Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was talking with NBA star and former Davidson standout Stephen Curry at one end of the cramped visitors locker room at Candlestick Park.
At the other end of the room, safety Mike Mitchell was speaking in a loud voice and telling everyone within earshot what the come-from-behind, 10-9 win against the San Francisco 49ers signified.
“We’re relevant,” Mitchell said. “We’re here.”
The Panthers had won four in a row before their cross-country trip to the Bay area. But those were against the NFC’s bottom-feeders – Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, none of which had a winning record.
This was different. This was a throttling of the defending NFC champions in their soon-to-be-demolished stadium – an aging relic dotted with reminders of the Niners’ past glories and conquering heroes like Montana, Rice and Young.
Everyone sensed the significance. The Panthers were now more than relevant; they were playoff contenders for the first time in five years.
People wanted to be a part of it. Longtime sportscaster Jim Gray dropped by the locker room with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Curry, the sweet-shooting guard for Golden State, stood on the worn carpet under the dated wallpaper, wearing a Panthers cap while catching up with Newton.
About 10 yards away, defensive end Charles Johnson surveyed the scene and said, “We don’t need no bandwagon.”
But they had one, like it or not. Joe Person
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