The Carolina Panthers are a professional football team based in Charlotte, North Carolina, representing both North Carolina and South Carolina in the National Football League (NFL). They are currently members of the National Football Conference (NFC) South Division in the NFL. The Panthers, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, began play as 1995 NFL expansion teams.
Richardson's announcement created a buzz in the region, as politicians, businessmen, and citizens all joined together to show the NFL that a team could be supported in the area. United States Senators Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina put aside their partisan differences to lobby NFL owners to support the expansion. Meanwhile, North Carolina Governor James G. Martin and South Carolina Governor Carroll A. Campbell, Jr. created a committee of citizens from North and South Carolina to help the cause. Preseason games were held in the region in 1989, 1990, and 1991; all of the games were sold out as part of the fans' efforts to show their support.
In 1992, the NFL released the list of five areas open to a potential NFL team: Baltimore, Maryland, St. Louis, Missouri, Memphis, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Florida, and the Carolinas, represented by Charlotte. After the vote was delayed because of a dispute between the players and the league, the race began again in 1993. In June of that year, Richardson Sports announced that they would finance the stadium through the sale of Permanent Seat Licenses, club seats, and luxury boxes. In a stunning show of fan support, all seats were sold out by the end of the first day.
The feasibility of the team was no longer a question, but it was still up to the league to decide where the team would go. On October 26, 1993, the league announced that the owners had unanimously voted for the Carolinas to receive the 29th franchise, the first new NFL team since 1976 (Jacksonville was the other city). Fans all over the region celebrated with fireworks. In a memorable moment during the expansion announcement conference, Richardson spoke directly into the camera to thank the 40,000 people who had purchased the PSLs and allowing the stadium to be built without a burden to the taxpayers.
Even though St. Louis and Baltimore lost out on their expansion bids, they eventually acquired new teams: the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995. And as the result of the 1996 Cleveland Browns relocation controversy, the Baltimore Ravens were established by the league as technically a new expansion team. Memphis also temporarily received a team when the Houston Oilers relocated in 1997 to Tennessee, intending to play the 1997 and 1998 seasons in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium while what is now called LP Field in Nashville was being constructed.
The Panthers became only the second expansion team (besides the Minnesota Vikings in 1961) to win their first game, winning the annual Hall of Fame Game against the fellow expansion Jacksonville Jaguars 20-14 on July 29, 1995 (a game known as the "Battle of the Big Cats", due to the similar nicknames of the franchises). The home games that first season were played at Clemson University, as the stadium was still under construction. This made the Panthers the only sports team in one of the Big Four leagues ever based out of South Carolina, even if only for one year. The Panthers first regular season game was against the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The Panthers scored on their first three possessions to take a 13-0 lead before the Falcons rallied to win 23-20. The Panthers first home game (in Clemson) was a 31-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams. The Panthers won their first game against the New York Jets 26-15 on October 15, 1995, after Sam Mills returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown. Later that year, the Panthers stunned the league by not only winning four consecutive games (an expansion team record), but defeating the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers, 13-7, the first time an expansion team had beaten the reigning champs. The Panthers finished their season 7-9, more than doubling the previous record of a first year expansion team (and far surpassing the 0-14 record of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their inaugural season).
In the 1996 draft, the Panthers used their first pick on running back Tim Biakabutuka, and their second pick on wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. During the off-season, they also picked up quarterback Steve Beuerlein, tight end Wesley Walls, and linebacker Kevin Greene. The second year proved even better than the first, as the players found a groove and rattled off a seven-game winning streak to end the season and took the top spot in the NFC West. They beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-17 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers 30-13 in the NFC Championship. Their fellow second-year expansion team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, played in the AFC Championship against the New England Patriots but lost 20-6; the NFL nearly had an all-expansion Super Bowl. Panthers fans took it in stride, however, as the team had made massive improvement from the year before, and the team was represented at the Pro Bowl by eight players, including Collins, Kasay, Greene, Mills, Walls, Michael Bates, Eric Davis, and Lamar Lathon.
