The 2011 Carolina Panthers (6-10) were "this close" to earning their second trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history this season, but they came up a bit short in the end.
A couple of "fumblerooskies" here and a few more Cam Newton-to-Legedu Naanee passes there could have changed the entire outcome of the Panthers' 2011 NFL season, but some things are just not meant to be.
So Close...Yet So Far
Sure, the Panthers tripled their win total from the 2010 NFL season with six victories in 2011.
And sure, a man called "Chud" took over as the Panthers' offensive coordinator and helped turn the NFL's worst offense from 2010 into a Top 10 unit and the fifth-highest scoring team in the league.
Oh, and the Panthers used the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft to select Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton which must not have hurt, either, since he was just named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
2011 was not a shabby year, you may say, for a franchise which the "Big Cat," Jerry Richardson, intentionally wrecked in 2010 for the insurance money—the payout being the No. 1 overall draft pick and a new coaching staff—and used it to buy a shiny new toy.
But, just think about all the possibilities of what could have been.
Who are you rooting for in Super Bowl 46?
Ifs and Buts
If the Panthers could have won just four more games, including at least one victory over the Atlanta Falcons (10-7)—whom they led entering the fourth quarter in both contests—Carolina would have made the 2012 NFL Playoffs.
And once a team is in the NFL playoffs, anything is possible.
Just look at the run the New York Giants (12-7) have gone on to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 46, despite winning only nine games in the regular season.
Surely, though, a 10-6 Panthers squad would have fared better against the NFC champion Giants than the Falcons, whom New York shut out offensively in their 24-2 Wild Card win.
And a Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers rematch from Week 2 would have resulted in the same outcome as the G-Men's destruction of the Cheeseheads.
Finally, Newton, Steve Smith and the Panthers' offense would have coaxed the San Francisco 49ers into an NFC Championship Game shootout, a la the instant classic between the 'Niners and the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round the previous week.
Who will be MVP of Super Bowl 46?
With a few straighter bounces of the oblong-shaped ball, NFL fans then would have gotten a decade-old Super Bowl rematch they truly wanted and deserve to see, between the Panthers and the New England Patriots.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Bill Cosby and I have two things in common.
We are each men of science, and we both like pudding.
And just as surely as Cosby once famously shilled for Jell-O, I have scientifically proved beyond a rather large shadow of a doubt that the Carolina Panthers were within an electric-blue whisker of playing in Super Bowl 46.
Alas, some things are not meant to be, but Panthers fans can take solace in knowing that there is always next season, Kelly Clarkson is singing the national anthem—my girlfriend made me mention that—Super Bowl commercials are expected to be better than ever, and there's plenty of time to buy beer after 12:00 at Harris Teeter.
Panthers Fans for Giants
Which will happen first?
So, sit back with your favorite beer or Scotch, gather in front of the tube with a few close friends or with a hundred at the bar, dig into the nachos and root like hell for Eli Manning and the New York Football Giants.
Do it because ESPN, NBC, CNN and the FCC are going to replay John Kasay's botched kickoff from Super Bowl 38 about 20 times Sunday before the game gets underway.
Do it because Brady has already eclipsed anything Peyton Manning will do in his career, and now, kid brother Eli has the opportunity to do the same.
Do it because it's what Bill Cosby would do and not just because he played a New York City doctor on television.
Do it for pudding pops.
You can follow Jimmy Grappone and his thoughts on Super Bowl 46 on twitter @imapone24 throughout Super Bowl Sunday so long as he doesn't get into too many pudding pops. He also regularly posts his B/R articles there.