CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers are heading to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history -- marking a special trip for a player who has stuck with the team through two difficult ordeals.
The Panthers soon will leave their home in uptown Charlotte for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston.
Defensive end Mike Rucker will be traveling with the team. Hard as it is to believe, Rucker said he thought they'd eventually be going to the big game.
He's got a million dollar smile, wears No. 93 and is a self-described all-around good guy.
He also is a man who's enjoying his time in the spotlight.
"It's been exciting," Rucker told
WBTV News 3,
WRAL's sister station in Charlotte. "You work so hard in the off-season for these moments. You have to cherish these moments."
Rucker ranks second on the Panthers' all-time sack list with 24 and a half. In the five years he's been a Panther, he has endured a 1-15 season, a colleague (Rae Carruth) charged with murder, and another (Fred Lane) shot to death inside his home.
"You put all that negative stuff on the back shelf," Rucker said. "We're better than that. That's not what Charlotte's about. That's not what we're about out here.
"It's good to have some positive moments now."
The Lombardi Trophy, which goes to the Super Bowl winner, is now in Rucker's sight. He said he had no doubt his team would one day be in position to win it.
"I knew that if we kept working hard, that gives you a better opportunity," he said. "We had 100 percent of the guys here working out in the offseason -- which is key. And it's starting to pay off."
Rucker hopes to use some of his influence to help people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a disease that claimed his grandfather's life.
"That's something that's close to me," Rucker said. "And to be able to do whatever I can to help bring awareness, to bring more money, to help research. . .
"I know there are a lot of causes out there. But that was one that touched me personally."
Whether the Panthers win the Super Bowl or not, 2004 has been a good year for Mike Rucker. His wife delivered his first son the day after the Panthers beat Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.