By Matt Maiocco
Pro Football Writers of America
SAN JOSE – The Carolina Panthers appeared loose and confident as they paced through their final preparations on the eve of Super Bowl 50 with a walk-through practice at San Jose State and their first look inside Levi’s Stadium.
The Panthers’ team buses arrived at San Jose State at 11:35 a.m. on Saturday. The team’s defense and offense worked on separate fields against their scout teams. The defense finished its work at 12:10 p.m., while the offense walked off the field five minutes later.
Behind the north end of the practice field, five men and one child watched from the rooftop of a neighboring house. Coach Ron Rivera did not seem the least-bit alarmed with the extra set of eyes on his final preparations, which took place on a sunny day with the temperatures in the low-60s.
“No, that doesn’t concern me,” Rivera said. “The truth of the matter is that we still have to play the game. I know there are certain things that people worry about, but there are some things that are out of your hands. Shoot, who knows how it’s going to end up. I don’t worry about those things. I really don’t.”
The Panthers did their typical day-before-game work, Rivera said. The focus was on situational football, including down-and-distance possibilities, the opening drive, and concluding their on-field work with a two-minute drill.
“I told the guys this morning, ‘Once we get done with the walk-through, the hay’s in the barn, let’s close the door and get ready to go.’ And I thought the guys responded very nicely,” Rivera said.
The Panthers boarded their buses after the brief, low-speed practice and took the seven-mile drive to Levi’s Stadium. The players went to the team’s locker room on the west side of the stadium and dressed in their silver game pants and black jerseys for photos.
Players got together for photos, including one group shot of a dozen players that Rivera snapped from the risers where the entire team and staff would be situated for the official team photo. After one final selfie, which backup quarterback Derek Anderson snapped with Cam Newton, the players lined up for the photo.
“I wanted to come here so the guys at least get to see what it’s like,” Rivera said of Levi’s Stadium. “I’d hate to imagine what they would’ve done if they first walked out – kind of like they’re doing right now – on the day of the game.”
Lts. Joe Hontz of Colorado and Greg Bollinger of Illinois of the Blue Angels got a greeting from Newton as he joined his teammates for the photo. The Blue Angels will perform a flyover during Sunday’s National Anthem.
At the conclusion of the formal team photo, Newton took charge. He instructed his teammates to pose for pictures while pointing to the left, then pointing to the right. Another photo was taken of everyone showing their ring fingers. Of course, the final picture was one in which every player and coach “dabbed” – one of Newton’s signature poses.
“Big games don’t seem to bother him,” Rivera said of his star quarterback. “He’s played in several of them. He played in the junior college national championship. He played in the NCAA championship and won the Heisman. So I think big games, big scenarios don’t seem to bother him. He seems to be who he is. He’s kept his personality. That’s been one of the messages I’ve had with these guys. Keep your personality, keep your energy level up and stay focused.”
Defensive end Jared Allen (foot), linebacker Thomas Davis (forearm) and fullback Mike Tolbert (knee) were all listed as probable on the injury report. The Panthers enter the Super Bowl with all players available for action.
“Fifty-three guys are ready to roll,” Rivera said. “I talked to the docs about Jared and Thomas, and they look great.”
While standing on the sideline at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday, Rivera took the time to reflect on the week in the South Bay and thank those who helped make it a smooth week for his team in San Jose.
“I thought things around the hotel were outstanding,” Rivera said. “They did a great job at the Marriott. I thought the Convention Center people were outstanding. The security, the San Jose PD and the California Highway Patrol, with our escorts, and San Jose State were all outstanding.
“I really appreciated the fact they re-did one of the fields for us. And I went in and made sure I thanked the coaches and athletic director for letting us use their locker rooms. The weight room was tremendous. It’s set up for over 100 athletes. We only had 53, so that worked out nicely. The fields were spectacular.”
Rivera said he felt the week of preparation went very well.
“I just feel really good about it,” he said. “I think we have a great group of young men who have really earned this opportunity and, hopefully, we’ll understand what it means and take advantage of it.”