SAN JOSE, Calif. — Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin carried on at Super Bowl Opening Night with a big smile on his face, answering silly questions about video games and going to the stands to meet up with fans cheering for him.
He’s going to enjoy the moment, even though he’ll be in street clothes on Sunday when the Panthers play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Imagine Benjamin’s emotions this season. He blew out his ACL in training camp. That was supposed to be a killer blow to the Panthers’ season, because the second-year Benjamin was by far the Panthers’ best receiver, but that turned out to be way wrong. Carolina started the season 14-0 without Benjamin, finished 15-1 and are going to Super Bowl 50. Benjamin is still part of the team, these are still his teammates, but he hasn’t played one snap to help the Panthers on the field all season.
Benjamin will get a ring after this season. It will either be a Super Bowl champions ring or an NFC champions ring if the Panthers lose Sunday. And he’ll appreciate the ring.
“It’s going to mean a lot!” Benjamin said, his voice rising. “Some guys go their whole career and never get a ring. So it will mean a lot.”
He paused briefly.
“But it’s going to push me to get another one,” Benjamin said.
Each team brought their injured players to the Bay Area to experience the full week with their teammates. It has to be bittersweet for each of them, being a part of a Super Bowl team without being able to play in the Super Bowl.
Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady, a four-time Pro Bowler, has been with the Broncos since 2008. Denver has made the Super Bowl twice in that time. Both times Clady has been on injured reserve. In 2013 he had a foot injury. This season, he tore his ACL in May.
What can Clady do, other than make the best of it?
“It’s part of football. Injuries happen,” Clady said. “It’s definitely bittersweet but I’m happy for my teammates and happy to be here.”
Veteran Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman played in one Super Bowl before this season, and that was nine years ago. He was with the Chicago Bears, and they lost that game. Tillman finally made it back to a Super Bowl this year, but he has a big brace on his knee for it. He tore his ACL in the regular-season finale Jan. 3. That’s not stopping him from getting everything he can out of the experience.
Tillman said he’s preparing for the game like normal, being in every meeting and taking notes like he would practice and play. He said he wants to know the game plan and what audibles need to be made against different looks by the Broncos. He’s doing his best to replicate what it would be like if he were playing.
“I get to see all my teammates celebrating, and I’m celebrating with them,” Tillman said. “I’m happy for them.
“The only difference is that I’m not playing. Everything we’re doing team-wise, I’m a part of.”
Tillman has maintained a positive attitude all week, even posting this picture to Twitter:
The injured players on the trip will enjoy the week, they’ll cheer on their teammates, but it won’t be the same as playing in the game.
“It still hurts. Because you want to be on the field with them,” Benjamin said. “But it’s reality.”
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