Chris Gamble left the game exactly the opposite of the way he played it. He left without the flair and the obvious resounding impact that was directly linked with his immutable presence in the defensive backfield. Upon his release from the Panthers, and after informing ESPN”s Josina Anderson of his retirement (because of course); Gamble’s agent simply released a statement, which abruptly closed the book on one of most dynamic defensive backs of the last decade. In the aftermath of this news, you saw the paradox between a quiet retreat from the professional spotlight, and the effusive praise elicited by peers who held a player like Gamble in such high esteem. All one would need to do was to check Twitter to see the respect and admiration Gamble garnered from his former teammates and opponents. Because no matter his means of ending it; Gamble’s career warranted more than simply fading away from the league’s conscious.
Chris Lee Gamble joined the world on March 11, 1983. Born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Gamble attended Nova High School in Davie, Florida; a place he would depart from to go attend prestigious Dillard High School (located in Fort Lauderdale) in 2000. Dillard’s alumni network boasts such NFL players as Pat Sims, former Carolina Panther defensive end Stanley McClover, Issac Bruce and Lorenzo White. Possessing clear raw physical talent, along with excellent size, Gamble would go on to accept a scholarship to play wide receiver at Ohio State University.
The idea of Gamble exclusively at wide receiver lasted just one year in Columbus. Although he would play some on offense, Gamble’s primary focus became cornerback. On the 2002 National Championship team, Gamble played all 3 ways at Ohio State, while in the process earning 1st Team All-Big Ten honors, and 3rd Team All-America honors for cornerback. He hauled in four interceptions (one for a touchdown), along with 499 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown during the championship season, while also averaging over 16 yards on both punt and kick returns. His final season he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, snagging three picks along with 41 tackles and 12 passes defensed. While his offensive production declined, his stunning raw defensive talent would make him a hot commodity as he entered the 2004 NFL Draft.
Gamble would go on to be selected with the 28th pick of the first round by the only NFL team he would ever wear a uniform for, the Carolina Panthers. He would not take long to hit the accelerator, becoming the first Panther defensive player to start all 16 games. As a result of his immediate success, he would earn Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie honors due to his franchise record six interceptions, which was good enough for third overall in the league. The very next season he would continue his ball-hawking tendencies with seven interceptions, good enough for fourth in the NFL. Over the next three seasons, he would haul in the same amount of interceptions that he did in that 2005 season. Although his interception totals were no longer on a record-breaking pace, Gamble’s impact was such that the team rewarded him with a six-year $53 million contract. The deal not only assured Gamble’s long-term presence with the club, but also made him one of the highest paid defensive backs in the NFL.
Coming off his fine payday, Gamble continued to be a formidable presence at corner, which was highlighted by four picks and 12 passes defended. However the unfortunate NFL narrative of injury problems for elite players began to affect the play of the former Buckeye. Because, unfortunately Gamble would start to see a plethora of injuries start to slowly eat at his production and playing time. In 2010, he would fail to intercept a single pass in the 11 games he played; seeing his play drop off due to both an ankle injury and a hamstring injury. In 2011 it seemed that trend had been bucked. Panthers fans saw Gamble start 15 games, along with once again recording multiple interceptions (3) while only missing one game due to a concussion.
But, that trend hadn’t been bucked, and we would ultimately see the very last of Chris Gamble. After tearing his right labrum, Gamble missed all but four games of the 2012 season. Like 2010, he would fail to haul in an interception along with mustering up only two passes defensed in his limited on-field action. All these factors caused the Panthers to release their franchise leader in both interceptions (27) and passes defended at 94. After his official retirement three days later on March 11th, all we are now left with is to ponder just how good Chris Gamble was on the gridiron.
Chris Gamble turned 30 the day he walked away from football. Questions can be posed in regards to whether Gamble could still contribute post-injury, or even whether his walking away from the game was the right choice. Those questions, although they may have their place, is not the way I think we conceptualize the career Gamble at this point. For many times speculation over miscellaneous particulars misses the bigger picture in regards to how we view the career of a great player. Because ultimately, Gamble should be remembered simply as one of the best, most consistent, and most talented player to come through the Panthers organization. Whatever he lacked in community impact (something that has unfortunately been brought up), Gamble made up for with the gift of locking down a position that so many teams never even find consistency at. So, remember Chris Gamble for playing at the highest level until his body physically wouldn’t allow him to do so. All the other analysis of his career seems to be secondary fodder for the ever-evolving 24/7 sports talk cycle.
Because, as the great Charles Dickens writes in “A Tale of Two Cites”: “Perhaps second-hand cares, like second-hand clothes, come easily on and off”. Gamble’s secondary questions certainly did, and in a hurry.