In an era of talented wide receivers with big personalities, Muhsin Muhammad was not one of the most prominent National Football League Players from the late 1990s and 2000s.
However, he had a productive career, and for a New York minute or two, he was right there with the best wideouts in the game. In doing so, helped spark an expansion franchise and take it to lofty heights.
Muhammad had a big personality and the type of showmanship that made it harder for fans to forget him all these years later.
After his playing career, he became a big player in the business world, making himself a nice role model for athletes who are looking to have a very successful life off the field.
Growing Up In Central Michigan
Muhammad was born as Melvin Darnell Campbell Jr. in Lansing, Mich. on May 5, 1973. He was the middle child of his family, which includes his sister Malikah and his brother Abdullah.
At the age of four, Campbell’s father converted from Christianity to Islam, which resulted in him having his name changed to Muhsin Muhammad II, although he would always retain his Christian faith and make it a huge part of his life.
As a young child, one of Muhammad’s favorite hobbies was fishing. He remembers riding his bicycle to downtown Lansing and climbing a fish ladder that was adjacent to a river that featured several types of aquatic wildlife.
At the same time, he fell in love with sports, in particular basketball and soccer. Muhammad was from the same hometown as NBA legend Magic Johnson, and he would attend Johnson’s basketball camps during the summer and see him as something of an idol.
Early on, it looked like soccer would be Muhammad’s strongest sport, especially in elementary school. But it was hard to stick to the game that most of the rest of the world refers to as “football,” as the American variety was simply too enticing and came with too much peer pressure to ignore.
While in the eighth grade, Muhammad joined a Pop Warner football team in a nearby town. Although he played guard on the offensive line, his specialty was the defensive end position.
By the time he made it to Waverly High School, he would letter in football, basketball and track. On the gridiron, he made the switch to being a linebacker and tight end, as his ample height (he would grow to be 6-foot-2) allowed him to leap and reach for passes.
But once he started his sophomore season, Muhammad would be converted to a running back, which would ultimately prove to be nothing more than a detour to his destiny as a football player.
As a track athlete, he participated in the Open 200, the 4×100 and 4×200 relays, the long jump and the high jump. In his free time, he was even a championship boxer for a local team.
On The Rise As a Spartan
Muhammad went on to get a full scholarship to play football for Michigan State University, which is located in East Lansing, allowing him to stay very close to home during his college years.
Although he had gotten used to playing in the backfield, his father convinced him to make the move to wideout, and it turned out to be a prudent decision.
His first two seasons with the Spartans would be very quiet. In 1992 he made six receptions for 80 yards, and his sophomore year was even more modest: just three catches and 32 yards in two games.
Off the field, he got himself into some trouble. He was charged with possession of cannabis at one point and sentenced to probation.
Later on, when he was pulled over by law enforcement for a routine traffic stop, a loaded .38-caliber gun was found in his glove compartment, leading to his arrest and a 90-day sentence for violating his probation.
Just prior to Muhammad’s senior season, Michigan State hired Nick Saban to be its head coach. Saban was early in his legendary career, and he decided to give Muhammad another chance when perhaps others around him were doubting his dedication or stability.
“It was early on in [Saban’s] career and there was a lot of controversy surrounding the decision that he made. He stood up to that and defended it,” Muhammad said years later. “It worked itself out.”
“He evaluated my character and thought I was deserving of a second opportunity,” Muhammad continued. “I’m grateful for that, and Nick is probably grateful too that I didn’t make him look bad.”
In 2014, during a press conference, Saban talked about the importance of giving people a second chance, using Muhammad as a prime example, and the speech went viral.
As great of a coach as he is, I honestly wonder if we’re wasting Nick Saban on football. Guy absolutely kills it when he talks about larger societal issues. pic.twitter.com/qsdxwera2n
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) August 26, 2019
“Everybody in the school, every newspaper guy, everybody was killing the guy (Muhammad) because he got in trouble and said there’s no way he should be on our team,” Saban said. “I didn’t kick him off the team. I suspended him, I made him do stuff. He graduated from Michigan State.”
Saban’s faith in his senior wideout paid off.
Muhammad blossomed like a springtime rose in 1995. He was aided by fellow receiver Derrick Mason, then a junior, who took some pressure off of him.
