Every heartbeat of every Panther fan from Brazil to Las Vegas to the UK to China to Gastonia is beating just a little faster this week. Special does not do justice to what an appearance in Super Bowl 50 means. This is a culmination of a lifelong dream that I didn't dare to let myself dream. Not simply to win a football game but to reach the mountain top of what one works for.
I was born in Charlotte and raised in a little town just outside of town named Matthews. At the age of five I played my first year of organized football and quickly learned that this is a team sport. If the guy next to you doesn’t do his job, you could and probably would get flattened. I’m still good friends to this day, 39 years later, with several folks from that team. Football has a way of forming who you are and making you a better person for participating.
Growing up in rural (at the time) North Carolina, you really had to choose between being a Dallas Cowboy fan and being a Washington Redskin fan. I chose the Cowboys. I loved the Cowboys. But when the news broke that our little ol’ (and not so rural anymore) city was getting our own team, I changed uniforms like Clark Kent in a phone booth. Ironically enough, Super Man ends up playing a role in our team, huh?
Growing Up Together
I was fresh out of College in 1995 when the Panthers won their first game (the Hall of Fame game) against fellow expansion team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Four short weeks later, the Panthers played their last pre-season game that year in Clemson and against the New York Giants. My roommate and I drove from Raleigh to Clemson and stood in the pouring rain to watch the Panthers win that game 6-3. I was so elated because my team and my city was on it’s way to relevance. A Southern trait instilled in me at the age of five and beyond was that hard work pays off. Nothing is given to you, everything is earned. Well that day I felt like we were on our way to earning national respect.
When I Dropped The Cowboys
I instantly fell in love with the Panthers, from Jerry Richardson’s graciousness to the fact that Charlotte became a place talked about on national television. I remember tailgating before that Giants game and Mr. Richardson pulled up in his golf cart, shook our hands and said "Thank you." I still held the Cowboys as a close second to my heart since I had loved them since 1976. But when Jimmy Johnson was canned in 1996 and Barry Switzer said “I don’t even know where Charlotte is…” before playing us in the playoffs, I forever only loved one team. My city is bigger than any group of 53 guys. So the fact that the Panther represent the area that I love so much is why I will most likely cry on Sunday.
Lucky To Be Going To SB50
I am now living in Las Vegas, which is far, far away from Charlotte in many ways (not just geographically). But I’m getting to experience different things and verifying that Charlotte is the best city in the country. At least to me. But I am fortunate enough to be able to attend the game in Santa Clara this weekend and I don’t know how I’m going to handle it. Lots and lots of memories are going through my mind as I prepare for this trip. This really feels like a dream that I never dared to dream is coming true and I am so excited. Not just for the 53 Panthers on the field on Sunday and not just for me and my wife being in the stands at kickoff, but for what it means to the Carolinas. Everyone’s heart in Panther Nation is beating just a little fast this week. And I love it.