Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unrequited Love: A Football Story

The Carolina Panthers joined the NFL in 1995. According to Wikipedia, they have a compiled record of 115-121. They narrowly lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to the New England Patriots (and no matter how long I live in Massachusetts, I will never be a Patriots fan, and neither will any child of mine). But I have been a Panthers fan the entire time the team has existed, because they're my hometown team. I remember when they built Bank of America Stadium (formerly Ericsson Stadium) and how it changed the Charlotte skyline, especially when you drove around 277. My dad used to work in the building directly across the street from the stadium, and now he still parks in the deck right there and works about two blocks away. Even though I've only been to one game there--the only time I've been inside--I've been near it enough that it's just familiar.

But the Panthers, as I implied before, are a bit of a letdown. They've had good and bad seasons, especially in 2003-2004 when they went through the whole "Cardiac Cats" phase and then went to the Super Bowl. But what do people remember about that Super Bowl? Not the fact that Adam Vinatieri won it for New England at the last minute with a field goal. Not the fact that Sean "Puffy Puff Daddy P. Diddy" Combs wore a Julius Peppers jersey at halftime, which I thought was cool because we're not the kind of team that famous people represent. (We're not that established.) No, that Super Bowl is memorable for one thing: Janet Jackson's nipple.

Our team has gone through a lot of changes in their fifteen-year history. Dom Capers, the original coach, was fired after a 4-12 season and replaced with George Seifert. He, uh...didn't do so well either. John Fox was brought on in 2001 and has had a good run, but is slowly heading for the end of his Panthers career as well. Since the Super Bowl run, we've had good and bad times, but if this season isn't a really good one, we may be looking for another new coach. I don't know how long other teams keep their coaches, but then, I don't watch the games for the coaches.

We went through a few different quarterbacks, too. Kerry Collins was the original, and I liked him well enough, but he got in trouble for making racial comments, which was stupid on his part. I was kind of happy to see him do really well with the Tennessee Titans recently. I would've liked to see him go to the Super Bowl, but it was not to be. Then we had Steve Beuerlein, whose name I can spell without looking, and Chris Weinke, a former Heisman winner who probably could have done okay if he hadn't been thrown into the position. He was replaced by Jake Delhomme until this season. Delhomme had a lot of strong points in spite of his weaknesses: he worked well with the team, especially Steve Smith, who is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. I will always believe that. Delhomme started falling apart the last couple of years, throwing interceptions like crazy and suffering injuries that knocked him out for long stretches of time. During the last two years we've had a few backup quarterbacks, one of whom was Vinny Testaverde (really, I thought he had retired ages ago).

This season we're looking at a few options for QB. The two I'm familiar with are Jimmy Clausen, our rookie from Notre Dame, and Matt Moore, a backup who I'm really pulling for. He was good last year and with practice should continue to be.

OK, so all of this is boring if you don't care about football or the Panthers, but what's the point? The point is that for fifteen years--or, if you're counting, since I was eight years old--I've poured a lot of time and interest into this team. They've never won a Super Bowl. They've had a lot of bad seasons. They really don't give a good return. But this is standard for me; I also follow NC State athletics, and they're the same way. But I won't go into that whole story. I've probably bored you enough.

Point is, I want the Panthers to do well. I want them to impress me and make me proud to be a fan. I don't want to constantly be let down and disappointed by my team. Because this is a relationship I can't get out of. No matter how badly they treat me, they're my team and I stick by them. Everybody needs someone to be there when they're at their lowest point. You can enjoy victory a lot more if you're coming up from a series of crushing defeats. So maybe they'll surprise me and make it happen. I really do hope so.

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