team chemistry side of it, what kind of effect does having Steve Smith back on the field have on the defenses play?
Mike -Oh, it affects it a lot because we know we’re not going to be on the field as much. (Laughs) Once the offense is moving the ball it definitely excites the defense, so we are excited about that.
John -With guys coming in out of college, having to adjust to the speed of the game, the strength of the opposition and the other changes that are obvious, how do you deal with the rookies like Richard Marshall with them sometimes having a fragile sense of confidence? How do you keep them from getting too down on themselves after something goes wrong for them?
Mike -I try to help them study and prepare them, how to prepare the defense and rebound if you get beat. A lot of young guys come in here and think they have to take everything away from their opponent and that’s not the case. The defense calls for certain things to be taken away and that’s it, you can’t be concerned with that and that’s what I try to help these guys with. Doing their jobs and letting the rest come to them.
John -This year your guys kind of stumbled out of the gates, which seems to be the pattern here as of late. Under John Fox we have yet to win an opening game. This year was no different, now couple that with the current injuries and movement in the roster, do you think the Panthers have what it takes to make a serious Super Bowl run?
Mike -Oh, definitely. If we take care of our business this week (against New Orleans) it’s a critical game, we’ll be ok. We definitely have the football team that has what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl. It was a huge win on Sunday (vs. Tampa Bay) which we needed and it’s going to be a huge game this Sunday. If we can get back to .500 we’ll definitely be on track to get where we need to go.
John -As we all know Coach Fox likes to break the season into quarters, if we can come out and finish the first quarter of the season at .500 then we should be in pretty good shape going into the heart of the schedule. I notice that since coming out a little weak the team is playing better with their backs against the wall. It seems that this team really rises to the occasion when it’s a “must win” situation. Why do you think that is?
Mike –No doubt and I don’t know why, I guess we’re just blue collar guys where we have to be in the grind for us to come out and play well.
John -To me, as a fan, it’s all about heart and character and the Panthers seem to have that in spades.
Mike –Oh definitely.
John –Ok, my last question…I’m sure you’ve seen the Reebok commercial featuring Steve Smith, Peyton Manning, Tory Holt and a host of others talking about when they realized that they had the potential to be great. (I was shocked to find out that Mike had no idea what I was talking about in regard to the commercial.) At what point did you think you have what it took to make it to the National Football League? When did you realize that you, Mike Minter from Nebraska could shine on the national stage?
Mike –Well…for me it came so naturally I never thought about whether or not I was good enough to make it to the NFL, for me it was always about being good enough to make it to the next level. I went from elementary school to junior high, from there to high school and eventually on to college where things took shape. When I was in college I remember playing against a senior who was a high draft prospect, we were running and I beat him and I was like, ‘your going to the pro’s. That was really it for me, I thought I could make it to the National Football League. I realized I had the potential to keep playing after college and I thank God for the talent and the opportunities he’s given me to play this game I love.
John -I’m sure your faith played a big part in your success too; I am at a crossroads of sorts with my faith, so I admire your devotion.
Mike -It’s been tough this year, especially with the passing of my mother, but you have to stick with him and he’ll get you through it. Having a good team and plenty of other guys for support helped out a lot too.
John – Mike, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your time, I’ll let you go, I wish you the best through out the remainder of the season and I hope I can follow up with you a little later down the road.
Mike- Definitely, thanks.
I can now say that the tenacious player that looks to dismember ball carriers on the field is a well spoken, gracious man of faith who carries himself with pride. My hope is that many other players as well as fans will follow in the footsteps of men like Mike Minter. Mike is an active member of the local community and supports various local charities. His leadership is a valuable asset to the team and as a fan I hope he is around long enough to see the fruits of his labor realized in the form of a Super Bowl Championship!