I know it's long Zod, but I hope you read the entire post. Thanks for considering...GO PANTHERSSSSSSSSSSSS (whoop)
My family moved to Charlotte back in the early 90s, your typical northern transplants. Coming from Toronto, we didn't really have an NFL team to cheer for. My Mom is from Niagara Falls, NY and her family followed each other one by one down to good ol' Charlotte, North Carolina (in best Charlottean accent) starting in the 80s. Her family were Buffalo fans but I remember to the day, a brisk fall day in October of 1993. My Dad read out loud the headline from the Charlotte Observer, “Touchdown! Holy poo! Charlotte is getting an NFL team!” And even at the age of 6, I knew it was a big deal (probably because I heard my Father say “poo”). But who knew at that time how big of a deal and impact it would have on our family and us kids growing up in Charlotte at the time. The city turned blue and the “NFL” lights in the buildings shined amongst the famous Hornets mural Uptown that night. It felt like Charlotte had finally “made it”. It was a special moment for a young city and a family that had only been living in Charlotte for a few years, looking to establish their roots in a city and part of the world that almost seemed foreign. We never did make it to a game in Clemson, but we fell in love with the Panthers immediately, especially me. I vividly remember going to the fan fest together for the opening of Ericsson Stadium before the 1996 season. And at that moment I saw how impactful the Panthers were going to be on our family and the community. It brought my family together from the beginning and continues to do so today even while living so many miles apart.
My Dad took me to my first game that season, we saw the Panthers play the St. Louis Rams (weird). We sat somewhere in the 500 level but it didn’t matter we were so happy to be there together, it was amazing. It wasn’t even cold that day but I remember I had to wear my phat new Starter jacket, with my fresh Kerry Collins #12 jersey (oh yeah, tell me you didn’t have one back in the day.) The Panthers absolutely destroyed the Rams, 45-13, and at that time they were a divisional opponent. I’ll never forget that day. We had a pretty spoiled season that year, 12-4, NFC West, yes West you noobs, Champions. We barely even knew what our team had truly accomplished in its 2nd season ever (and 1st in Charlotte taboot). The team took the city and our family by storm. I remember (like this season and 2003) we all basically only got Panthers stuff for Christmas. And that season we faced the Cowboys in the Playoffs, “Well, that was fun while it lasted.” We thought. Aikman and the Boys coming into Charlotte. Our little Carolina Panthers, have no chance right? Not so fast, the Panthers beat THE Dallas Cowboys in Charlotte!! Knocked them out of the Playoffs!! It was a special evening listening to John Madden and Pat Summerall call the game from our TV at the house I grew up in. It felt surreal, we had a team in Charlotte that just beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Playoffs, and John Madden announced it. Wow. On to face mighty Green Bay! “We have no chance!” we thought...this time we were right. But that was okay, the Panthers weren’t ready for the big-time yet. The team and fans needed to earn our stripes before we could sniff glory. That was only the beginning of my love for the Panthers, almost puppy love you could call it.. well kitty love….? nah I’ll stop. Over the next few seasons, we saw our “franchise” QB and future of the team have one too many frosty pops and spewed out a few to many unkind remarks we’ll say and Kevin Greene choking Dom Capers on the sidelines, and boom, just like that the dream of building a true winner from Day 1 went out the door and the division champion Panthers plummeted to a 4-12 record, reversing their 12-4 mark 2 years prior.. and your Carolina Panthers looked more and more like a joke and an afterthought in the NFL. Off to New Orleans went #12, and on came in George Seifert, and what I like to call, “The Beuerlein Years”. Not horrible years, but certainly nothing to write home about and never lived up to the expectations once Seifert was hired (he was so bad). I got to go to a handful of games then, and it started to really feel like my team, “our team”. I would throw things at the TV just to be yelled at by my Mom. Some cheers, but mostly throwing assorted pillows and such in the direction of the Zenith in the living room. We did watch #7 fly into the endzone against Green Bay “avenging” the 1996/97 NFC Championship blowout, but other than that, not many highlights from 1998-2000…I mean Damien Craig….Jeff Lewis….? Come on…..
But it would only get worse for the time being. The Panthers seemed to come out of the gates rolling in Week 1 of the 2001 season, winning in Minnesota (remember those Vikings teams were really good) with a highlight reel return TD from rookie kick returner, Steve Smith? That dude looked goooood. Maybe he’ll end up being a solid kick returner or something……… that Steve Smith touchdown was literally THE highlight of a franchise worst 1-15 season and at the time, an NFL record 15 straight losses (thank you Lions). I didn’t care, I still wanted to go to one last game that season and my Uncle gave me tickets from his work because no one wanted to go to the Week 17, 1-14 so far, game in the rain mind you. I ended up going with a friend, we sat dripping wet in the rain, inching closer and closer to the club level with each play, watching the Panthers dismal season end with a home loss to the (soon to be Super Bowl champs) Patriots. But it was a blessing in disguise, as the Panthers got to select Julius Peppers with the 2nd pick over gems like David Carr (thank you Texans) and Joey Harrington and hire hot new coaching candidate, Giants defensive coordinator John Fox and the culture seemed to change overnight.. Pep was a beast from day one and with a new head coach and what looked like to be some young talent it looked like the Panthers just may be building something to get excited about. But who knew, just a couple season later what would happen.
