The list includes Hall of Fame players like Franco Harris and Drew Pearson.
But for the Carolina Panthers, the NFL legend representing the team on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL is former defensive lineman Kemp Rasmussen.
When the news came out, many younger Panthers fans, or those who have paid less attention to the team, questioned if Rasmussen is even a former Panthers player, even though he was a member of the 2003 Super Bowl team.
After going undrafted out of Indiana, Rasmussen played for the Panthers from 2002 to 2005, contributing on special teams and defense. He played in 50 regular-season games and seven postseason games. He also played for the Charlotte Cobras, a semi-professional football team in the area.
Now a firefighter with the Charlotte Fire Department, Rasmussen will be one of a variety of special selectors for NFL teams during Day 2 of the draft. The Observer caught up with him this week prior to his departure to Cleveland, where this year’s draft is being held.
The Observer: How did you find out you would be announcing some of Panthers’ draft picks?
Rasmussen: “I received an email from the NFL, that’s how they contacted me. It was right around April 1, so I thought maybe somebody was just playing an April Fool’s joke on me. But I was super excited. I’ve seen (NFL) legends in the past, announcing picks, and I always thought maybe one day that could be me, type of deal. But to actually get to do it’s pretty cool.”
Which part are you most excited about? It seems fun to get to know the pick before everyone else.
Rasmussen: “I mean, that’s pretty cool. I haven’t even thought about that, knowing before everybody else does. That is pretty cool. I’m just looking forward to a weekend away with the wife (Heather). We haven’t been able to, I have five kids, so it’s hard to get some time for us to take a trip, so it’ll be nice.”
Have you remained a Panthers fan since retiring?
Rasmussen: “Oh yeah, I’m a huge Panthers fan. I watch every game, keep track of what they’re doing.”
What positions would you like to see the team address?
Rasmussen: “I know some of our positions of need are offensive tackle, safety. Secondary or offensive line.”
What’s the most memorable moment from your Panthers career to you?
Rasmussen: “Getting to play in the Super Bowl is a big deal, but also another game that stands out for me, that same season when we clinched the NFC South against the Arizona Cardinals. I had a really good game, and that was the game that we knew we had clinched and were going to the playoffs, and it was just a big celebration in the locker room and it was a pretty cool deal.”
What stands out to you from Super Bowl XXXVIII?
Rasmussen: “Just getting to play in the game, but the whole week leading up to it was just a huge deal. Everything was so big and so overblown. But once the game started, and the kickoff happens, it was just another football game, really. I mean, it was just you get in the grind and you just do what you’re supposed to do, and it’s just another game.”
What led you to become a firefighter after your NFL career?
Rasmussen: “I went out to Seattle after Carolina, and I got hurt out there, and I had two knee surgeries on the same knee, two years back-to-back. I was trying to rehab and I was trying to stay in shape and get back in the league, and I was working out with a guy who is a Charlotte fireman who was at the gym that I was at. He’s kind of a bigger guy like me who could keep up with me weights-wise, lift weights. I just jumped in and started working out with him and he told me about the job of being a firefighter, and it sounded right up my alley, sounded like something that I’d be interested in. So I put my name in and I got hired that first hiring process, which was pretty cool. It was like two years after I retired.”
What had been your original plan after your NFL career?
Rasmussen: “I got my degree from Indiana in teaching, and that’s what my plan was, was to teach. When this opportunity came about, I really liked the sound of being a firefighter better than being a teacher, even though I think I would have loved being a teacher, too. I think they are both great careers, but I just gravitated towards the firefighter, and it’s been great.”
What from your football career has helped you as a firefighter?
Rasmussen: “Being physically in shape, just a bigger guy, I’m able to do some of the stuff. On calls and stuff, whenever they need some heavy lifting done or anything like that, I’m the guy that they go to.”
Which fire station do you work out of?
Rasmussen: “I’m with the Charlotte Fire Department, Station 40, which is off of Harrisburg Road.”
What do people not understand about being a firefighter?
Rasmussen: “I think something that people don’t realize is the amount of training that we do. We have a lot of time, we work 24-hour shifts at the fire station. So there’s a lot of time there, there’s a lot of downtime, but that downtime is not just sitting around, doing nothing. I mean we spend a lot of time training on all the skills that we need, so that when the call does come in, then we’re ready to go.”
All of the NFL former and current players announcing picks have been vaccinated for COVID-19. Why was that important to you?
Rasmussen: “Being a firefighter we deal with COVID quite a bit. It was nice that we were able to get vaccinated as one of the first people. We don’t have that worry when we go into a call where we have to work in COVID. The NFL, everybody is vaccinated, which is pretty cool the way the NFL, they have that reach with the draft to be able to maybe get other people vaccinated, if they see that we’re all vaccinated, other people (then) want to get vaccinated and stuff like that.”
Do people ever recognize you on the job?
Rasmussen: “Every once in a while. It’s rare, but you have to be a huge Panthers fan to know who I am. I was never a starter, I was always backup, played special teams, but big Panther fans, like I’m a big fan. I know who the backups are on the Panthers now, so for somebody to know who I was, back when I played, I know that they’re a big Panthers fan.”
Any special outfit planned for the pick?
Rasmussen: “So they make me wear a suit. Being a firefighter, I never wear a suit, but I luckily I had one. I have a suit. I do have some Panther gear that I’m going to wear the rest of the time.”