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Steady As He Goes

Panthers' quarterback switch makes sense

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Like most Carolina Panthers' fans, I was buffaloed when the team demoted Chris Weinke in favor of Rodney Peete as the starting quarterback for the season opener.

But the more I thought about it, the switch makes sense until Weinke is steadier in the Panthers' new offense. Weinke performed decently last season in the West Coast offense, especially given the limitations of the team. But this year, he's had to learn a new offensive scheme, missed a good bit of the preseason because of an injury, and made some bad decisions in preseason games, especially as time drew closer to opening day.

Sure, the Panthers had to knock the cobwebs off Peete, who also missed part of the preseason. But Peete, who is in his 14th season as a pro and is experienced with the Panthers' offensive set, is like the piece of furniture you stored in the attic. Serviceable, if not the latest thing you'd find at the High Point furniture market. Weinke, only a second-year quarterback out of Florida State, is still being crafted.

It's critical for the Panthers to have a steady quarterback -- somebody who doesn't turn the ball over or make mental errors. Young pro quarterbacks, virtually no matter what their talent level, struggle with those aspects of the game. Peete had no turnovers in the Panthers' 10-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the opener September 8. He completed 12 of 19 passes and threw for one touchdown. That performance earned him the starting slot for the Panthers' second game, another potential win against the Detroit Lions.

Peete didn't razzle-dazzle against Baltimore, but that's not important against NFL teams that are offensively challenged like the Ravens. In situations like that, the Panthers just need to protect the ball, score when possible, and not give the opposition easy points off fumbles and interceptions. There's nothing the Panthers' defensive line and linebacking crew -- the team's greatest strengths at this point in the season -- can do in those situations. The less experienced offense needs to keep its mistakes to a minimum and let the defense do its job.

The only thing I wondered about when the team elevated Peete to the starting position was the coaching staff's open questioning about whether Weinke should be second or third string. Third string? While rookie quarterback Randy Fasani looked good during the preseason against the lowest level players from other clubs -- that does not a No. 2 quarterback make. Plus, Weinke played well in the first two of the four preseason games and has a year of experience on Fasani. Why would Weinke even be considered a possible third?

Are the Panthers trying to send Weinke a message that he's not the Panthers' quarterback of the future? Is he going to be phased out? Perhaps the coaching staff is posturing, trying to motivate Weinke. If so, so be it. But it seemed a strange way to do it.

Tennis, Anyone? The 2002 US Open tennis tournament couldn't have scripted a better men's final than the one between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. At 31 and 32 respectively, they're the event's two American elder statesmen. Not only was it exhilarating to see the old guys do well, it provided an exciting diversion for New York City and the rest of the country so near the 9/11 anniversary. The match drew the Open's best TV rating since the same pair met for the 1990 title. In winning, Sampras regained a moment in the championship sun, showing the serving brilliance that planted him there through most of the 1990s. Agassi, considered the best return-of-serve guy in the game, couldn't touch the missiles launched by his friend and contemporary. Sampras had 33 aces. That means that Agassi couldn't even get a racquet on Sampras' serve on 33 occasions.

This could be the Grand Slam hurrah for Sampras, who had had a disappointing year to date and hadn't won a tournament title in over two years, since Wimbledon 2000. But you never know. Not until he won the Open would he entertain the idea of retiring. Is he really ready psychologically? With no Grand Slams until the Australian Open in January, Sampras can take a little time off, enjoy first-time fatherhood late this year and figure it out.

Sting May Stay Things are looking up for the Charlotte Sting to stay in the Queen City, according to a WNBA official."Our expectation is that we will stay in Charlotte and we are working on the details," says league spokesperson Maureen Coyle.

The Sting made modest inroads this past season in boosting corporate support, led by M.L. Carr, who joined the team as president on June 1, the first day of the season. The team also made the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, losing to the Washington Mystics in the first round. In 2001, the Sting posted one of the most dramatic turnarounds in pro sports history in reaching the championship round.

One of the WNBA's original eight franchises, the Sting has battled poor attendance and season ticket sales for several seasons.

Overtime As the Atlanta Braves gear up for the playoffs, pitcher Kevin Millwood from Bessemer City deserves a hunk of the credit for helping his team get there. As of September 6, he had a 16-6 record and 3.06 earned run average, putting him in a three-way tie for 12th best ERA in the National League. Since late May, Millwood has been terrific, which coincides with when Atlanta made its big run to its 11th straight division title. . .Word on the grapevine is that Sting Coach Anne Donovan would be interested in the Seattle job if the Sting leaves Charlotte. Seattle Coach Lin Dunn retired after the season. . .Jennifer Capriati hit a low earlier this year in Charlotte when she unleashed profanities at Billie Jean King, who booted Capriati off the Federation Cup team for breaking team rules. The team rules are outdated, but the rest of the players subscribed to them and Capriati should have as well. But at the US Open, Capriati, 26, topped that outburst with another kind of immaturity: ignorance. When asked what she would say to President Bush about the importance of Title IX in getting girls involved in sports, Capriati responded, "I have no idea what Title IX is. Sorry."

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