First came Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and next came “Sweet Caroline.”
Exhilarating, yes – but the 73,000-plus fans singing and dancing along as temperatures dipped back below freezing Sunday night had been through this song and dance before.
But what came next was something no one’s heard around these parts in a dozen years.
“Super Bowl! Super Bowl! Super Bowl!” the crowd chanted as the clock neared its expiration. Then louder. “SUPER BOWL! SUPER BOWL! SUPER BOWL!”
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It was happening. It seemed like everyone was on their cellphones all at once. Facetiming their parents with Christmas-morning-like looks on their faces. Calling their friends to say, “What do you think? Should we try to get tickets??” Snapping photos of the fireworks shooting up into the sky above the Jumbotrons, which projected images of elated players.
And it wasn’t just that it happened; it was the way it happened. A rout, a whitewash, a walkover, a landslide. A total blowout. If you went to the bathroom, or made a run for another beer, you probably missed ... something.
“This,” a rowdy Panthers fan shouted to his friends as he exited the stadium after the win, “is (expletive) unbelievable.”
Sweet revenge for 2009 loss
Delirious fans were jubilant. Nicole Prophet of Charlotte: “We have waited forever for this. We are loving the 2015 season. Sam Mills started this whole ‘Keep Pounding’ spirit. Cam Newton, Greg Olsen all of them came together to keep this spirit going.”
Howard Long of Charlotte: “This is absolutely wonderful,” said Long, a PSL owner since 1995. He still remembers when Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions against the Cardinals and they beat Panthers in Charlotte in 2009. This game, he said, was sweet revenge.
‘Why can’t we be the craziest fans in the NFL?’
There are Panthers superfans, and then there are superhero Panthers superfans.
You’ve probably seen them hanging out at tailgate parties, or walking up and down in front of Bank of America Stadium: The Iron Panther (nee Eric Stepp), Carolina Bonecrusher (Jeff Land), Super Beast (Gene Ferrell) and Panther Predator (Will Kalai).
They’re like the costumed gladiators that preen and puff their chests outside of the Colosseum in Rome, except these four Panthers loyalists don’t charge for photos. And they pose for a lot of them.
Said Ferrell, from behind a Panther mask with a Cardinal stuck in its teeth: “The Oakland Raider fans are crazy, so why can’t we be? Why can’t we be the craziest fans in the NFL?”
Only his hairdresser knows
Most of Bank of America Stadium was a variation of team colors black and blue Sunday night, but Steven Mitchell of Charlotte took things to a different level when he dyed his beard baby blue.
Mitchell, 46, is part of the Leapfrog tailgating group. “I’ve had this beard for six weeks,” he said. “It took me about a half hour. It’s Salon 42. People love it.”
Top selling souvenirs
Top-selling souvenirs among the night’s vendors? Given the temperatures, it was ski caps, or “toboggans,” as many Panthers fans called them. Most wanted the kind with a fuzzy ball on top, too.
Vendor Bob Barnes, who drove here from Kentucky to peddle his wares, said the most in demand item was Panthers’ scarves, and it was the most impossible to find. “Another hot one is hoodies that say ‘Dab on Em’. You know, that thing that Cam does?”
Cardinals fans reunite in Charlotte
The NFC Championship game in Charlotte managed to bring a few Arizona friends together. Michael Hasslinger and Eric Cross were roommates in the early 1990s at the University of Arizona, where they developed a love for the Cardinals.
Hasslinger lives in Charlotte now; Cross is in Tuscon. “This place is awesome,” Cross said in all seriousness after a Panthers fan yelled a few friendly jabs at the two, both decked in Cardinals gear.
Cross recalled how earlier a different Panthers fan had accidentally run into him outside the restroom prompting the latter to apologize profusely. “It’s that Southern hospitality,” Cross said. “Panthers’ fans are appropriately passionate.”
Young fan gets a special moment
The “Keep Pounding” spirit is definitely inside Jordan Patterson, 14.
In his brief lifetime, he’s endured a hernia operation, a kidney transplant, all the complications that go along with transplants, and now, cancer. Patterson and his parents learned last June that Jordan has post-transplant lymphoma, and he’s undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
But on Friday, he got some good news: He and his father were invited to the NFC Championship Game as guests of the Carolina Panthers – and the person who extended the invitation was rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson, via a video call.
“Shaq said it was very nice to meet him and he asked Jordan who his favorite Panther was, and Jordan said, ‘Sir Purr,’” explained Chris Patterson, who adopted Jordan in 2003. “Then Shaq said, ‘Hey, you might get Luke Kuechly Sunday.’ His mother and sisters really liked that.”
Before the Panthers-Cardinals game, Thompson stopped by to say hello to Jordan and Chris Patterson in person, treating Jordan to a pair of his gloves.
Then, lo and behold, Kuechly came onto the field. Thompson ran out to the middle of it, grabbed Kuechly, and brought him over to meet Jordan.
“That was unbelievable,” Chris Patterson said. They headed up to their seats in Section 125 with a ball that was signed by both Thompson and Kuechly. His mother and sisters were going to be very jealous.
McCrory takes the field
Governor Pat McCrory was spotted wearing his Panthers pride on his sleeve on the sidelines before kickoff Sunday afternoon. The former Charlotte mayor wore a Panthers jersey bearing the No. 33 and the name “McCrory” embroidered on the back, with a long-sleeved white T-shirt and a checked button-down underneath.
And this was a man with an actual stake in the game: McCrory made a wager with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on the outcome.
The governors involved their dogs in the bet (McCrory’s chocolate lab Moe vs. Ducey’s golden retriever Woody). The loser’s dog would have to wear the jersey of the winning team.
Richardson is guest drummer
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson took to the field to bang the massive “Keep Pounding” drum ahead of kickoff. The Panthers had kept the name of the drummer under wraps before the game, building up suspense among fans. This isn’t the first time Richardson’s joined in on popular Panthers trends. In December, he did Cam Newton’s signature celebratory dance – the dab – after the team’s 41-38 victory against the Saints.