Did you hear it? I heard it. The audible gasp from Panther Nationbas Carolina selected Shaq Thompson with the 25th pick in the draft. That kind of gasp only occurs when there is expectation. Whether it be good or bad, expectation is the foundation of a strong fan base. The mere fact that we have expectations for the team now is amazing considering the problems the franchise has had in the past, whether it be losing teams, losing players, domestic abuse, or murder suspects. Optimism is not a word that has been commonly associated with the Carolina Panthers. Another word that hasn't been used a lot for the team--consistency. Since Cam Newton was selected number one overall in the 2011, the Panthers have slowly, but surely, started to become a somewhat consistent franchise. Slowly but surely, they have built expectation. The last two seasons are prime examples. A playoff appearance, and just this past year, a playoff victory signal long-term meaning. What is the meaning beyond 2014 and 2015? In my mind, the answer is simple and long overdue: the culture of this franchise has started to change.
The Panthers' first few seasons were successes, a rare feat for expansion teams. Carolina finished their inaugural season with a 7-9 record, which is still the best first record by an expansion team in league history. The following year they went 12-4, winning the NFC West and ultimately going onto and losing in the NFC championship game. Then the slow but steady dissent began. We all remember the 1-15 year. I've tried to deal with it through therapy, and I'm proud to announce that just recently I had a breakthrough. I can finally say the name Chris Weinke. All jokes aside, those were abysmal years, that not only set the franchise back, but also caused a lot of fans to turn their backs on the team. The blame falls on many factors: poor drafts, poor personal moves, and just overall mismanagement. While there is plenty of blame to be handed around, there is one figure who most commonly catches the ire of Panther fans--Marty Hurney. Some fans would argue that the Hurney era was the Great Depression of the Panthers' brief history as a franchise, but I will point out that he was responsible for the loan Super Bowl run, and a 12-4 season. Ultimately, any GM who thinks you can win with Jimmy Clausen or Matt Moore as your starter is most likely better suited for some other type of career, perhaps radio. The future outlook of the team was at an all-time low, but just as it looked like all hope was lost, a hero would emerge, three of the them in fact, and for two of them we have one person to thank, Marty Hurney.
In retrospect, the choice was simple. Although there was question about his character and overall chances in learning the pro quarterback position, Cam Newton was the absolute best player in the 2011 draft, and a perfect fit for new head coach Ron Rivera's offense. A coach and a quarterback who would set the foundation for future success, and who made the call on those two? None other than Marty Hurney himself. The first two seasons with Cam and Rivera were a struggle, but the potential could be seen as Cam set rookie franchise records, and slowly Rivera started rebuilding the Panthers' defense. There was still a missing piece. however, and Marty Hurney would soon find himself as the blame for the Panthers not reaching the next level. The Panthers started the 2012 season 1-5 and Hurney was let go. With the hire of Dave Gettleman as GM, the team finally found its three musketeers to position the organization for the next level. Gettleman has worked to better our salary cap, once bankrupted by Hurney's love of brittle running backs. The three's work has continued to improve, and slowly the culture of this team has changed from a consistent bottom feeder to division favorites, and hopefully soon, Super Bowl contender.
As fans, we also have to contribute to the culture change. Our expectations, whether met or not, have to be adjusted based on where we are as of right now. Are we Super Bowl contenders? That remains to be seen, but I do think that's where we are headed. Successful franchises are always consistent in all areas, and the Panthers are beginning to imitate the model set forth by teams, such as the Patriots and the Steelers. We will be in contention for the division and the league for years to come because of the people we have in the front office and on the field. As fans, we have to support our team whether or not we agree or disagree with an issue. Make no mistake, as fans we are a big part of the culture change with this team. The media will continue to overlook us, our division rivals will continue to dismiss us, but as fans we have to be unfazed, continue to support our team, and most of all keep pounding.
Thanks for reading,
Andy "the Barkeep" Massey