Moving to a new city is never easy. It’s even tougher when you’re from the opposite coast and relocate to a place where your favorite NFL team doesn’t have much of a following.
With the Carolina Panthers’ success this season, and with the help of a few dedicated and outnumbered fans, San Francisco’s Greens Sports Bar has become the area’s unofficial Carolina bar.
Greens is decked top to bottom with professional and college sports posters, photos and donated fan merchandise like hats and banners. You wouldn’t really guess the place is a Panthers bar at first inspection: A Panthers’ flag, big foam finger and small sign are about the only team decorations in the section where Carolina fans hang out.
But on game days, fans in black-and-blue jerseys cram into the back part of Greens where they’re served by the same waitress, Shannon, who also has become a fan. The bar opens early for games, too – because of the time difference, many of those Sunday Panthers games start at 10 a.m. local time.
“It’s grown like crazy this year,” owner Richard Natoli said of the bar’s popularity among Panthers fans.
Former presidential candidate and N.C. senator John Edwards even came to Greens this season to watch the game against Washington with other Panthers fans.
It wasn’t always like this, though.
When Ryan Ridenhour, 29, moved to the city from the Charlotte area three years ago, he didn’t have any other Panthers fans to watch games with. “Back home, everybody watched and grilled out and made a big deal of the games,” said Ridenhour.
Ridenhour went to Greens soon after relocating to try to watch a Panthers game and ran into a couple who also wasthere to see Carolina. They bonded over a mutual love for the team and started to write Yelp reviews about Greens being a great Panthers bar.
In typical Silicon Valley fashion, technology helped boost bar’s reputation as a Panthers’ hangout. Every new person who comes to Greens still typically writes a review, and now when you Google “Panthers Sports Bar San Francisco,” Greens pops up.
Greens’ popularity among Panthers fans really took off this year as the team kept winning. There’s now a regular contingent of about 100 Carolina supporters who come into the bar, and fans had to form a line out the door to watch the NFC Championship game in January.
He’s made new friends and reconnected with old ones. Ridenhour went to high school in Weddington with Evan Turner, another 29-year-old who moved to San Francisco with his wife in October for his Wells Fargo job.
Back in Charlotte, game-watching was easy for the Turners, who lived in the Avenue apartment building uptown and would walk to Bank of America Stadium to tailgate and attend games.
Turner and his wife moved to a place in Russian Hill about five blocks from Greens, so their first time there was by coincidence.
“It’s a little scary especially because these people are diehard 49ers fans,” Turner said of moving to the city. “It made it a little easier this year – since Panthers are so good there are a lot of bandwagon fans.”
Turner has met a few fans who drove an hour to come watch with a Panthers crowd. “It’s almost become like a family out there. We have the same group of people and go to our own section of the bar, screaming and cheering during games,” Turner said.
Turner and his wife scored Super Bowl tickets with a friend flying in from North Carolina. Ridenhour’s going with his friend, Chris Niesen, another lifelong Panthers fan who hails from just outside Columbia and has been living in San Francisco and going to Greens for about three years.
Greens Owner Natoli is a transplant himself from New York, and a Steelers fan. He moved to San Francisco about 20 years ago, finally fed up with the cold weather when it snowed during the Yankees’ home opener.
Natoli goes to Las Vegas every year for the Super Bowl, so he won’t be at Greens this Sunday. Every year for the last 19 Super Bowls, he bets on the winning team. This year, he’s got his money on Carolina.