At this time in my life, I was playing a lot of baseball, and I mean a lot. Traveling around at a young age, 11-16, those years. When I was 11 I met two of my future best friends, twin brothers, they were on my All-Star team at MARA in Matthews and we became an instant trio. Still to this day I consider them two of my greatest friends in the world and our Panther bond is something that has brought us together since we were kids and ever since. I was the new friend and we all loved the Panthers, but little did I know that their family had PSLs. Four of them, and I just happened to be the 4th member of the gang since their Mom wasn’t into going to games. I was invited to the first game of the season in 2002 against the Ravens. But wow, I had no idea when we got the we walked right into the club level and there was a Panthers usher welcoming us into a…..suite. We were in a (*******) suite. It was straight Richie Rich style (ehh we’ll go Blank Check) at that age, and a complete surprise. I had no idea, but my friends’ Dad was high up with Domino’s Pizza and they sponsored the team. Box seats for the opening game!! Free Panthers hat, program, free food... the works. I was in Heaven. Panthers Heaven, and let’s be honest, is there a better Heaven than Panthers Heaven? That was the only time they had box seats, I guess they were upgraded that game or something, but section 113 wasn’t too bad !!! But that was the beginning of a very fortunate time in my Panthers life. That season I was more than lucky enough to tag along with the twins and their Dad, the nicest and most humble man I’ve ever met, to a few game. Ricky Williams and the Saints (man, did I hate Ricky Williams back then), the Bengals and Bears. I would become their self-proclaimed “good luck charm” in 2003 as I went to every single game that season with them starting with the epic Week 1 Jaguars (Delhomme debut) game. That was one helluva comeback. 17 points(?) at the half and here comes in #17 ala Tom Brady (but we’ll get to that later)...stormin’ through the 2003 NFL season Delhomme---->Ricky Proehl TD!!! Stephen Davis and the gang rumbling all over defenses. Ball hawk Mike Minter (still rock a #30 jersey to games when I’m home), tackling machine Dan Morgan and the fearsome foursome of Peppers-Buckner-Jenkins-Rucker. Man that D-Line was UNSTOPPABLE!!! I remember our baseball team running to one of our parents car’s right after our game ended, listening to the end of the Week 2 thriller in Tampa. We just won our game and ran up to the car as we heard “IT’S BLOCKED!!!!” belted by (my beloved and missed) Bill Rosinski. Our entire team, players moms, dads, everyone screamed in joy… the Panthers forced the game to OT with :00 on the clock. Unbelievable. You could sense, after the Week 1 comeback and this game, that something special was brewing for our Panthers and the city of Charlotte. My Mom looked at me and my Dad said, “we’re going to watch overtime, hurry let’s go!!” we rushed to the Hickory Hooters, yes Hooters with Mom and Dad (it was the closest place and perfect hell Hooters at age 15) just in time to watch John Kasey knock one through the uprights and send the Panthers back home 2-0. I was lucky, just like Jake Delhomme, I mean no, Steve Smith didn’t bail him out on any throws in his career, what am I talking about……...to go to every home game for the rest of the season that year with my friends and their Dad. The most magical Panthers season to-date (yes, including this season, depending on the outcome). I even got to go to the playoff game against Dallas, and again we knocked off the Cowgirls!!! It was one of the best nights of my life at the time. Witnessing a Panthers playoff victory!! How special! But my parents, and my Dad who took me to my first Panthers game, were sitting at home watching, happy to know I was there cheering on our beloved Panthers in person for the family.
Little did I know how special that playoff run was going to be. First Dallas, then the incredible 2OT instant classic knocking off the “Greatest Show On Turf”….X-Clown, enough said. Then the NFC Title game in Philadelphia and cue Bill Rosinski, “Yes, Charlotte, there is a Super Bowl, and weerrrrre in it!” I cried tears of joy as me and my two friends who I went to games with sat in our “Panthers-Triangle” the entire game, didn’t move from our positioning of sitting in a triangle the entire game, hey it worked! The next two weeks of waiting around for the big game seemed like years…. day by day went by and the game was almost here. Super Bowl 38 vs the New England Patriots. I remember clearly, it was after school one day and my friend Sumner and I were at Qdoba at the Arboretum and his mom called him…. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but Sumner’s eyes lit up and couldn’t stop smiling… he looked at me and said “Greg, do you want to come to the Super Bowl with us?” I’m almost in tears now (in my ‘Dab On ‘em ‘ shirt and G.O. #88 jersey actually too) thinking about that moment, how special it was. How lucky was I? I just happened to have two awesome friends with a humble father who had 4 Super Bowl tickets. I called my Mom and Dad right away, they were the biggest Panthers fans I knew besides me of course...and my mom was in tears saying she already knew and had to keep a secret and just like any great Mom and Dad, they were more than happy for me. They drove me to Greensboro (cheaper than Charlotte) and off to Houston I was….first time flying alone actually was for the Super Bowl, kind of cool… I actually met Ben Rothle….sp? Big Ben.. at the Houston airport he was in his Miami(OH) sweatsuit not in the NFL yet and got his autograph on and football (later signed by Dante Culpepper too at the airport, just to be told I couldn’t bring the ball into the stadium and came back after the game was over and the Panthers lost and my ball was gone from the hiding spot...rough f’n day...but hey, I will still cherish that memory forever.
