For most of my life, it’s been tough being a Panthers fan. Let me explain why.
My family moved to Charlotte, NC when I was just going into first grade. Back then, I was more preoccupied with making new friends than with how many times the Panthers quarterback had gotten sacked in the last game.
All of that changed three years later, in 2004. A life-sized cutout of Julius Peppers cropped up in my fourth grade hallway after Christmas. Before that season, Jerry Richardson’s granddaughter was the only one in my class who religiously wore Panthers gear to school. Now, it was like our uniform.
When the big Sunday came – Super Bowl XXXVIII – my mom started slow-cooking ribs at 11 a.m. and my brother and I both picked out our favorite Doritos flavor: Nacho Cheese for me and Cool Ranch for him. Such nonsense of having two different flavors of Doritos would never fly in my house if the Panthers hadn’t been playing in their very first Super Bowl.
The Panthers put up a good fight that night. I cheered on our standouts – quarterback Jake Delhomme, wide receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad (“MUUUUUU”) and, of course, defensive end Julius Peppers. Things were looking alright at halftime when the Patriots were only ahead by a little bit, leading us 14-10. While the rest of the country freaked out during Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” I sat biting my fingernails waiting for the game to begin again.
After being tied 29-29 with over a minute left on the clock, losing 29-32 to the Patriots was painful. I cried before bed that night, thinking about how much I hated seeing Tom Brady’s stupid face smiling from under the post-game confetti and his greasy hands grabbing the silver trophy. My hatred for Tom Brady is the reason I was elated when the Broncos snatched the 2016 AFC championship from the Patriots – Super Bowl 50 was the Panthers’ chance to redeem a long, hard decade, and the thought of losing again to Tom Brady, the detestable Deflategate offender, was unbearable.
The Panthers sank into a deep low after that fateful 2004 Super Bowl, hitting rock bottom in 2010 with a 2-14 season record. In 2011, we got a new coach and had the first pick in the draft to use on a new quarterback after releasing the injured Delhomme. Star quarterback Andrew Luck was graduating from Stanford, and it looked like things were finally going to turn around for the Panthers. It was a disappointment when Luck returned to school for another year, but it turns out things really do happen for a reason – we drafted Cam Newton instead.
Yeah, Super Bowl 50 was Peyton Manning’s second Lombardi trophy and his 200th win, but this game meant a lot for the Panthers, too. It meant that we were finally going to be taken seriously; black and blue would inspire memories of confetti and dabbing, not Tom Brady’s smug face or that cringe-worthy 2010 season.
I’m not going to lie: I’m really upset. The Panthers didn’t bring their best selves to the game on Sunday, and Cam was too caught up in the panic of losing to throw a decent pass for the entire fourth quarter. But we lost to a good team and a classy quarterback, who, only two years ago, was absolutely pummeled by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. Look where they are now. All we’ve gotta do is keep pounding next year and we’ll be back!