The Carolina Panthers are supposed to be the cardiac franchise in Charlotte, but Wachovia's overnight end run is creating just as much drama.
Much like our NFL team, the hometown bank has Carolina hearts pounding.
Wachovia dazzled the city Friday morning when it spurned a tentative acquisition agreement with Citigroup and announced it was being purchased by Wells Fargo & Co.
Shareholders, employees and city boosters applauded.
Instead of settling for a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-engineered plan that would have broken up the bank, Wells' offer would leave it intact and make Charlotte the East Coast headquarters for retail and corporate banking of the combined operation.
“It's a great deal for Charlotte – for taxpayers, the shareholders, Wachovia employees and the citizens of Charlotte,” said UNC Charlotte's Tony Plath, associate professor of banking and finance.
But as Cardiac Cats fans know all too well, the game is never over until the clock expires.
Citi hasn't given up on its acquisition, and its officials are revving up the offense.
One Citi executive told the Observer the company would move the combined retail bank and other businesses to Charlotte and not cut any retail banking postions.
In earlier communications, it had committed only to a “strong presence” in the city.
Financial analysts watching the Citi proposal said employment cuts in Charlotte would be inevitable. They estimated the deal could eliminate as many as 7,000 jobs nationwide.
That would hit hard here. Wachovia employs 20,000 in Charlotte, about half in the center city and half at University Research Park.
Behind the scenes, Citi now is sounding more magnanimous. It's hinting that it would like to see Wachovia's 48-story uptown tower finished and might be interested in occupying offices in it.
Wachovia had planned to occupy about half the 1.57 million-square-foot building, part of its First Street Cultural Campus.
Wells, too, has a game plan that could sweeten its appeal to Charlotteans: establishing an East Coast headquarters here for the retail and corporate bank.
Oh, how city boosters like to throw around that word “headquarters.”
Wells officials haven't elaborated on the details of the merger, but analysts believe that the combination of East Coast and West Coast banks could cost the city fewer jobs than Citi's proposal.
A key measure of success, said Wells chief executive John Stumpf, will be the bank's ability to retain “as many of the talented Wachovia team members as possible.”
Said one Wachovia employee: “Last week, we couldn't get a date. Now everybody is fighting over us.”
But the love triangle could send the game into overtime. Citi indicates it will challenge the Wells offer.
The ups and downs of this saga have been breathtaking. One can only imagine what Wachovia employees and shareholders are experiencing.
Just two weeks ago it looked like Wachovia and Morgan Stanley would join forces, giving Charlotte, with Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch, two Tryon Street banks with ties to Wall Street.
Then Wachovia's financial situation worsened, the FDIC entered the picture and merger discussions began over the weekend with four banks, including Wells and Citi.
Monday, the Citi deal was announced. For the remainder of the week, officials of both banks indicated they were doing the paperwork to complete the purchase as local leaders worried about the potential economic impact.
Then, on Friday morning Wachovia tossed the bomb, disclosing that its board had approved a merger Thursday night with Wells.
Wachovia followers, don't leave this fascinating game early. You might miss another big play.