A primer for newcomers on the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte’s NFL team, marking its 20th season this year:
You’ll see and hear a lot about Cam Newton, the Panthers’ Pro Bowl quarterback and endorser of Gatorade and Under Armour. Newton also has his own clothing line at Belk and recently became a pitch-man for Drakkar Essence, a cologne by L’Oreal.
Newton doesn’t just dress well and smell nice. He’s one of the league’s most dynamic players. However, his supporting cast on offense looks to be a little lacking this season (more on that later).
The defense has its own star in middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. In his first two seasons, Kuechly won the Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. The latter he keeps at his parents’ house in Cincinnati, still in the box.
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Kuechly doesn’t have nearly as many endorsements as Newton, but he has plenty of fans. If you go to a game at Bank of America Stadium, you won’t have any problem picking out Kuechly. He’ll be the one making tackles all over the field.
And no, the fans aren’t booing; they’re yelling “Luuuuuuuuuuukkkkke.”
As for jumping on the Panthers’ bandwagon while you learn to navigate the stops and starts of Queens Road and familiarize yourself with Charlotte traditions such as the Booty Loop and Ballantyne traffic, a word of warning: Your timing couldn’t be worse.
In two decades in the NFL, the Panthers have never posted back-to-back winning seasons.
Last fall was a special time to be in Charlotte. Newton, Kuechly and head coach “Riverboat” Ron Rivera led the Panthers to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title to snap a four-year drought without a playoff appearance.
This season could hold its own charms. The Panthers dropped $65 million on two new huge videoboards, an improved sound system and four new escalators.
The replays splashed on the videoboards could feature a lot of highlights of Newton scrambling on his surgically repaired right ankle. Jordan Gross, one of the team’s best offensive linemen, retired in February following 11 seasons.
Gross will be in the stadium as the sideline reporter for the Panthers’ radio broadcasts. Unfortunately for Newton, Gross will now be responsible for critiquing the blind-side blocking, not providing it.
Should the offensive line adequately protect Newton, there is still the matter of finding someone to throw it to. Steve Smith, who holds every major Panthers’ receiving record, was unceremoniously cut in March following a couple of seasons of diminished production.
Smith now plays in Baltimore, and promised a lot of “blood and guts” when the Panthers face his new team, in Week 4. Sadly for fans of Smith – and those who enjoy blood and gore – the game is in Baltimore.
But the home schedule features several intriguing matchups, including dates with the Pittsburgh Steelers (Sept. 21) and the reigning Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks (Oct. 26), and games against division rivals New Orleans (Oct. 30), Atlanta (Nov. 16) and Tampa Bay (Dec. 14).
Nearly 90 percent of the Panthers' season tickets are held by PSL (permanent seat licenses) holders, who pay for the perpetual right to buy their tickets.
A limited number of single-game tickets, with prices ranging from $41 to $120, went on sale this summer. Panthers' tickets are sold at the Bank of America Stadium ticket office, ticketmaster.com, charge-by-phone at 800-745-3000 or ticket centers throughout the Carolinas.
Tickets will be easier to come by if the Panthers stumble out of the gates and fail to be relevant – a favorite expression of Rivera, who received a raise and a contract extension after the 12-win season in 2013.
Rivera earned the “Riverboat” designation last year by breaking from his conservative ways and going for a number of fourth-down situations in key situations. As the wins piled up, so did nicknames and catchphrases that made their way on to T-shirts, including Smith’s “Ice up, son” line, directed to injured defensive back Aqib Talib after the Panthers vanquished the New England Patriots in a Monday night game.
If the Panthers can buck tradition and post another winning season, other heroes and T-shirt slogans undoubtedly will emerge.
But if history is a guide, it will not be an easy task. There has not been a repeat champion in the NFC South in the 12 years since the NFL’s last realignment in 2002.
For the Panthers – as well as for newcomers to the Queen City – there’s no time like the present.