The Lansing native put up 867 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 50 catches that year, and he helped the Spartans post their first winning record in five seasons.
Carolina Is Calling
The Carolina Panthers made Muhammad the 43rd overall pick in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft. As an expansion franchise heading into just its second season, it was looking to establish a strong foundation under head coach Dom Capers.
Like he did at Michigan State, Muhammad got off to a quiet start in the pros. As a rookie, he appeared in nine games (he suffered a hamstring injury at one point), starting five of them, and recorded 407 yards and one touchdown.
After winning just seven games in its inaugural season, Carolina surprised the sports world by finishing 12-4 and winning its division. It did so largely thanks to its defense, which was second in the NFL in points allowed.
The Panthers started the playoffs with an impressive 26-17 defeat of the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. They then fell to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, who went on to win it all.
Although Muhammad didn’t get onto the field for a single snap that postseason, it gave him some valuable experience that most rookies do not gain.
The Panthers’ success in ’96 would turn out to be a fluke, as they would win just seven games the next season. Muhammad again put up pedestrian numbers with 317 yards in 13 contests.
In addition, he would have a bit of a rift with his quarterback, Kerry Collins. During training camp in 1997, Collins used a racial slur to refer to Muhammad.
A Franchise Cornerstone
It would take time for the still-fledgling Panthers franchise to find itself and become consistently competitive. Luckily for them, Muhammad was about to emerge as someone they could depend on to produce every Sunday.
He would start in every game of the 1998 season and haul in 68 catches for 941 yards and six touchdowns.
Muhammad would take another big step forward in 1999. The Panthers’ new head coach that year was George Seifert, who had won two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and had coached Jerry Rice, considered by most to be the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
That year, the fourth-year man had 1,253 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. His productivity earned him his first trip to the Pro Bowl that winter.
The 2000 campaign was more of the same: 1,183 yards and six touchdowns on a league-leading 102 receptions.
The Panthers spent the early 2000s looking to attract the building blocks needed to become a winning team. One building block came in 2001 when they drafted wideout Steve Smith Sr.
Although Muhammad was still a young player who was maturing, he would end up being a positive influence on Smith, even if he made it his mission to try to one-up Muhammad at every step.
The 2001 season would be rough for Muhammad. He missed five games due to injury, and his numbers dipped to 585 receiving yards and just one touchdown.
As a team, 2001 was painful for the Panthers. They finished 1-15, and Seifert was a casualty of that poor record, as he got fired just after the end of the regular season.
John Fox, who had been the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, became Carolina’s new head coach. The Panthers were one of the league’s worst defensive teams in ’01, and Fox was determined to turn things around on that side of the football.
To that end, the team drafted defensive end Julius Peppers in the 2002 draft, and he would anchor a very stout front seven in the coming years.
With Smith emerging as a strong receiver, and Muhammad continuing to do his thing, Carolina would also show improvement on offense. Muhammad’s 823 yards and three touchdowns in ’02 helped the Panthers improve to 7-9 on the season.
The addition of running back Stephen Davis for the 2003 season took more pressure off Muhammad. With another solid season from him (837 yards and three touchdowns), the Panthers finished 11-5, good enough for first place in the NFC South.
With Muhammad putting up 103 receiving yards, Carolina easily got past the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad lighting up Dallas in the playoffs with John Madden on the call. Take me back pic.twitter.com/dLVmwXjThu
— Austin Vallejo (@ValleyJoe24) December 29, 2021
The team then squeaked by the St. Louis Rams and limited the Philadelphia Eagles to just three points in the conference championship game to advance to its first-ever Super Bowl.
There, it would be pitted against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Although the Patriots were favored, they hadn’t yet developed the formidable reputation that everyone now remembers them having for the better part of two decades.
The Panthers had trouble scoring for much of the game, and early in the fourth quarter they trailed 21-10 and looked like they were headed for defeat.
After running back DeShaun Foster scored a touchdown, Carolina got the ball back, and with 6:53 remaining in the final frame, quarterback Jake Delhomme found Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown reception to give Carolina the lead, 22-21.