The Panthers fully expected to return to the NFC title game in 1997, but a 2-4 start quickly began to cloud the minds of Carolina fans. Meanwhile, the Panthers became known as much for their problems off the field as they did on. Wide receiver Rae Carruth, taken with their first pick of the 1997 Draft, was arrested in 1999 for conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend. He was later convicted, and is serving his sentence in Raleigh, North Carolina. Star quarterback Kerry Collins was dealing with alcoholism, and was accused of making racial comments about teammates (notably Muhsin Muhammad). Collins was later released following the 1998 season. Former running back Fred Lane was shot and killed by his wife during a domestic dispute in 2000, after signing with the Indianapolis Colts.
Seifert's third and final season, 2001, was a disaster. The team released veteran quarterback Steve Beuerlein in the off-season and handed the reins to Jeff Lewis, an untested but promising quarterback obtained from the Denver Broncos. Lewis was released after several poor performances during the preseason that left the Panthers with rookie quarterback Chris Weinke under center. Weinke had won the Heisman Trophy leading Florida State to a national championship in college but was unable to duplicate that level of success in the NFL. The Panthers won their opening game against the Minnesota Vikings but then lost 15 straight games, an NFL record for most consecutive losses in one season, to finish with a league-worst 1-15 record.
Seifert was fired the day after the 2001 season ended and the team then set out to find its third head coach. Although his final season was the worst in team history, George Seifert did help select several outstanding players in the 2001 NFL Draft including Dan Morgan, Kris Jenkins and Steve Smith who have earned several Pro Bowl berths and All-Pro awards while playing for the Panthers. Smith is considered one of the most electrifying and explosive wide receivers in the game today.
The 2003 season began with the Panthers drafting several young prospects, including Ricky Manning, Jr. out of UCLA at cornerback, and Jordan Gross at offensive tackle. In addition, quarterback Jake Delhomme, running back Stephen Davis, and wide receiver Ricky Proehl were signed in the off-season, making additions to an offense that needed to complement a top-ranked defense. The team was not without tragedy, however, as it was revealed that former linebacker and coach Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer; additionally, linebacker Mark Fields was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. The team used their struggle as inspiration, and started the season 5-0, after Delhomme replaced Rodney Peete at halftime of the season opener and led the Panthers to a fourth quarter comeback, thus winning the starting job. Delhomme eventually led the team to an 11-5 record, the NFC South Division title and a playoff berth.
In the playoffs, they easily defeated the Cowboys 29-10 in a home Wildcard game before facing the St. Louis Rams in the divisional playoff game in the Edward Jones Dome. Carolina had an 11-point lead in the last 3 minutes of play, but a touchdown from Marshall Faulk, a successful two point conversion, and an onside kick that led to a field goal tied the game and sent it to overtime. Both John Kasay and Jeff Wilkins missed potential game-winning kicks in the first overtime, and Carolina had the ball at the start of the second overtime. In the first play of the 2nd OT, however, Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith with a 69-yard touchdown pass to win the game, 29-23, and send the Panthers into the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, led by Donovan McNabb, were in the NFC title match for the 3rd year in a row, but had lost the previous two years. The Panthers made it three in a row for Philadelphia, as they shut down the Eagles offense and, with a 14-3 victory, headed to their first Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
At Super Bowl XXXVIII, neither team was able to put up points in the first quarter, and the game remained scoreless until near the end of the first half. However, 24 points were scored in the last 5 minutes of the first half, and the score going into halftime was 14-10 New England. The third quarter was also scoreless and it wasn't until late in the game that things heated up once again. The teams traded leads numerous times in the highest-scoring fourth quarter in Super Bowl history, including setting a record when Jake Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. That pass made the score 22-21, Carolina and went down in the record books as the longest offensive play in Super Bowl history. After New England responded with a touchdown of their own and a 2-point conversion to make it 29-22, Carolina would storm right back to tie the game with a touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 left in regulation, opening the possibility to the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. However, John Kasay's kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball on their own 40-yard line. Adam Vinatieri, who had won Super Bowl XXXVI two years earlier on a last-second field goal, repeated his heroics, connecting on a 41-yarder with four seconds left, even though he had already missed two field goals in the game. This gave the Patriots their second Super Bowl win in three years. The multiple close games, won either in overtime or with a slim margin, gave way to a new nickname for the Panthers: the "Cardiac Cats."
