Panthers Tight End Greg Olsen Understands, and Accepts, Brutality of NFL Life

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJune 24, 2016

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Greg Olsen #88 of the Carolina Panthers looks on during the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

NFL players continue to have a range of beliefs when it comes to football and the ever-evolving science that is CTE. Some players don't want to know more, figuring ignorance is bliss. Some want to know everything. Some trust the NFL. Some do not.

Carolina tight end Greg Olsen, one of the more thoughtful players in the sport, probably fits in several boxes. It's difficult to tell if his beliefs are typical. No matter; they are important. 

"I never want to see active or retired players ever struggle," Olsen said. "The basic human being in me wants to see guys leave the game as healthy as possible."

But then Olsen quickly added: "It's a brutal game. It requires a certain type of person to play it. Once you make the decision to play it, that's your decision. I know what I signed up for. It allows me to provide for my family. I want knowledge [about CTE], but I also know I control my life and I make the decisions, and I wouldn't change a thing."

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 28: Quarterback Ken Stabler #12 of the Oakland Raiders rolls out to pass against the Baltimore, Colts during an NFL football game September 28, 1975 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Stabler played for the Raiders from
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

There is only one thing Olsen said he hasn't considered when it comes to what the violence of the sport might be doing to his mind. Asked if he would consider donating his brain for examination by specialists, the way other players such as Ken Stabler have done after their deaths, Olsen responded: "I'm only 30. I haven't thought about that."

Fair enough.

Olsen is headlining Advance Auto Parts' Rev It Up! RV tour at the inaugural Barrett-Jackson Northeast Auction. Some of the proceeds will go to Olsen's charity, the Greg Olsen Foundation.

Olsen spoke with Bleacher Report on a variety of topics while promoting those events. Not surprisingly, he had plenty to say about the Panthers' Super Bowl loss and teammate Cam Newton.

A simple question was posed to Olsen: What don't Newton's critics understand?

"The biggest thing with Cam is that people aren't used to seeing a guy like that play quarterback," Olsen said. "He plays more like a linebacker than a quarterback, and he has an attitude like a wide receiver. So people aren't used to seeing that.

"In the locker room, we love him. He does good work for the community. He's never been in trouble. He's a good person."

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers is hit in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The conversation turned to Carolina's ugly 24-10 loss in Super Bowl 50 and if he had moved on.

"I don't know if you ever really get over it," Olsen said.

Olsen and the Panthers have tried to funnel their pain into working even harder than they did last year.

There's not much else they can do.

Getting back to a Super Bowl will be one of the toughest things any of them have ever done in football. Ask players who have done it, such as Bruce Smith and Fran Tarkenton. Both of them told me, years apart, how tough it was to return after losing. (That's why the Bills and Vikings returning three times with the same core is so impressive.)

No franchise that lost the Super Bowl in the last 43 seasons won it the following year. Not one. That statistic is a nasty reminder for the Panthers of what they face.

This doesn't mean the Panthers can't do it. It does, however, mean they face almost impossible odds.

In 2010, then-Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher told ESPN.com's Greg Garber: "It was an all-time high getting there—and an all-time low when we lost. ... In a matter of hours you're going from thinking you're going to win to [being] at the bottom of the barrel. It's disheartening. You got there and you're kind of expected to get back the next year, and you don't."

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: Dwight Freeney #93 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on after being defeated by the New Orleans Saints during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

"Losing in the Super Bowl is very painful," Dwight Freeney told Garber. "I think this is something that you never really ever forget. You're anxious next season [to] move on with it, but I think it kind of stays with you."

Per SB Nation's Jim Buzinski, 34 of the past 43 Super Bowl losers were eliminated prior to the conference title game the following year.

The biggest reason why it's so brutal goes to what Freeney stated. That loss sticks with players and becomes an anchor in their gut. It eventually becomes too heavy an anchor. This is about emotion—not data or free-agent losses but raw emotion.

If there were one team that could overcome the curse, though, it's the Panthers. They resemble the last team to do it: the 1972 Dolphins.

The Panthers have a good running game (like those Dolphins), are defense-oriented (like those Dolphins), have a good coaching staff (ditto) and lots of moxie (double ditto—see Newton, Cam).

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers yells for his team to get back to their sidelie after being call for unsportsmanlike conduct during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on December
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

After the Dolphins lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, it was Don Shula who, at the beginning of the next season, told his team: We're going undefeated. He meant it. They weren't just words. It set the tone.

Ron Rivera won't do that, but he does need to do something different and let Olsen and others know how nasty the road back will be.

Then again, it's clear from talking to Olsen this is something he already gets.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.


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