Against the Cleveland Browns, Peppers had been juxtaposed to defensive end Myles Garrett, a star pass rusher who had been the No. 1-overall pick in the 2017 Draft who had studied Peppers extensively. After facing Garrett and the Browns, the Panthers prepared to square off against their NFC South rival in the New Orleans Saints – Who also had an admirer of Peppers.
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had emerged as an All-Pro at the position, had gained a reputation as being one of the NFL’s biggest trash talkers, and once especially unafraid to dish it out to his division opponents. But when speaking of Peppers, Jordan was practically reduced to a young schoolgirl, shy and hoping that his hero would recognize him by exchanging jerseys with him.
“You can’t be nervous about it,” said Jordan, bashfully. “At some point in time, he’s a man, I’m a man. You know, just, you’re aware that he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer and you’re not – currently.”
It was quite a sight to see: Here was one of the most brash players in the NFL, and one who had gotten on the bad side of those in the Carolinas, seemingly starstruck by the idea of approaching a player he had admired since childhood, and debasing himself in the process.
“It’s not anything about being shy about it,” said Jordan in a report by Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune. “It’s just when I’m great, I’ll ask for greatness. I don’t think I’m great, but I’ll ask for greatness.”
As it turned out, yet another fan of Peppers was going to be in town for the Panthers’ Monday Night game: Grammy Award-winning hip hop artist Nelly was to perform the halftime show, and he and Peppers went way back to when Peppers was just coming out of UNC – And made a cameo in the music video for Nelly’s 2002 hit single “Hot in Herre”.
In the locker room during the week, the Panthers’ younger players were made aware of Peppers’ cameo. And they could hardly believe it. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel practically howled in disbelief. Cam Newton demanded a screenshot be airdropped to him.
Donte Jackson, always one for a laugh or two, took advantage of the fact that Peppers was not in the locker room when the video made its rounds.
“He’d probably be like, ‘Oh, you know D-Jack,’” said Jackson in a report by Max Henson of the Panthers, lowering his voice to do an impression of Peppers, “‘I was just young. It was fun times.’”
That Monday night, Peppers and the rest of the Panthers’ defense would turn back the clock: Peppers would defend against a pass and harass another old-timer in Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the Panthers held the mighty Saints offense to only six points for much of the game. However, a shoulder injury that had plagued Cam Newton would end up taking its toll, and an inability by the offense to capitalize on opportunities availed to them by the defense would result in a heartbreaking 12-9 loss.