Among the other things the Panthers did in 2004 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the franchise, they named a 10th Anniversary All-Time Team (listed below). With the exception of tight end Wesley Walls, every offensive starter was on the team during their Super Bowl run of 2003. The only defensive players to make the anniversary team that played in the Super Bowl were the front four (Peppers, Rucker, Jenkins and Buckner), linebacker Dan Morgan, and safety Mike Minter. Pro Bowl punter Todd Sauerbrun made the squad as well. Naturally, kicker John Kasay made the team, since he has been the team's kicker since its inception.
Despite a home-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints 23–20 on an inspirational field goal by John Carney, and heightened by national feelings of sympathy for the homeless New Orleans Saints displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the Panthers got revenge against the two-time defending champion New England Patriots for the loss in Super Bowl XXXVIII winning the rematch by a final score of 27–17. Despite going on the road and losing a close game to the Miami Dolphins 27–24, the Panthers managed to get a six-game winning streak going. First, they won at home on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers 32–29. Then, they squeaked out victories in their next two games, on the road against the Arizona Cardinals (24–20) and the Detroit Lions (21–20). Coming off of their Week 7 Bye, the Panthers won their home game against the Minnesota Vikings 38–13. During that game, Steve Smith, who had already emerged as one of the league's best wide receivers, had a real breakthrough. He caught 11 passes for 201 yards and 1 touchdown, with his longest reception of the game being 69 yards. Jake Delhomme also enjoyed one of his best outings in years, completing 21 of 29 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, giving Delhomme a nomination for FedEx Air Player of The Week. A week later, the Panthers won against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road with a final score of 34–14. Then, they won at home against the hapless New York Jets 30–3.
Their winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Chicago Bears. The #1 defense held the Panthers to just three points, as they lost 13–3. A week later, they traveled to Ralph Wilson Stadium to play against the Buffalo Bills. For the most of the game, they were held in check by the Bills' defense, as they were held to just three field goals. In the fourth quarter, the Panthers rallied and got a 13–9 win, thanks to a three-yard TD pass from Jake Delhomme to TE Michael Gaines. Then, they would go home and win against their division rival, the Atlanta Falcons 24–6. Unfortunately, the Bucs would come to town a week later and get revenge with a final of 20–10. Despite going to LSU's Tiger Stadium and winning against the Saints 27–10, they would lose a close game to the Dallas Cowboys 24-20 after a controversial running into the kicker call.
After losing to the Cowboys in the season's penultimate game, the Panthers needed a victory to secure a spot in the playoffs. They responded with a dominating New Years Day performance at the Georgia Dome, a 44–11 victory over the Falcons, making the score the largest margin of victory in franchise history. This was the first time since 1997 that the Panthers were able to beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. With that victory, the Panthers secured themselves the NFC's #5 seed.
The Panthers began their post-season play on Sunday January 8, 2006 at Giants Stadium against the New York Giants. After both sides failed to score in the first quarter, the trifecta of Jake Delhomme, DeShaun Foster, and Steve Smith showed dominance as they shut out the Giants 23–0. Carolina's coach, John Fox, used to be the defensive coordinator for the Giants when they went to the Super Bowl earlier in the decade. New York was the nation's number one television market, and the shutout in the playoffs was significant.
Their next opponent was the Chicago Bears, home to the nation's third largest television market, who started off the week by reminding the Panthers about their regular season victory over them. The Panthers responded with a victory, beating the Bears at Soldier Field with a final score of 29–21. Unaffected by the major media hype of the Bears' defense, the Panthers led throughout, starting with an incredible touchdown reception by Steve Smith on the second play from scrimmage. Steve Smith had 12 catches for 212 yards with 2 touchdowns in Chicago. With that victory, the Panthers advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in the franchise's 11-year history. However, during the Chicago game Deshaun Foster suffered a crushing ankle injury that would keep him indefinitely sidelined. Also, star defensive end Julius Peppers re-injured an ailing shoulder. The next weekend they played against the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship, but injuries and playing on the road for the fourth straight week caught up with the panthers and they came up short, losing 34–14.
