Commentary

Sorensen: Rams at Panthers turns into Battle Royale

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comOctober 20, 2013 

It was probably the cheapest game in which the Carolina Panthers have been involved since former offensive lineman Frank Garcia left the team.

Fans didn’t sit in the front row at Bank of America Stadium Sunday. They sat at ringside.

St. Louis defensive end Chris Long was ejected in the third quarter for throwing a punch.

Long’s battle was the main event. But there were several bouts on the undercard.

Carolina safety Mike Mitchell pushed St. Louis receiver Brian Quick, formerly of Appalachian State. Quick popped Mitchell in the head and was called for a personal foul.

Panthers receiver Steve Smith was furious at St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins, whom he said had learned his wife’s name and repeatedly talked about her.

“He thinks he’s Deion (Sanders),” Smith says. “He’s not.”

St. Louis guard Harvey Dahl played as if he can’t stand N.C., S.C., Sweet Caroline, red clay, barbeque and Tweetsie Railroad.

Dahl, perhaps the toughest guy in the NFL named Harvey, was a testament to late hits and was called for two personal fouls.

Dahl, 306 pounds, went after Mike Mitchell after Mitchell hit St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford and celebrated.

Bradford was injured on the play; Mitchell said he hadn’t realized it when he celebrated. One senses Dahl did not believe him.

Mitchell was not penalized. Dahl was.

Also, the Panthers beat St. Louis 30-15.

But back to our story: The two players you would expect to be involved in a battle royale are Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Laurinaitis is the son of Animal, a member of the Road Warriors, one of the most feared tag teams in the history of the squared circle.

Their finishing hold was the Doomsday Device. One Road Warrior, Animal or Hawk, would put a guy on his shoulder and the other Road Warrior would jump off the ropes and knock the guy to the canvas. Remember the time they did it to the Great Muta? Don’t pretend you don’t.

The other Ram with a famous father, Chris Long, son of Howie, the broadcaster and Hall of Fame football player, was involved. Where was the son of a Road Warrior?

And what prompted the scrum?

Let’s set the scene. Robert Quinn, the fine St. Louis defensive end who played for North Carolina, beat Panthers tackle Jordan Gross and slammed quarterback Cam Newton after Newton had given the ball to DeAngelo Williams. Newton went down hard, got up slowly and sat out a play.

No penalty was called.

“I just didn’t think that it was the right thing to do,” Gross says.

So what did you do?

Gross pauses six seconds before saying, “I didn’t get a foul.”

Whatever Gross did two plays after the Newton hit proved that (A) he sticks up for his quarterback and (B) is willing to instigate a scrum. Players from both teams, some of them very large, participated.

Smith, 185 pounds, was matched up against 269-pound defensive end Eugene Sims. Smith said he was trying to pull his teammates out of the pile and he started getting pushed around and he wasn’t going to allow that.

Then Long threw the punch. He would not tell reporters why.

St. Louis players believed they got what they deserved from officials. They also believed the home team did not.

Laurinaitis, 6-2 and 255 pounds, was not involved in any of the fisticuffs. All I can guess is that when the pushing and shoving began he ran to the bench to pick up a metal folding chair that had been cleverly concealed beneath a lineman, and by the time he returned to the field the fight had ended.

Munnelyn, meanwhile, missed all the fights – which is surprising because if there’s a fight in Section 502 you expect him to be involved.

Says Munnerlyn: “Teammates were coming up to me and saying, ‘Captain you got to be calm.’ I was calm. I missed everything.”

You must have done something.

“I was the peacemaker,” he says.

There’s no history of violence between these teams. Carolina coach Ron Rivera and St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher were teammates for the Chicago Bears. They hugged at midfield after the game, and broke cleanly.

So why were there so many scuffles?

Munnerlyn says doesn’t know. But he knows the cause.

“They started all of them,” he says.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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