Originally created 12/30/04

Distractions threaten to disrupt Panthers



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - John Fox doesn't tinker often with his team's routine, keeping Carolina's daily grind exactly the same each and every day.

What he didn't need as his team prepares for its biggest game of the season are distractions. But that's what he got as Carolina (7-8) meets New Orleans (7-8) with a possible playoff berth on the line.

College players preparing to play in the Continental Tire Bowl on Thursday crowded the corridors of Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday during a tour.

Across town, services for former NFL defensive linemen Reggie White were beginning, with players trying to find time in their schedule to pay their respects. And with the private funeral set for Thursday, players had to decide if they wanted to ask for an excused absence from practice, which will undoubtedly be disrupted by some of the 65,000 fans coming to watch North Carolina take on Boston College.

With so much going on, it would be easy for the Panthers to get pulled away from focusing on the Saints.

"You know what, it is a lot of distractions," safety Mike Minter said. "It does mess up our routine a little bit with the Tire Bowl. And then with Reggie and the funeral and all of that, that can get to you.

"But we have to be able to focus and put that to the side and understand what is at stake."

This is the first time the Tire Bowl has threatened to become a distraction for the Panthers. Typically played on a Saturday, bowl organizers had to find another day because New Year's Day fell on Saturday this year.

The game will kick off shortly after the Panthers finish practicing on an adjacent field. Fans entering the game may come across the team as they walk back to the stadium.

Fox planned to steadfastly stick to his usual routine, but said he would probably add security to the typically non-eventful walk back from the practice field.

"We have the same schedule. We have the same routine," Fox said. "They are a well prepared bunch, and I expect them to continue down the path we've been going down."

Despite the flurry of activity around them, the Panthers seemed to tune it all out.

"I don't even think we're aware of what's going on," linebacker Dan Morgan said. "The only difference with the Tire Bowl is we've got to park in (a different) garage. But were coming to practice, doing the same thing as always."

No one expected Fox to change his ways before this final game, and no one expects to lose focus under his watch.

"Coach Fox won't let us get distracted by anything," defensive end Al Wallace said. "It starts with him, and I think coach Fox says it the best with 'We can only control what we do out on the field on Sunday.'"

Fox also plans Sunday to leave on the stadium scoreboards that give updates on games across the league. Even that could potentially be a distraction because both Carolina and New Orleans (both 7-8) are in the same predicament: both need to win and get help from other teams to make the playoffs.

Carolina needs a win, and needs either St. Louis to lose or Minnesota to lose, or Seattle to win to clinch the NFC wild-card berth. Both the Rams and Vikings play at the same time as the Panthers, and with the scoreboards on, Carolina could get caught up in other games.

"During the game I always look up at the scoreboard... check out some other scores," Morgan said. "But I am going to try to keep away from that a little bit and stay focused and take care of our business. But if something like that distracts you, you aren't focused anyway."