CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Deon Grant lost two years of his professional football life, and he's not sure which of the two hurt more.
Fracturing and dislocating his hip, which cost him his entire rookie season with the Carolina Panthers, was an obviously painful experience.
But recovering in time to start at safety in every one of Carolina's record-setting 15 consecutive losses in 2001 is a degree of hurt on the psyche even some of the best athletes can't bear.
"Something I never want to go through again," Grant said. "It was a bad experience for me."
Losing wears on athletes like nothing else. They prepare themselves for injury, a fact of life in the NFL. But no professional athlete prepares himself for losing. It's a suffering that washes over you in waves and leaves you drowning. If you count this year's 0-3 preseason, Grant's Panthers haven't come up for air in 18 games.
Grant was so unaccustomed to losing at Augusta's Josey High and the University of Tennessee that the Panthers' first loss against Atlanta stung him as badly as anything to come.
"Then the second, then the third, then it kept on going," he said. "I still had hope and belief we were going to get it together this game even when it was the tenth game of the season. But we'd still find a way to lose. Every game when we were close, I just had in my mind, 'This can't be true.' It didn't really sink in until the season was over and I looked down and saw we were 1-15."
One win ... 15 losses. Not even the Steve Spurrier-quarterbacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 0-14 fame did worse, though they probably would have given enough games. The defeats stacked up like kindling - blowouts, blowups, blown leads. Eight times the Panthers lost by a touchdown or less.
"I didn't want to talk to my family after games," Grant said. "I'd never lost over three games (in a season) in my career on any level. It was real frustrating. (It) left a bad taste in my mouth. Something I would never go through again if I have anything to do with it."
It was so bad, Grant's first instinct was to declare the season void of any highlight. Not his interception in his first game, that lone victory against the Vikings. Not his five interceptions among the team-record 24. Not his two picks off New England's Tom Brady in the season finale.
But Grant reconsiders. He played football again - that was good. He played in the NFL after a long recovery from an injury that would have ended most careers.
"The highlight was playing in an NFL game," he said. "That's been the dream of my sisters, my mother, my family and also myself. That's something I prayed for when I was young and God finally blessed me with it."
Just playing was a victory bigger than anything else. When the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year was carted off the practice field in 2000 with a hip so badly shattered it would require months of traction, few would have believed he'd ever realize that dream.
But Grant was determined. The second-round draft pick beat the odds. He started all 16 games at safety for the Panthers in 2001, something only two other defenders could boast.
He enters 2002 a healthy man and an entrenched incumbent.
"Now I can just play the game of football in the NFL," Grant said. "Last year I just wanted to get a year under my belt and see how my hip was for a full season. Because they said no pro ever came back from a hip injury. That was my main concern last year."
"I say I had a bad first year," Grant said. "I went 1-15, regardless of what the stats show. I could have done a whole lot better. I dropped some picks and could have made more solid tackles. I say I had a bad year."
His hip pain is history, and Grant says the hurt of 2001 is, too.
"We will never go like that again," Grant said. "They say never say never, but I'm going to say never. If I have anything to do with it, we'll never go 1-15 again."
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.
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