Panthers’ Charles Tillman on Thinking Like a Champion

Panthers’ Charles Tillman tells Melissa Mahler it’s all about TEAM

The building blocks of a winning season for the Carolina Panthers began well before the season started.

A big part of the transformation started in the preseason in the bonding and mental approach to being a part of a winning team. Sure Charles Tillman taught his teammates the famous “punch” but more importantly, his belief in thinking like a champion.

“If you put NFL players through combine type drills we would come out relatively the same. We all have talent. However, champions think differently,” says Tillman.

“We are in a champion mindset. We work hard and all believe in each other.” Team isn’t just a word it’s a true concept and a culture the Panthers’ have embraced. “It didn’t just happen over night,” says Tillman. Head Coach Ron Rivera has been putting together the players and leadership for success over the past few years.

Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) with teammates Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) and Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman

Focusing on the defense where the corner back spends his time, Tillman can’t say enough about his teammates. Over all the Panthers placed a league-best having 10 players selected for the 2016 Pro Bowl. (The 2007–08 Dallas Cowboys hold the record for the most selections in one season with 13.)

Panthers Player Position # Pro Bowls
Thomas Davis Outside Linebacker 1
Ryan Kalil Center 5
Luke Kuechly Inside/Middle Linebacker 3
Cam Newton Quarterback 3
Josh Norman Cornerback 1
Greg Olsen Tight End 2
Kawann Short Interior Lineman 1
Jonathan Stewart Running Back 1
Mike Tolbert Fullback 2
Trai Turner Guard 1

However, it’s another record that is on many fans and pundits minds. Will the Panthers go 16-0 this season or rest their starters en route to the Super Bowl?

Since the NFL began in 1920, only one team has played a complete perfect season (both regular season and playoffs): the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who won their fourteen regular season games and three postseason games, including Super Bowl VII, to finish the season 17–0–0.

Apart from the 1972 Dolphins, three NFL teams have completed undefeated and untied regular seasons: the 1934 Chicago Bears, the 1942 Chicago Bears, and the 2007 New England Patriots.

The 2007 Patriots remain the first and only team since the NFL expanded its regular season to sixteen games in 1978 to finish undefeated. They won the divisional and conference playoffs before losing Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants, giving them a final record of 18–1.

Tillman had been questionable to play heading into last week’s game win over the Giants. He had missed four games with a knee injury. As an athlete he knows his body. After the first one or two plays he thought “oh yeah, I’m good.” Some might say he was great. Tillman was responsible for two turnovers, including the only interception in the game. Those game winning plays Tillman attributes to the collective efforts of the Panthers team.

Again, the belief in team over self is a weave that runs throughout the Panthers. In a recent interview Luke Kuechly had a similar comment when responding to praise about a great play. “That play is really the result of the defensive line …” Kuechly said. “All I had to do was catch it. It was a great play by those guys up front. I was just in the right spot.”

As a team one thing Tillman says they have to do better going forward is protect the lead. That’s something they are working on and for the playoffs will have a strategy.

“Right now the focus is one game at a time,” says Tillman. “Keeping focus is key and not getting to far ahead of yourself.  If you do you will miss the win that right is in front of you.” It’s that discipline it takes to be a champion.

“We have had a bull’s-eye on our back the entire season. When we were 4-0, 5-0, 14-0, whatever we have done people have doubted our ability to succeed. We know they are gunning for us and hope we stumble. As a team we use that as motivation.”

Today’s focus is defeating the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. A win today places the Panthers in the No. 1 seed for the NFC playoffs and secures a home-field advantage throughout for the first time in Carolina’s franchise history.

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