Behind Testaverde, the Panthers got their first home win in one calendar year, beating the San Francisco 49ers 31-14. Following a 37-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, John Fox started undrafted free agent rookie Matt Moore who led the Panthers to a 13-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks at home. The Panthers finished 7–9, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Matt Moore was 2–1 as a starter. Julius Peppers had a career low in sacks. Jon Beason, as a rookie, led the Carolina Panthers in tackles on defense. Newly-arrived strong safety Chris Harris led the NFL in forced fumbles.
The fight song only lasted a few years before being officially retired. Officials with the Panthers organization said that they received a large number of fan complaints regarding the fight song. The fight song was heard again, although in an abbreviated version, during the first preseason game of the 2006 season. The song was used throughout the remainder of the season. Currently "Stand and Cheer" is played after every home victory.
There has been an unofficial Panthers song recorded by the Charlotte hip-hop group Q.C. Riders that proved somewhat popular during the team's first Super Bowl run. Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" is an often-played song at home games at Bank of America Stadium.
Like many other NFL teams located in temperate climates, the Panthers traditionally wear their white jerseys at home during the first half of the season — forcing opponents to wear their dark ones under the warm autumns in Charlotte. In the preseason, the Panthers wear their white uniforms at home.
The team's uniforms prompted a 2003 lawsuit by the Oakland Raiders, who claimed that the NFL and the Panthers had infringed upon key trademark elements of the Raiders' brand, specifically the silver and black colors. In the same suit, the Raiders challenged the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1997 uniform design, including the pirate logo. The Raiders wanted the courts to bar the Buccaneers and Panthers from wearing their uniforms while playing in California. However, since the lawsuit was filed in a state California court, the lawsuit was tossed out because only federal courts have jurisdiction over intellectual property issues. The Raiders have yet to appeal the ruling.
The Panthers have made minor changes to their uniforms since coming into the NFL in 1995. The dark jerseys are black tops, silver pants with black socks (electric blue in 1995) and white tops, white pants and electric blue socks. They have added an electric blue alternate jersey which has been worn with the team's silver pants and black socks. The alternate jersey has been worn twice a season beginning in 2002. The light blue jerseys have been worn mostly at home. The Panthers have worn the light blue jerseys a few times on the road when the home team has chosen to wear white due to the heat. The light blue uniforms are more comfortable in the heat than black.
The Panthers have played in six postseason games, wearing the all-white jerseys in each game. Two of those games were at home against the Dallas Cowboys, making the Cowboys wear their "unlucky" road navy-blue jerseys. The Cowboys are one of three teams who routinely wear their white uniforms at home.
Outside the division, the biggest rival is the Dallas Cowboys. In both 1996 and 2003, the Panthers were responsible for eliminating the Cowboys in the playoffs. In a key game late in the 2005 season, Steve Smith was ejected for touching an official. Late in the game, a blocked field-goal was reversed by a suspicious penalty and Dallas scored the winning touchdown two plays later. This late-season loss kept Carolina from winning the division and forced them to enter the playoffs as a wild card team. They were eliminated in the NFC Championship by the Seahawks. In the regular season of 2006, Dallas won 35-14 on the high-profile NBC Sunday Night Football. In 2007, a 20-13 Dallas victory over Carolina mathematically eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs, and ultimately clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the Cowboys. The Panthers are currently 2-0 lifetime against the Cowboys in post season play.
Some also considered the Jacksonville Jaguars to be their AFC rival since both of these teams came into the NFL in 1995. The Panthers' first pre-season game was against the Jaguars, which the Panthers won. These teams rarely play so the rivalry has not taken root and the Panthers lack an AFC rival.
|1||Dom Capers||1995–1998||64||30||34||0||.469||2||1||1||AP Coach of the Year (1996)|
Pro Football Weekly Coach of the Year (1995, 1996)
Sporting News Coach of the Year (1996)
UPI NFC Coach of the Year (1996)