As I reflect on the things I’m grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day, being a fan of the Carolina Panthers definitely makes my list.
I grew up in West Valley City, Utah in the 1980’s as an avid sports fan who played the basketball-baseball-football annual cycle. I loved playing football, first as a running back and middle linebacker through elementary school, then to wide receiver and safety in junior high as my friends mutated through puberty earlier than I did.
Living in Utah meant I had no hometown NFL team. I jumped on the Los Angeles Raiders bandwagon as a kid because of guys like Marcus Allen, Lyle Alzado, Todd Christensen, and Howie Long, but none of my friends were Raiders fans so I had nobody to commiserate with on Mondays.
There were small pockets of Denver Broncos fans due to geography and smatterings of San Francisco 49ers fans in the 1990’s because of Steve Young’s ties to Utah. Ultimately, I felt like an NFL nomad, a kid who was passionate about the Raiders and the NFL in general, but few people reciprocated my level of interest in professional football.
This continued into my twenties until my wife and I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina for work in 2003. I immediately jumped on the Panthers bandwagon and fully embraced my new hometown team. The Cardiac Cats reciprocated that season with their exhilarating run to the Super Bowl.
After my experience growing up without a local NFL team, I’m thankful to have the Carolina Panthers in my own backyard. The community of Panthers fans who passionately follow our team makes my life more enjoyable as we revel in the wins and bellyache together about the losses. Being a Panthers fan surrounded by other Panthers fans adds happiness and community in my life. There are many states and cities that don’t have what we have here.
And not only do we have a football team to call our own, we have a consistently good football team to root for! Since I arrived in 2003 the Panthers have gone 136-113-1 (.546) which ranks them No. 12 in wins over that period of time. To get even more recent, the Panthers 57 regular season wins between 2013 and 2018 ranks fifth in the NFL, trailing only the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Seattle Seahawks.
When it comes to the postseason, since 2003 the Panthers have made the playoffs in seven of 15 seasons, including four of the last five years. Their eight playoff wins ranks No. 8 in the NFL since 2003 and they’ve reached the Super Bowl twice. The vast majority of NFL fans would trade their franchise’s recent track records for the Panthers in a heartbeat.
Not only are the Panthers a winning team, we as fans are fortunate to have incredibly fun players to watch. Cam Newton has a dominant mix of passing and running that has never before been seen in the NFL. Luke Kuechly will go down as one of the best linebackers in NFL history, health permitting. Thomas Davis has been an inspiration for the last 14 years. Julius Peppers has returned home. Greg Olsen is one of the most productive receiving tight ends the league has ever seen. Christian McCaffrey is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands and D.J. Moore might become Steve Smith 2.0.
This isn’t to say everything’s perfect about being a Panthers fan. We seem to be blowing the 2018 season after a promising 6-2 start. While our team is capable enough to consistently compete, we’re just not quite good enough to consistently contend. The circumstances leading up to Jerry Richardson’s sale of the franchise will hang over the team’s reputation for years to come as well.
That said, I can’t imagine my life without the Panthers at this point. Despite the last two ugly losses, the Carolina Panthers make my life so much more enjoyable. I know what it’s like to not have a hometown NFL team.
I’m thankful I have one now. And I’m grateful it’s the Carolina Panthers.