CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Players and coaches love to say that no game is bigger than another, often spitting out cliches to make their point.
Not Justin Hartwig.
The Carolina Panthers center said Sunday's game against his former team, Tennessee, and his former nemesis, Albert Haynesworth, has been circled on his calendar since the schedule was released.
``Absolutely. You know, every day in the NFL you've got to show up and do your job, but personally it's going to be a big game for me,'' Hartwig said. ``I'm definitely going to have a lot of emotions and energy, and it'll be a real exciting day for me.''
Hartwig is still upset over his departure from the Titans two years ago. A sixth-round draft pick in 2002, Hartwig shifted from tackle, where he had played his entire college career at Kansas, to center before his second season. He won the starting job and anchored the Titans' offensive line for three seasons.
But when Hartwig became an unrestricted free agent after the 2005 season, the Titans showed little interest in re-signing him.
``Basically the Titans' game plan was, they wanted to keep me, that's what they kept telling me, but their plan was to let me go through free agency and see if they could get me for cheaper than the Panthers ended up paying for,'' Hartwig said.
Carolina, looking for a younger replacement for Jeff Mitchell, offered Hartwig a five-year, $17 million deal. Hartwig said the Titans then tried to match the offer.
``But you know, at that point I said, 'You know, if you guys wanted me here you would have offered me a deal a long time ago,''' Hartwig said.
Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher insists they wanted to keep Hartwig, but were handcuffed by the salary cap.
``He played through a number of injuries that most players wouldn't play with. He was a quiet leader and very competitive,'' Fisher said. ``He never missed practice and did a nice job for us. He stays in contact with some of the guys that were with him before.''
Not all of them. Hartwig last season said he wasn't surprised after Haynesworth was suspended five games after stomping on the helmetless head of Dallas center Andre Gurode, who required 30 stitches to treat gashes on his face.
Hartwig and Haynesworth, a defensive tackle, were involved in an incident during a practice in 2003, when Hartwig said Haynesworth kicked him in the chest.
Hartwig, who has said he used to ``get into it with him almost every year'' at practice, will lead Carolina's offensive line against Haynesworth's Titans, who are fifth in the league in defense.
``Going against a guy like Albert Haynesworth, I've played him a lot in my time,'' Hartwig said. ``I think I can hopefully help out our defense with understanding what they're trying to do offensively and hopefully I can bring a little something to the table.''
Hartwig has bounced back after missing most of last season with a groin injury that led to season-long shuffling on Carolina's offensive line.
``Truth be told, it couldn't have gone any worse if you had written it up, for him or us,'' coach John Fox said. ``He got hurt early on and never was able to get back, and really spent the whole year on (injured reserve). He came in this year, worked very hard and things have gone well for him.''
The offensive line has improved this season with Hartwig having started all seven games. Still, he'd like to prove a point to the Titans on Sunday.
``I played with a minimum contract and I started 47 of 48 games there and they knew what kind of player I was,'' Hartwig said. ``I felt if they wanted me there they would have paid me what the market told them I was worth.''

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