CHARLOTTE - When you think about offensive innovation in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins' Wildcat and its copycat offspring are the hottest thing in years.
Which makes it a little strange to think it started with Carolina Panthers coach John Fox.
The scheme Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning has called so successfully in Miami had its roots in Charlotte in 2006, when he was still calling plays for the Panthers.
"Now that Miami's doing it, the Wildcat's all the big thing. But the creator of it is John Fox," Panthers running backs coach Jim Skipper said. "All of a sudden, Dan goes to Miami, and they expand on it, but we were probably the first team in the league to run it.
"Dan was the coordinator, but I'd say John deserves the credit. You can push it any way you want to push it, but that's where it originated from, was John."
Both Fox and Henning declined interview requests. Neither claim the Wildcat as their own.
To tell the story of the Panthers' version of the Wildcat, you have to go to 2006. Instead of following up on their NFC Championship game run from the year before, those Panthers floundered, hovering around .500.
Fans were getting restless, and Henning was a favorite target. Fox was asked about criticism of the coordinator being too conservative and replied: "If anything, we haven't been conservative enough."
The Panthers also were short-handed at quarterback; Jake Delhomme had broken his thumb and was out, and backup Chris Weinke sustained injured ribs against Pittsburgh and had problems throwing the ball downfield, leaving Brett Basanez as the lone healthy QB.
Fox decided to get a little radical. During the first game-planning meeting with coaches, Fox unveiled his plan.
"He hit it with us that Monday night, and then when we got back together Tuesday morning, we all had a general idea of how it was going to go down," said then-defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, now an assistant at Alabama. "With the situation we had at quarterback at the time, the whole idea was to put the ball in the hands of the best players on the field. It really limited what the defense could do to us, especially since they weren't ready for it. When you haven't practiced against something and you see something new, it puts you in a panic mode.
"So basically, it was a way to become aggressive on offense. The way it turned out, it was a major tool of disruption."
Players had no idea what was in store until Wednesday when they convened for meetings.
"It did have kind of a 'what-the-(heck)' quality," former Panthers center Geoff Hangartner said. "I think guys were pretty fired up about it."
The Panthers did not resort to trickery early against Atlanta with DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams taking turns plowing through the Falcons' defense early with Weinke, playing through pain, calling the signals.
Then on third-and-1 from the Falcons 19 late in the first half, Williams lined up in the shotgun formation and scooted around the right end for 6 yards.
"I was panicked," Hangartner said. "A shotgun snap to DeAngelo was tough, because he's so short. And I'm not saying that to be funny, it's just hard getting it to the guy and then pulling and going into run-blocking mode, when you're used to pass-blocking at that point."
It was the debut of what would become the modern Wildcat, even though that's not what it was originally called. When the Panthers drew up the plan, they called the formation "Tiger," since Williams went to Memphis.
The formation was called eight times on third downs, and Williams converted seven of them.
By the end of the game, a scheme was born. The Panthers ran 52 times for 183 yards that afternoon, so it was not the sole reason for the victory. But it was something new.
The more complicated version, when Basanez was on the field, was called "Wildcat," since he went to Northwestern. Basanez - now on the Chicago Bears' practice squad - said the plan was for him to take the first "Wildcat" snap.
It was designed to be a toss sweep, and he had the option to either run the ball or throw a deep ball to Steve Smith. But fullback Brad Hoover was hurt the play before it was intended to run, and they had to call a time-out and reset in the huddle.
"Hoover kind of cost me that one, and it was going to be good," Basanez said with a laugh. "Could have gone down in the books. I like to think Dan designed it so he could get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and let them make plays, but it wasn't meant to be."
Because of Fox's refusal to take credit for the formation, many give credit to Henning, who moved to the Dolphins and teamed with assistant coach David Lee, who was running the formation at Arkansas with Gus Malzahn in 2006.
Basanez laughed when the word "innovation" was used, because many would think it the last word to hang next to Fox's name.
"Hey, bottom line, Fox wants to run the ball always," Basanez said. "This was just a new way to run it."