Have you ever been in a hotel and wondered why there was a dead-bolted door to nowhere jammed into one side of your main corridor? Well, that door connects to the room next to it, and if you’re a member of the Carolina Panthers, it’s also the opening to an exclusive social gathering space.
At the team’s headquarters here in San Jose, fullback Mike Tolbert and running back Fozzy Whittaker broke out the door that separated both of their rooms and made it into a suite. The purpose?
“You gotta let grown men be grown men,” Tolbert said. “We have a good quality group of guys on this team, so nobody’s gonna go out and do anything stupid. To be able to say ‘Stay out of this place’ or ‘Don’t go to this place.’ If you’re a grown man and another grown man is telling you that’s not a good place to be, then the majority of the time, nobody’s gonna do it. We’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna enjoy this process, we gonna be here. You gotta enjoy it but at the same time you gotta let a man learn from his own mistakes.
“There’s no alcohol, no nothing, no women. It’s only us. We having a good time playing cards, laughing, playing video games, just enjoying life, enjoying being at the Super Bowl, enjoying having a good time.”
Club Shiznit underscores what has been an immensely lighthearted run throughout the season. This is not unique, of course. Stories like this tend to populate Super Bowl week every year because good teams usually get along well. General manager Dave Gettleman knew that this was the type of environment that head coach Ron Rivera was trying to create, and his familiarity with the personalities on the team spawned a tight-knit team that nearly finished the season undefeated.
During Tuesday’s brief media session, this was evident not only in secret clubs, but in little gestures that have carried the team through some of their most frustrating moments.
Left tackle Michael Oher was blown away by the friendship displayed by captain and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly because “he’d go get you 1,000 waters if you wanted them. He’s always like, you want a water?”
Club Shiznit is not to be confused with Thieves Avenue, which is another imaginary location that has made its way to California. The defensive backs use it as a rallying cry, and brought with them a realistic looking street sign that hangs above their locker. The team used to have a homemade sign made by head coach Ron Rivera’s daughter.
“Thieves Avenue is just where the thieves live,” Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said. “That’s where we reside. Such as, this is Market Street out here. This is where the Hilton and the Marriott meet. It’s just where we live. The thieves are the people amongst ourselves in the DB (defensive backs) unit, and it all started at the beginning of the year, when we said we wanted to lead the league in takeaways. That has kind of been our thing. Every game, we’ve figured out ways to, ‘how do we get more picks? How do we get more forced fumbles? How do we just create more opportunities for our offense to have the football?’
“And then one week, (Panthers defensive line coach) Eric Washington kind of called us thieves, and it stuck. We wanted to embrace that. So, for the first few weeks, it was almost just talk. We want to be thieves, but now it’s what we believe.”
Many of the Panthers vowed not to travel during their off day on Tuesday, especially not to San Francisco, which is more than an hour away from the hotel. But, like any good Super Bowl team, they brought the party along with them.