Reggie White started Friday in retirement, as the featured speaker at a revival. One workout later, the NFL's career sacks leader was a football player again.
White, 38, agreed in principle Friday with the Carolina Panthers to end his one-year retirement and play this season. He passed a physical in Charlotte, then traveled the 80 miles to training camp for a private workout his first official one since 1998 and a meeting with coach George Seifert.
"There was a sense of excitement out there today," White said. "But I told them if they went 10 minutes longer I think I might have fainted."
White retired after the 1998 season. He said he took all of 1999 to rest, but had been working out this year in anticipation of making a comeback.
"The beginning of this year I thought about it, but when I started working out my body said `You really don't feel like it,' " White said. "But I'm in great shape now."
The Panthers agreed and offered him a five-year contract worth about $20 million although White said he may only play one year with several performance incentives based on Carolina's defensive improvement.
Carolina's defense ranked 26th in the league last year and had only 35 sacks. White has 192 1/2 sacks in 14 seasons.
"I think this team can be really good, that's why I'm even considering being here," he said. "I just felt that this was the right opportunity. I think we can do something here and I can make a difference."
White was The Associated Press' NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1998, his final season. He played in two Super Bowls and 13 Pro Bowls.
White said a large part of his decision to play for the Panthers was based on location.
He owns property near Charlotte and is building a home there, which he said would be his permanent residence.
White, who is an ordained minister, is also involved in the Charlotte-based Morningstar Ministries and said he has been looking at land in the area to build a biblical theme park.
"Having the opportunity to come here, with living here, gave me the opportunity to settle my family," he said. "It's very convenient. Charlotte seemed to be a special place, a spiritual place."
He said he was also looking forward to playing with former Green Bay teammate Doug Evans again and indicated that friendships drew im back into the game.
"It goes far beyond missing playing," he said. "I miss the camaraderie. I'm not back just because of that, because I hope that I can have a positive influence -- not only as a player in helping this team to win but as a person."
Evans, who spent five seasons with White in Green Bay, said White could fill the void of team leader that was left vacant when Kevin Greene retired after last season.
"He would be a big plus, not just on the defense but by bringing leadership and character to the club," he said.
Seifert said White would most likely be used as a role player, coming in as a pass rush specialist on passing downs.
"We would be looking at Reggie at a specialized player used in a specialized defense. But I can speculate where I'd play him you would need him as a pass rusher," he said. "But we're not asking him to be Ronnie Lott. We would just want him to make plays on the ball and get the guy down."
White said he had no problem being a role player.
"I always expect to play at a high level, but hopefully the city and the players won't expect me to come in and be the savior," he said.
White's agent, Jimmy Sexton, said several procedural issues still needed to be worked out with the Panthers, and the Packers still had to release him. Because White had one year left on his contract with the Packers when he retired, they still hold his rights.
Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf was not immediately available for comment Friday, but has said the Packers will not seek compensation for White.
Sexton said he expected all the formalities to be taken care over the weekend and would be "shocked" if White wasn't in uniform Monday morning.
Carolina must still work out NFL salary cap issues before any signing can become official. The Panthers have less than $200,000 to spend under the cap and would likely need to restructure several contracts - and possibly even cut a player - to clear the room needed to sign White.
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