If you were arguing over which team from the 1995 NFL expansion was better - the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Carolina Panthers - how would you play it out? The Jaguars are considered the more successful team in a more general sense. The Panthers have compiled an overall losing-but-respectable record of 131-150. Like the Jaguars, they've been to the NFC Championship twice. Unlike the Jaguars, they managed to pull out a victory in their second appearance, thus granting them a ticket to their first Super Bowl, which proved to be an exciting back-and-forth struggle against the New England Patriots which began as a defensive trench war, then morphed into an offensive track meet which the Patriots won by a field goal. It was one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played, but it will always be overshadowed by the complete, anarchistic breakdown of America's moral fiber in the form of a wardrobe malfunction which everyone saw in a half-second.
In 1987, the NBA decided the city of Charlotte, North Carolina would receive a basketball team. It made sense; North Carolina is big-time basketball territory, as well as territorial war between the University of North Carolina and Duke University, and to a lesser extent North Carolina State and one or two others. So the bigwhigs decided it was time to try to the ultimate big-time prize: An NFL team. In 1993, the league voted unanimously to give the 29th NFL team to the city Charlotte. In a stunning move which absolutely needs to be seen more often in this country nowadays, Richardson Sports announced it would finance the stadium through permanent seat licenses, club seats, and luxury seats, and in one hell of a show of support, everything was sold out in less than a day. That allowed the stadium to be built without siphoning money from taxpayers.
Like the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Panthers didn't waste any time getting anywhere. They ended their first season with a 7-9 record under first coach Dom Capers, which is incredible for a first-year team. Their second year, they powered to a 12-4 record and landed in the NFC Championship, having beat the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs, who had won the Super Bowl the previous year. They fell to Green Bay, but the season was considered a rousing success which the team could build on. Unfortunately, the Capers era ended two years later, Capers having compiled an ultimate record of 31-35 including playoffs. They didn't build on that magical 12-4 season; after that, the Panthers began stumbling, first back to 7-9 and then to 4-12.
Super Bowl aside, it seems like the Panthers have always been faced with a mound they just can't seem to get over. George Seifert, who led the San Francisco 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl title in the place of Bill Walsh, got the job after Capers. His three-year tenure took the Panthers to records of 8-8 and 7-9 before the team bottomed out in its worst season ever, ending 1-15. Of course, it's also worth pointing out that in San Francisco, Seifert had the talents of Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Deion Sanders. But in the NFL, a losing record is a losing record, and so Seifert was treated the same way any coach who took a team to a 1-15 record would be treated: Given a ten-year contract extension for $30 million with a signing bonus for $5 million! HA! No, actually he was fired and replaced with John Fox, coming off a stint as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants.
Another coach, another one of those damn 7-9 records, although that 2002 7-9 record probably looked like a relief to Panthers fans after the previous year's fiasco. 2003 turned into a truly special season, though, as a few things developed and the Panthers had the beginnings of a real team identity: The first was the emergence of their first great starting quarterback, Jake Delhomme. Delhomme won the job after a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback in the first game of the season in which starting quarterback Rodney Peete was pulled. Although quarterback Kerry Collins made the Pro Bowl with the Panthers in their previous magic year, it was Delhomme who became one of the best understated quarterbacks in the league, went to the Pro Bowl two years after the Super Bowl, led the damn team to the damn Super Bowl in the first place, and currently holds pretty much every significant passing record for the team's existence as it stands. The Panthers also forged their identity as the Cardiac Cats, a reference to the number of close games they won in overtimes.
When Fox's contract was done in 2010, he had proved a coach of average skill. He had taken the Panthers to two division titles and one conference title, going 12-4 once, 11-5 twice, 8-8 twice, 7-9 three times, and finished his last season at 2-14 for an overall record of 78-74, including playoffs. He wasn't fired; his contract just expired after 2010, and the Panthers opted not to renew it, hiring Ron Rivera to take the spot. Last year was Rivera's first season, and he took the team to a 6-10 record. But what really made waves for the team last year was the emergence of a rookie quarterback named Cam Newton, who started rewriting the quarterback record book in Charlotte en route to making the Pro Bowl and setting NFL records for most yards by a rookie quarterback (4051) and most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14). He was the rookie of the year, and the Panthers were the most exciting bad team in the league. With the awesome Steve Smith at wideout and Jeremy Shockey at tight end to throw to and a Pro Bowl runner in DeAngelo Williams, it's scary to think of how high Newton can fly when he's settled into his position.
An assessment of the Carolina Panthers reveals an all-time roster which would already be very strong on both sides of the ball. The team is young and doesn't yet have any Hall of Famers, but they've had plenty of Pro Bowl talent. On offense, they had three quarterbacks play extremely well: Kerry Collins, Steve Beuerlein, Jake Delhomme, and now Cam Newton. They've been able to dump the ball in the directions of various great receivers like Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad (who, when he went to the Super Bowl in 2003, caught the longest touchdown reception in Super Bowl history at 85 yards), Wesley Walls, and Jeremy Shockey. They've had the aid of DeAngelo Williams and the great Stephen Davis running the football. On defense, they've had the services of great players like Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins and a ton of great linebackers like Jon Beason and Dan Morgan. Even their special teams are loaded between specialist Michael Bates, kicker John Kasay, and punter Todd Sauerbrun. The problem is, many of these people either weren't on the team at the same time or didn't play their best at the same time.
The Panthers are the kiddies of the NFC South, and so they regularly have feuds with the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Atlanta Falcons. This is not exactly a list of great, storied territorial disputes here, but they serve to get the fanbase riled up well and good. They have rivalries with the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, and Arizona Cardinals outside their division, though. They also have a couple of signature games in their short life: One is their first playoff victory over Dallas, and the second is a divisional playoff matchup against the St. Louis Rams in the 2003 season which took two overtime periods to settle. And this was well before today's halfassed overtime rules, when overtimes were still decided by sudden death.
The Panthers so far, with the varied talent they've had and their early successes, look like they may become one of the great teams of NFL history. Then again, they have plenty of evidence against that, too.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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The Carolina Panthers participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carolina plays its games in the South of the NFC. The Carolina Panthers, founded in 1995, play home games at the Bank of America Stadium and have won zero NFL Titles.