As the Carolina Panthers author one of the best seasons in team history, it’s worth a look back to see exactly what got them here.
The Panthers have now played exactly 300 regular-season games since their inception in 1995. Players and coaches have come and gone. But a few have made a lasting impact.
The Panthers aren’t kids anymore, you know. If the Panthers were a person, at age 19 they would be old enough to vote but not old enough to buy a beer.
In a new book I have written about the Panthers called “100 Things Panthers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” I researched the team’s most important players and moments.
Here is how I ultimately ranked the 10 most significant figures in Panthers history, counting them down from No.10 to No.1.
Capers’ greatest hits at Carolina all came in his first two years. His first team was 7-9, far better than expected for an expansion squad. In 1996, Capers’ second Panthers team went 12-4 in the regular season, won a home playoff game against Dallas and advanced to the NFC title game, which it lost to Green Bay. Because it was the first time any of that happened to the Panthers, it was seared into memory.
He played his first eight NFL seasons with the Panthers, from 2002 to 2009, and made the Pro Bowl five times during that stretch. Peppers remains Carolina’s all-time sack leader with 81. Carolina would have liked to have made him a Panther for life, but Peppers wanted out by the end of his career in Carolina and signed with Chicago.
For many years Kasay was “The Last Original Panther,” as he kicked for the Panthers’ expansion team in 1995 and for the next 15 years after that. Kasay also was one of the most gracious, humble men ever to wear a Panthers uniform and banked a lot of goodwill in the Charlotte community by becoming the team’s leading scorer by a mile while also coaching youth baseball teams, speaking to churches about his Christian faith and signing autographs for hours.
With his dazzling charisma and athleticism, Newton has become the first NFL player in history to throw 50 or more touchdown passes and run for 25 or more TDs in a three-year span. And now he’s winning, too.
The man is Sam Mills.
The motto is “Keep Pounding” – a phrase Mills first used in 2004 in a speech to the team before a big home playoff win against Dallas. “Keep Pounding” has been widely adopted as the team’s theme. The words are now sewn inside the collar in every Panthers jersey.
Mills was many things to the Panthers: a gentlemanly Pro Bowl linebacker who will always be the first player ever honored with his own statue outside of the team’s home stadium. Then a valued assistant coach. Then a cancer victim who fought the disease hard, continuing to coach even as cancer wracked his body.
Mills’ No.51 is the only Panthers jersey to have ever been retired. He died of colon cancer in 2005, at age 45, but not until he established a legacy that will always endure.