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Panel of former Panthers predicts a Carolina win

Carolina Panthers faithful fans gather with stars at Observer event

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/10/17/53/3WcRO.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Davie Hinshaw - The Charlotte Observer
    Fans at the sold-out Charlotte Observer Tailgate event featuring a question-and-answer session with three former Carolina Panthers on Friday afternoon Jan. 10, 2014. The event featured an Q&A with former players Mike Rucker, Eugene Robinson and Mark Carrier.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/10/17/53/1tjpUC.Em.138.jpeg|198
    Davie Hinshaw - The Charlotte Observer
    Former Carolina Panthers Mike Rucker, Eugene Robinson and Mark Carrier speak at the sold-out Charlotte Observer Tailgate event Friday afternoon Jan. 10, 2014.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/10/17/53/C5EFw.Em.138.jpeg|214
    Davie Hinshaw - The Charlotte Observer
    Fans at the sold-out Charlotte Observer Tailgate event featuring a question-and-answer session with three former Carolina Panthers on Friday afternoon Jan. 10, 2014. The event featured an Q&A with former players Mike Rucker, Eugene Robinson and Mark Carrier.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/10/17/53/gRFIZ.Em.138.jpeg|190
    Davie Hinshaw - The Charlotte Observer
    Fans at the sold-out Charlotte Observer Tailgate event featuring a question-and-answer session with three former Carolina Panthers on Friday afternoon Jan. 10, 2014. The event featured an Q&A with former players Mike Rucker, Eugene Robinson and Mark Carrier.

Christine Nixon is 100 percent certain the Carolina Panthers will beat the San Francisco 49ers in their divisional-round playoff game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

How does the 73-year-old Charlottean know this?

It’s what she heard from a panel of three former Panthers players at an indoor “tailgate party” at The Charlotte Observer on Friday that convinced her:

That coach Ron Rivera and his team have proven their will to win despite a dismal start to the season, she said.

Nixon joined about 350 other fans for the event featuring former Panthers standouts Mike Rucker, Mark Carrier and Eugene Robinson.

Nixon wore her black Panthers tuke, 2003 Conference Champions Panthers sweatshirt and the decorative, lighted Panthers beads she bought at the first game the team played in the new stadium in 1996.

“I know we’re going to win,” said Nixon, a deacon in the AME Zion Episcopal church. “We’re going to win. You put God first, and everything else will fall into place.”

The panel of former players she heard predicted a close, low-scoring Panthers win, with the game coming down to what happens “in the trenches,” they said – the offensive and defensive lines. It could come down to a field goal, they said.

The panel detailed the impact of such Panthers as receiver Steve Smith, quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, receiver and returner Ted Ginn, Jr., punter Brad Nortman and kicker Graham Gano.

But other interesting snippets emerged Friday that had nothing to do with X’s and O’s:

‘I feel like Fred Sanford’

Before the hourlong event, Carrier, Robinson and Rucker gathered in a back office for a video interview for charlotteobserver.com, but Carrier had trouble reading the small print on some paperwork he needed to fill out.

All three are at the age where many of us begin to need reading glasses.

Robinson, 50, needled Carrier, 48, saying he keeps reading glasses everywhere at home.

Carrier said he does, too. “I feel like Fred Sanford,” he said of the popular 1970s “Sanford and Son” sitcom character. In a recurring joke, Sanford would pull out several pairs of reading glasses from a drawer to look up a number in the phone book to make a call.

Thumbs-down for Flair

Introducing himself to the crowd, Robinson mentioned how he coaches football, wrestling and track at Charlotte Christian School.

At which point moderator and Observer sports columnist Scott Fowler jokingly asked, “Is Ric Flair involved?”

The reference was to the pro wrestler, a longtime Charlottean, who told the 49ers they were in his heart (as opposed to the Carolina Panthers).

At the mention of Flair’s name, the crowd let out a chorus of boos.

11-month-old predicts Panthers win

Xavierous Summers, 26, of Statesville served as a spokesman on Friday for his son, Xavier, 11 months, who sat on his dad’s lap. Xavier wore a No. 1 Cam Newton jersey.

“He says, Cam’s going to have the best game of his career,” dad said.

Pepping up the crowd

Audrey White, 54, was a one-woman pep rally squad as she walked to a table in the Observer cafeteria with her husband Jeff, 54.

“Panthers!!! Panthers!!! I said (long pause) the Panthers!!” she chanted.

Audrey White said the couple didn’t even know about Friday’s event until someone mentioned it to them as they walked outside the Observer building.

“We’re rooting for the Panthers,” she said. “We’ve always rooted for the Panthers, even (in the seasons) they were losing.”

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak
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