It set a record for the longest offensive play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl 55 is tomorrow! Relive this moment made by a Spartan Dawg 🏆
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) February 6, 2021
Unfortunately, after both teams traded touchdowns, the Pats’ Adam Vinatieri converted a 41-yard field goal with just a few seconds left, handing Carolina one of the more gut-wrenching losses in Super Bowl history.
The Panthers’ narrow championship loss led to high expectations for the 2004 season. After recording 140 yards in the big game the previous season, Muhammad showed the rest of the league pure dominance.
He amassed 1,405 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in ’04, leading the NFL in both categories. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time, and he also got voted onto the All-Pro First-Team.
He had not only established himself as a consistent receiving threat, but also as a versatile player. At 215 pounds, he was adept at blocking to open things up for his teammates.
“… in a game, when he was asked to block, it was like something possessed him and he had to demolish whoever he was assigned to block,” said Delhomme. “He took pride in it with those big vise grips that he had (for hands). He was someone I just respected so much because not only was he so good at catching the ball – that was obvious – but also because he took so much pride in all the other aspects of the game.”
Teammates such as Delhomme were also impressed with how Muhammad consistently put in work and looked to get better at his craft.
The wide receiver also became something of a fan favorite. He was nicknamed “Moose” and became known for his touchdown dances.
Unfortunately, the team was ravaged with injuries. In particular, Smith and Davis missed almost the entire campaign with serious lower-body injuries.
The Panthers won just seven games and missed the playoffs, and it seemed like all the good mojo from their Super Bowl run was gone.
Suiting Up For Da Bears
In the winter of 2005, Muhammad was due a $10 million bonus from the Panthers. As a result, they terminated his contract in order to save money.
Just hours later, he agreed to a lucrative six-year contract with the Chicago Bears.
After years of mediocrity through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Bears were trying to field a competitive team under head coach Lovie Smith.
Since 1991, they had made the playoffs only twice, and loyal Bears fans throughout Chicagoland were very antsy.
For many years the Bears had been one of the NFL’s weakest teams, but Muhammad helped rectify that right away. He had 750 yards and four touchdowns to help the Bears win 11 games and win their division.
But the season wasn’t without controversy. Starting quarterback Rex Grossman suffered an ankle injury during the preseason, and he was replaced by rookie QB Kyle Orton.
Muhammad had a hard time connecting on passes from him, and he would catch only 47.1 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2005, down from 58.1 percent the year before. He later admitted that he was dealing with a broken hand that year.
During a game against the Atlanta Falcons late in the season, Muhammad was seen complaining to his QB. Shortly afterward, coach Smith benched Orton in favor of Grossman, who by now had recovered from his injury.
The divisional playoff game would be a matchup between Chicago and Muhammad’s former team, the Panthers.
He struggled against his old mates, catching only three of 13 passes for 58 yards. With less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Grossman looked to Muhammad in a fourth down and one situation, but the pass was incomplete, sealing a 29-21 loss.
Grossman bounced back with a vengeance in 2006, starting each contest and helping the Bears rank second in the league in points scored.
Muhammad continued his solid play, and as a veteran presence on a young team, he provided valuable leadership. Grossman was often criticized by fans and the media, yet Muhammad would often publicly defend him.
The Bears finished 13-3, winning their division again, and they headed into the playoffs with high hopes for the first time since the long-ago Mike Ditka era.
An overtime win against the Seattle Seahawks gave Chicago its first playoff win in over a decade, and it went on to pulverize the New Orleans Saints to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1985-86 season.
Their opponent would be Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who had also overcome years of disappointment to finally make it to the big game.
Early on, the Bears put themselves in position to win. Muhammad scored a touchdown on a short reception in the first quarter to give his team a 14-6 lead, and Illinois was stoked about the possibility of bringing home the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
— The D Zone (@TheD_Zone) March 22, 2020
But Chicago did not score another touchdown, and the Colts ran away with the world championship, 29-17.
It turned out that the 2006 Bears were a one-hit-wonder. They failed to recapture the magic of that season, finishing just 7-9 in 2007 and missing the postseason.
Muhammad was now 34 and starting to decline. He had just 40 receptions for 570 yards that season, his lowest outputs in both departments since his second season.
Still, he was able to produce a clutch moment in Week 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
𝐎𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟏, 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟕
Brian Griese leads the Bears down the field for a game-winning drive, finding Muhsin Muhammad with :09 seconds to go!
