People

“You can hate the Panthers, but there’s no bad guy”

Dozens of Carolina Panthers fans formed a line outside the locked door of Greens Sports Bar in San Francisco before noon on Super Bowl Sunday. It wasn’t a shock — there’s a regular flock of Panthers fans about 100 people strong that has been showing up on game days to watch the action.

Whether they were traveling from the Carolinas just for this day or they were Carolinians-turned-Californians, these fans were connected by more than just their bursts of blue clothing and intermittent cheers of “Keep Pounding” — they have a thing for the Panthers’ personalities.

“The dynamic of the team is really fun this year, and young,” said Kayla Hammerberg, who recently moved to Charlotte but came to San Francisco to watch the game.

Josh Pappas, a fellow traveler who said the Panthers are the reason he embraced “Sunday Fun Day” in Charlotte this year, specifically relates to Josh Norman. “I love Josh Norman because I rode his hoverboard one time,” Pappas said.

He added that he relates to Norman’s cockiness in which, he says, “I see a reflection of myself.”

IMG_5145
Josh Pappas and Kayla Hammerberg

Chip Fesperman, a father in Charlotte, leans toward Greg Olsen for the example he sets as a father.

“He’s a great family guy,” Fesperman said. “He’s got all those kids, he involves them in his sport, what he’s doing, you see pictures of him with his kids. He’s a great role model for the dads in Charlotte.”

A bunch of the fans lined up outside Greens echoed admiration for the Panthers’ efforts to build relationships with the community that cheers them on.

That’s why Karen Fesperman admires Luke Kuechly. “He’s out and about in the community and I think all the Panthers are doing a phenomenal job of holding up that responsibility for being civically engaged,” she said.

IMG_5146
Karen and Chip Fesperman

Sunny Lee, traveling from Wilmington, pointed out Thomas Davis’ “big heart.” She said, “He’s done a lot in the community. He’s so humble.”

IMG_5152
Sunny Lee, Cameron Lee and Josh Smith

Makes sense. Davis created his Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation to cultivate student leaders, while Olsen launched The HEARTest Yard initiative with Levine Children’s Hospital to serve families of babies affected by congenital heart disease.

Then there’s Kuechly, who recently teamed up with Molly Grantham to surprise a young woman with cerebral palsy on her birthday.

Kelly Owen, who is from Charlotte but now lives in the Bay area, said, “I’m driven by the whole team because of what they do off the field. I got Greg Olsen’s jersey yesterday and I raised money to get a ticket to go to the Super Bowl and didn’t get enough money, so all of that money is being donated to his foundation.”

IMG_5147
Kelly Owen

She respects the Panthers for not re-signing Greg Hardy onto the team, too. “I attribute that to the morals and the ethics of Charlotte,” she said.

Speaking of respect, Charlotte-native-turned-Bay-area-resident Milad Hafezi said, “Now we’re actually winning and we’ve gained a lot of respect across the league. What do I respect about them? Just the camaraderie. The way Cam and Luke and Thomas and Josh — they are all real good dudes.”

IMG_5151
Daniel Chen and Milad Hafezi

As Pappas summed it up: “You can hate the Panthers, but there’s no bad guy.”

Photos: Katie Toussaint

  Comments