If you have never seen the Carolina Panthers play, just watch on Super Bowl Sunday. This team is living the dream and enjoying every minute.
CHARLOTTE, NC, January 28, 2016 – Super Bowl hype-week officially begins the day the AFC/NFC champions arrive in California. It’s the calm before the storm. It’s the time of year when we get more information about football than we ever wanted to know.
So much so that the kick-off is almost anti-climactic.
Media moguls, of course, always want a dream match-up between two marquee teams, so when an upstart newbie like the Carolina Panthers makes the scene, there is always concern that the Game of Games will not live up to its pre-kickoff level of anticipation.
1 – They put Charlotte on the map: It is truly amazing how an oblong piece of leather can practically change a city’s image overnight. Charlotte’s leaders spent years telling everyone it was “A world class city.” It even became the butt of local jokes. During any time of negative publicity Charlotteans wrote letters to editor of the Charlotte Observer deriding its “world class” image.
For years Charlotte lived under the cloud of something called the “Ch factor.” It was important to city fathers to figure out ways to eliminate the letters “NC” after its name. Nobody ask what state New York or Boston or San Francisco were in. Everyone knows where Rome, Paris and London are.
But in Charlotte’s case it was always in the shadow of Charleston, SC, Charleston, WV, Charlottesville, VA or Chattanooga, TN. Charlotte, NC had an identity crisis.
No more. The Panthers came to town and suddenly that dreaded NC faded away. Charlotte grew up overnight and the NFL was a major factor in that process.
2 – Jerry Richardson is a player’s owner: The Panthers won their first game of the season in 2001 and then lost 15 straight. By midseason the media was clamoring for owner Jerry Richardson’s head claiming he had suddenly disappeared in the wake of his team’s disastrous season.
What the press forgot was that in 1996, the first year the Panthers played in their stadium and the second year of their existence, the team went to the NFC championship and lost to Green Bay. Richardson never stepped into the limelight that year either, opting to let head coach Dom Capers and the players revel in their success.
Publically Jerry Richardson has always been a quiet presence in good times and in bad. Unlike several other owners, Richardson allows his coaches and players to live or die on their own merits and never seeks out the media for publicity.
On the day the franchise was awarded to Carolina, the first thing Jerry Richardson did was turn to the television cameras at his press conference and say to every Carolinian, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The 2015 season was no different, and in that regard, Mr. Richardson is a class act.
3 – The Panthers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL: When this season opened most of the football gurus said the Carolina Panthers were a mediocre team in a mediocre division.
When several teams were unbeaten through the first third of the schedule, many pundits said the Panthers were the worst undefeated team in pro football history.
At the kickoff on February 7th, team Carolina will be the Super Bowl favorites against Denver. The 2015 Carolina Panthers are “Cinderella with fangs.” The respect was a long time coming, but oddly enough there are no “experts” to be found who pooh-poohed the Panthers in September.
4 – A changing of the guard: Super Bowl L will be a milestone because it represents the 50th edition of the great American football classic. In fact, the game itself is three decades older than the Carolina Panthers franchise.
Charlotte is a transient white collar city. When the team played its first home game in now Bank of America stadium, the Panthers were the second favorite team of many of their fans. Newcomers to the city from other NFL towns still had age-old alliances to their former homes.
In 2015, the Carolina Panthers achieved their own identity. Their fan base is growing and they no longer live in the shadow of professional football’s elite teams.
5 – The Panthers are just plain fun to watch: Everything else aside, the Carolina Panthers are having fun. In a day when it is commonplace in sports to be “in-your-face”, Cam Newton and his teammates have added a new dimension by including their fans in the joy of victory.
We have all witnessed players jiving on the field and beating their chests after a great tackle when their team is losing by 20 points. We have seen the endless array of self-aggrandizing choreography by players following a touchdown.
Many players will tell you that they do it because they are “entertainers.” Sports are entertaining, but, on the field, athletes are not entertainers in the same manner as actors, singers or dancers. The difference is the element of competition. That is the game changer.
When the season opened, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton grew up. He decided to let the fans enjoy Carolina’s victories as much as the players.
Rather than bring the focus upon himself, Newton began giving game balls to kids after a touchdown. He began dancing on sidelines and cheering for and with the fans rather than emphasizing his own personal exploits.
If you have never seen the Carolina Panthers play, just watch on Super Bowl Sunday. This team is living the dream and enjoying every minute. And in the process, they are letting their fans savor every delicious moment with them.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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