SAN JOSE, Calif. – Nov. 30, 2014, was rock bottom for the current Carolina Panthers who were around to experience TCF Bank Stadium at a temperature of 12 degrees with a 7-below windchill.
On that day, the Panthers were anything but a Super Bowl-caliber team that was better than anyone at takeaways. In fact, they lost the turnover battle and surrendered not one, but two touchdowns off blocked punts. They fell to 3-8-1 with a 31-13 loss to the Vikings.
Since then? Try 22-2, including a 17-1 march into Super Bowl 50 as the favorites to beat Denver at Levi's Stadium on Sunday.
As for the takeaways? Try a league-leading 47 of them, including two playoff games.
Fourteen months after that Minnesota debacle, the Panthers are so adept at stealing the ball, their secondary is rightfully strutting around San Francisco calling their part of the joyful locker room "Thieves Ave." Cornerback Charles Tillman, who is on injured reserve, took it a notch further, saying Seattle's "Legion of Boom" doesn't outrank "Thieves Ave."
In 18 games this season, Carolina's secondary has 26 of the team's 47 takeaways. It has 19 of the 30 interceptions and seven of the 17 fumble recoveries.
The nickname was coined early this season by defensive line coach Eric Washington. A makeshift sign in the Panthers locker room was put up near the defensive backs' lockers until someone sent them an official-looking street sign.
Of course, the most astute thief might be Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman, who has assembled one of the better patchwork secondaries imaginable.
Starting cornerback Robert McClain was signed off the street in mid-December when Bene Benwikere fractured a leg. Slot corner Cortland Finnegan was 31, retired and running juice bars in Nashville when he was signed in late November. Two months later, he helped shut down Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. in the NFC Championship Game blowout.
And then there is safety Kurt Coleman, who led the NFC with seven interceptions. He's working on his fourth team in three years.
"Mark Koncz, our pro scouting director, does a terrific job," Gettleman said. "He understands guys and is very thorough. A big part of it is finding guys that fit what we do."
Coleman thought he was going to be a Viking in the fall of 2014 when he signed with them in April of that year. But he was released in the final cuts and ended up going to Kansas City and leading the Chiefs in interceptions with three.
"I guess it was just a business decision, because I don't know the exact reason they let me go," Coleman said Wednesday. "I know they drafted a safety [Antone Exum] that year. They had a couple young guys still in their rookie contract. Obviously, Harrison Smith is great.
"I felt I played well enough to make the team, but I think it was just a business decision based on them feeling a young guy could step up and fill the role next to Harrison and make a lot of plays. I was kind of the odd man out."
Coleman doesn't seem upset that things didn't work out with the Eagles, Vikings or Chiefs.
"Some guys have everything handed to them, but the majority of us who are here have to work really, really hard," he said. "I don't think I would trade my experiences, my trials for anything because they have gotten me to where I am, to the player that I am right now.
"And, really, had I not gone through all of that and everything was given to me, I don't know if I'd be as good as I am. Or playing in the Super Bowl."