Reflecting on Jonathan Stewart’s Career with the Carolina Panthers

December 8, 2008—the Carolina Panthers are 9-3, coming off a resounding 35-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Now, they are back home for Monday Night Football. They are about to face their NFC South rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on national television.

In the fourth quarter, the Panthers lead the Bucs 24-17. They have the ball on the 46-yard line. On 2nd and 7, quarterback Jake Delhomme turns and hands the ball off to rookie running back Jonathan Stewart, Carolina’s latest first round draft pick, who is having a solid rookie season—forming a two-headed monster in the backfield with DeAngelo Williams. Stewart takes the handoff to the right, bouncing outside. Tampa Bay defensive back Ronde Barber flies towards the line of scrimmage. Stewart immediately makes him pay, stiff arming him into the ground, sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

Reflecting on Jonathan Stewart’s Career with the Carolina Panthers

The play remains in the hearts and minds of Panthers fans when one mentions Stewart’s name. His ferocious stiff arm served as an example of the kind of runner Stewart was over his career—tenacious, powerful and physical. The play is also Stewart’s favorite, as he discussed during his interview with Panthers reporter Max Henson, saying “To have that moment come like it did, just the mindset that I had was on a whole [other] level. And I went out there and performed on a whole [other] level—me and DeAngelo (Williams). That was a fun night. One of the most fun nights of my career.”

Forever a Panther

Stewart signed a one-day contract with Carolina on April 23, 2019 to retire as a Panther. The infamous running back spent 10 seasons with the team, amassing 7,318 rushing yards and 51 rushing touchdowns, along with 1,295 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns. His efforts over that time made him Carolina’s all-time leader in rushing yards.

A fan favorite, Stewart also scored the sole touchdown for Carolina in Super Bowl 50. Stewart scored in a familiar way – leaping over the pile on the goal line. For a runner of his size, Stewart brought a unique blend of speed and agility to the team and was a difficult back to bring down once he got into open space. Despite only rushing for 1,000 yards once in his career, Stewart’s consistency was something that a continuously inconsistent Panthers team relied on over his career.

As a “bruiser”, Stewart did not shy away from contact. In fact, he sought it. Every time he had the ball in his hands, Stewart was looking to knock someone over. Whether it was a stiff arm that sent fans into a frenzy or a lowered shoulder acting as a human wrecking ball, Stewart was always ruining at least one defender’s day.

The only downside of being so physical was the nagging injuries he suffered throughout his time as a Panther. Despite those injuries, however, Stewart still sought to be out on the field in every moment he possibly could. A player like Stewart is one that all franchises seek. He was tough and unrelenting, but above all? He was a player full of heart.

There are many moments over Stewart’s career that Panthers fans will cherish. However, what fans will cherish even more are the memories of a player who, despite spending a year backing up Saquon Barkley with the New York Giants, has always been – and always will be – a Carolina Panther.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images