Over the next few year the Panthers had some solid seasons, 2005, ultimately losing to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship with Nick Goings running around for us O.o but we did get that epic Steve Smith bear hug TD celebration in Chicago...Then a great 2008 campaign came crashing down against Arizona as I was lucky enough once again to go to a Playoff game with my friends and their Dad while my parents cheered at home wishing they could be there with me. We all witnessed Jake’s luck ultimately run out as I sat there in Section 113 watching in fear as he threw 5 interceptions to the Cardinals in an absolute laugher. Those seasons were sandwiched by some very poor seasons...2007 with Vinny Testeverde… 2009 with David Carr and St. Pierre , ouch… Fox could never get over the hump and put two back-to-back winning seasons together and inevitably the first great era in Carolina Panthers history came to an end when the Panthers posted a 2-14 record in 2010 and Foxy was fired. Mirroring 2001-2002, the Panthers had the worst record in the league, here comes another hot defensive coordinator, and former Chicago Bear, Ron Rivera this time and the #1 pick in the form of……..Cameron Jerrell Newton and the fate of the young Carolina Panthers franchise would never be the same again…and for us who stuck with the team through the rough years would soon be replenished for our commitment and genuine love and passion for this team and what it represents.
I’m not trying to give you a synopsis of the Panthers history, but an insight to my Panthers world. Being a child of the 90s, growing up in Charlotte, literally growing up With the Carolina Panthers and being able to say I’ve seen the team, the fans, the culture, the home crowd, the energy in the city on Sundays literally grow from a newspaper headline to a 15-1 3-time (in a row) NFC South Champion brings me to chills. Not many fans of sports teams can say they have seen it all when it comes to their favorite team, and the best part about it is I know it’s only just begun. Every time around Christmas my family goes to a Panthers game together, and those even with all of the great games I’ve been lucky enough to have seen, are always the best, because I get to share it with my parents. And just from going home for the holidays this year and in the past few years, the energy at games has gone from a 14 year old me yelling at old ladies to stand up and cheer on 3rd down to not being able to hear myself think in an absolute downpour in the nose-bleeds looking over at my Mom and Dad having the best time of their lives watching the Panthers clinch a playoff spot against the Saints in 2013. That is maybe my favorite Panthers memory, watching my Mom and Dad jump up and down hugging each other in the rain when Cam came marching down the field on the Saints, 90 yard drive in the rain..something like that. One to remember to say the least. I remember waking up that Sunday morning, ran downstairs in full Panthers regalia, with Stubhub pulled up on my phone yelling at my Mom that ticket prices dropped overnight and I bought 4 tickets for the family and we were all going together! To keep the tradition alive of going to games around Christmas and to share more Panthers memories to bring us together. The look on my Mom’s face was unforgettable. It’s memories like that that the Panthers have brought into my life, and my family’s lives together that can never be taken away from us… win or lose we love this team and share memories that truly last a lifetime and beyond.
Now that I live out in Colorado, I have to wear Panthers gear all week to feel the playoff energy that is abuzz back in Charlotte and the Carolinas… I can feel it all the way out here…. In my time living in Charlotte and NC I have been extremely fortunate to have seen about 30+ Panther games. And the every game I got to go to with my friends’ family, whether it was a preseason game or the Super Bowl, my parents were always at home watching it proud to say I was in the stands cheering for OUR Panthers. My parents have never been to a playoff game (let alone a Field Pass!!!!), they tried to get tickets on the onsale (so did I for them) but we all came up empty. I’m not writing this to get tickets for myself, I’ve been more than lucky to have been to so many Panthers games…. but as I sit here at 1:32am (fvck I need to go to bed) out in Denver, Colorado I write this in hopes that my parents, who had a dream to move to Charlotte and raise a family, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be alive let alone a CAROLINA PANTHERS fan (!!!!!!!!!!!!). I write this in hopes that my parents, 63 and 64 years of age newly retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School teachers (both for 20 years mind you!) will be able to spend this Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, North Carolina at THE BANK (of America stadium) in their #59 and #88 jersey’s screaming their lungs out, standing the entire game loud and proud for OUR Carolina Panthers to take home another playoff victory, and for Mom and Dad to take home a lasting memory for them to be able to share for the rest of their lives together and for me to watch on TV and for once, be able to be proud that my parents are the ones at the playoff (!!) game cheering for the family. That would make my Panthers life complete (well, after that Super Bowl ring baby).....
~~ Thanks for the consideration Zod…and thank you for reading.. this was fun to reminisce on some of my Panthers memories… Keep Pounding Panthers Nation!!!