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) October 21, 2021
During the offseason, the Bears released him, and the aftermath wasn’t pretty.
Months later, Muhammad told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that the Chicago Bears is the team where “receivers go to die.” In some ways, it may have been hard to argue with that statement, given that the Bears had a revolving door at the QB position during that era that has, for the most part, continued to this day.
However, Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake didn’t appreciate Muhammad’s comment, and he felt compelled to defend the team’s record on developing wideouts.
“The record speaks for itself,” Drake said, pointing to young former Bears receivers Bernard Berrian, Justin Gage and Bobby Wade signing lucrative contracts with other teams.
Returning to Carolina
Muhammad decided to sign a two-year contract with his original team, the Carolina Panthers. There, he was reunited with some familiar faces, including QB Jake Delhomme and wideout Steve Smith Sr.
He seemed to back up his critical statement about how wideouts fare in Chicago by putting up a bounce-back season in 2008 with 923 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Carolina finished first in the NFC South with an 11-5 record, but it lost in the divisional round to the eventual conference champion Arizona Cardinals 33-13.
In 2009 it was starting to become clear that, at age 36, Muhammad’s days as a quality wideout were just about over. He was able to muster a solid year in ’08, but in ’09 he had just 581 receiving yards and one touchdown.
The Panthers missed the playoffs, and Muhammad decided to call it quits several months later.
“I’ve done everything I could possibly do in an NFL career for 14 years, outside of actually winning a championship ring,” Muhammad said. “I’ve played in two Super Bowls, I have Super Bowl records and I’ve done a lot of good things throughout my career. I’m full, I’m fulfilled. I’m at peace with my decision.”
Life Off The Field And After Football
Many pro athletes struggle with life after retirement. One of the hardest things for them is finding a new outlet for their competitive fire and finding something they can be truly passionate about.
Muhammad started planning for his second career while he was still in his first one. During his second stint with the Panthers, he co-founded Axum Capital Partners, an investment firm that specializes in providing capital to food and beverage establishments.
After being in business for just a few years, Axum Capital acquired Wild Wing Cafe, which is a chain of buffalo wing sports bars that spans several states.
Muhammad set the scene for his success in the business world by taking advantage of many resources that were available to him.
“While in the NFL, I was exposed to networking and its value when building business relationships,” Muhammad told 1851 Franchise magazine. “During my time with the many teams along with the Player’s Union, I was exposed to different investment tools and realized that you will have access to knowledge if you wish to gain it.
“Regarding knowledge and growth, continued education was always available and I tried to take much advantage of it. I took part in a few intern programs set up by the NFL for current and retired players. Eventually, I attended University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.”
He sought out role models in business and entrepreneurship and looked to emulate them. One of them was Magic Johnson, who has had an extremely successful career as a businessman for decades since retiring from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Muhammad also started “The M2 Foundation for Kids,” a foundation that supports the educational and physical development of kids. Along with a few of his Panthers teammates, he helped open the Ruckus House Learning Center, a large, state-of-the-art child development facility located in North Carolina.
As a local spokesperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Charlotte, N.C., Muhammad has done plenty to raise money and support towards treatment and a possible cure for the disease, including a Christmas toy drive and an annual football camp.
Muhammad has been a spokesman for “Men For Change,” an organization that raises money and helps create awareness for battered women’s shelters that are in need of support.
In the early 2000s, during the NFL offseason, he served as a commentator for NFL Europe, a now-defunct league that aimed to spread the American version of football to foreign audiences.
For his charitable work, which started very early in his career, the Panthers awarded him their “Man of the Year” award in 1999.
At home, Muhammad is a happy and content family man. Married to Christa Muhammad, the couple has four daughters and two sons, and two of their children were adopted and are originally from Ethiopia.
One of their sons, Muhsin III, went on to play football at Texas A&M University, while their daughter Chase plays collegiate basketball at Johnson & Wales University Charlotte.
WR Moose Muhammad III, son of the Panthers legend also named Muhsin Muhammad, is balling for the Aggies at Texas A&M 👀
— The Riot Report (@RRiotReport) September 18, 2021
Muhammad may not be Canton-bound, but he has done a lot to bring happiness to many, both on and off the field.