The Carolina Panthers named Frank Reich the team’s new head coach on Thursday. He comes to Carolina as the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the offensive coordinator that made Carson Wentz look good with the Philadelphia Eagles and won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles at quarterback. Prior to his coaching days, he spent 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback. He is most commonly known as Jim Kelly’s backup with the Buffalo Bills.
But there was one stop late in that playing career that is relevant to this fan base. After nine seasons in Buffalo, Reich set out on his own. He signed with the expansion Panthers where he would have the chance to start. The Panthers had other ideas though and drafted Kerry Collins with the fifth overall pick about a month later.
Despite Collins being selected to be the quarterback of the future, Reich opened the Panthers inaugural season at the top of the depth chart as Collins developed. The team played their first ever game on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. In that game, Reich threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns despite being sacked nine times in a losing effort. He was responsible for the team’s first ever touchdown—an eight yard pass to tight end (and former teammate with the Bills) Pete Metzelaars in the first quarter.
This next part isn’t super relevant to the point of this story, but it’s funny and is worth talking about. Reich’s second game quarterbacking with the Panthers was against his old team and former mentor. The Panthers lost to the Bills 31-9 in what might be the worst-quarterbacked game of all time. Reich completed six of 21 passes for 44 yards and a pick-six. Kelly completed only four of his 21 pass attempts for 176 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. There are no typos in that sentence. Kelly’s four completed passes went for 4, 35, 60, and 77 yards (the touchdown).
After whatever that game was, the Panthers started to move in a different direction. He was benched favor of Jack Trudeau in week 3 after throwing an interception in the second quarter. Trudeau went on to get sacked and fumble away the ball in his first play at the helm. He also got benched after throwing three interceptions of his own. Quarterback-of-the-future Kerry Collins was put into the game and promptly threw a pick six on his first play of the game.
Collins went on to finish the game at quarterback (since there was no one else to come in if he were to be benched). He held on to the starting quarterback job for the rest of the season, after which Reich packed his bag for a fresh start somewhere else.
A little interesting tidbit of this history is that even though Reich played in Carolina, he never called Bank of America Stadium home. The stadium was under construction during the Panthers inaugural season, so Reich played/clipboarded his home games at Memorial Stadium in Clemson. He left the organization before they moved into then-Ericsson Stadium.
It might not have been the best of times, but Frank Reich will forever be a key component of the history of the Carolina Panthers and the answer to a piece of Panthers trivia. Here’s to hoping his second stint in Carolina goes better.