In all his years in and out of Bank of America Stadium, first as a New York Giants assistant coach and then nine seasons as the Panthers’ head coach, John Fox couldn’t remember being in the visitor’s locker room until he went there Sunday.
Little wonder Fox almost went the wrong way when he left the locker room before the game, turning toward the tunnel the Panthers’ use to access the field. He caught himself and went the other way, to coach what became a dominating 36-14 Denver victory.
When Fox returned to the visitor’s locker room late in the afternoon, his players acknowledged what the victory meant by giving their coach a game ball.
“I made sure and told him I was glad we could get this one for him,” defensive back and captain Champ Bailey said.
On a conference call with Charlotte-area media Wednesday, Fox said he would treat his return to Charlotte like a business trip.
That’s what he did, his players said.
He didn’t make it personal. He didn’t use it as a motivation. It wasn’t necessary.
“It wasn’t brought up much but we’ve got a great guy here. We knew,” said second-year linebacker Von Miller, who tortured the Panthers’ offensive line.
“It didn’t have to be talked about. We just prepared like any other week and we let it come down to Sunday.
“We definitely wanted to get it done for coach Fox. (There were) a lot of motivating factors that helped us play this game. Coach Fox was the biggest one. To be able to come back and get the win for coach Fox and the rest of the guys who came from here is great.”
After the game, Fox tried to downplay the personal satisfaction that came with the lopsided victory, but his body language gave him away. Wearing an orange cap and a white shirt over a blue one with Broncos written across the chest, Fox gently bounced during his postgame media session.
It was in stark contrast to the weariness he showed in his final season with the Panthers, a 2-14 debacle.
He talked about seeing his sons, who still live in the sprawling house he built at Quail Hollow Club when he was coaching here.
Fox said, “It was nice to get home and sleep in my bed Friday night. It was good.”
Peyton Manning, who picked apart the Panthers for 301 passing yards, had been through a similar scenario. He was part of an Indianapolis Colts team that went to Tampa Bay with coach Tony Dungy after he had coached the Buccaneers.
Manning led the Colts to a victory for Dungy, and the Broncos on Sunday for Fox.
“Coach Fox was all business during the week,” Manning said. “I can’t speak to what this really means to him.
“You like to win a game for those guys but those guys are professional. We know they have great memories of their time here. To win this game for them is something the players wanted to do.”
Bailey, like Manning, has been in the league for more than a decade and sensed how much Fox wanted to fly home Sunday night with a victory. That’s why the decision was made by the players to give him a game ball.
“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t want a lot of credit. He deserves it. This was big for him. I know it was,” Bailey said.
“We kind of did (the game ball) because we knew what it meant to him. He didn’t say a word about it.”
When the game ended, Fox crossed the field and hugged Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, then he met his successor, Ron Rivera, near midfield for a brief moment.
“It’s hard before the game,” Fox said. “There’s a lot of people here I have fond feelings about and players on the other side so you try not to see them too much before the game. After the game it was nice to see a lot of those faces.
“You just feel good to win.”
Green: 704-358-5118; Twitter: @rongreenjr