Retro Charlotte

‘Helmets off to ya, Mrs. Richardson’

Rosalind Richardson, wife of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson plays her Christmas gift from her husband, a bugle, in the family's TV room at their home. 2004
Rosalind Richardson, wife of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson plays her Christmas gift from her husband, a bugle, in the family's TV room at their home. 2004 The Charlotte Observer

Staff writer Ken Garfield sat down with Rosalind Richardson in 2004. The result was this nice profile of the Carolina Panthers’ biggest cheerleader!

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Rosalind known as the ‘glue that holds the family together’

“Who could have guessed that a woman happy to avoid the spotlight would be the one to put Panthermania into words for 27 million TV viewers?

“But then again, in this season of great surprise, maybe it was only fitting for the wife of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to publicly utter the phrase that has sent the Carolinas into orbit.

“‘WE'RE SO HAPPY, WE'RE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!’ Rosalind Richardson drawled to commentator Terry Bradshaw from the hot and crowded locker room after the Panthers upset the Eagles last Sunday.

“There you have it: the nine neatest words in Charlotte sports history from a woman who cherishes her family, faith, privacy - and collection of hats. And who asked her husband for a bugle for Christmas so she could play ‘CHARGE!’ from their suite at the stadium.

“Maybe it's because her head is still spinning from all this excitement, but the first lady of the Panthers is finally letting us appreciate what her family and friends have known for years:

“This is one unique woman. Or as their daughter, Ashley Allen of Charlotte, said, ‘Nothing about her is an act.’

“For her first Observer interview since the Panthers made the Richardsons famous, Rosalind chose the living room chair reserved for players summoned for man-to-man talks with her husband. And not because they scored a touchdown on Sunday.

“‘The hot seat,’ she called it, and though she doesn't attend these meetings, she will offer the nervous fellow a glass of sweet iced tea.

“There is something symbolic about this. The owner is a former NFL player who cuts an imposing public figure. The owner's wife is a small-town girl from Florence, S.C., content to serve as the family's upbeat centerpiece at home and rabid cheerleader at the games.

“‘I scream the whole time,’ she said with no shame. ‘I coach. I call the plays. I ask Jerry, 'Do you want me to be quiet?' He says, 'No, you know what's going on.'

“This is a 66-year-old mother of three and grandmother of nine who does her own research for the NFL draft, crossing off the names of players taken by other teams as she sits in front of ESPN and ESPN2.

“But this is also a woman who has three special areas in her SouthPark-area home where she goes to pray. Each includes a table filled with family Bibles and other spiritual keepsakes, including one placed beside a window that looks out onto the rose garden.

“‘I just talk to God all the time,’ she said.

“‘It's gonna sound so corny, but she's just a really, really nice gal,’ said Charlotte's Jane McColl, one of her best friends, and the wife of former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr.

“But more than that, added McColl, she is also ‘the glue that holds that family together.’

“Football filled Rosalind Richardson's life long before the Panthers were even a dream.

“She grew up in Florence, 110 miles southeast of Charlotte. A Florence High cheerleader, she was the only one of four daughters in the Sallenger household who loved watching the Washington Redskins Sundays after church with her father, Ed.

“She couldn't have known just how much her life would revolve around the game the summer day in 1957 when she and her friend, Bunny, picked up a few Wofford College boys hitchhiking at Pawleys Island.

“You can see where this is going - one of the boys was a tall, thin football player from Fayetteville named Jerry Richardson. His nickname was ‘Razor.’ They played putt-putt at Myrtle Beach on their first date. A Winthrop student at the time, she recalls winning. They married, and set out on a journey that took them from the Baltimore Colts to a booming career in the food services industry to landing an NFL franchise in 1993.

“Along the way, they raised three children. The two boys, Jon and Mark, played football at North Carolina and Clemson, respectively. Their daughter, Ashley, 42, was a cheerleader and ran track at Spartanburg High School.

“Rosalind quickly mastered her role, cheering on her children during their games and serving as the family's foundation while her husband was out building his fast-food empire that began with one Hardee's Restaurant in Spartanburg.

“‘I'm not interested in the spotlight,’ she said. ‘I think there are other people who need to be there. I'm a homebody.’

“From her husband's days as an NFL player to his days as an NFL owner, Rosalind made sure he could count on this:

“He knows when he comes home, I'm going to be here.

“Her steady presence has served the family well, because life hasn't always been victories and Super Bowls for the Richardsons.

“In terms of the team, there was that 1-15 season two years ago, and the well-publicized tragedies and crimes involving several players. Two popular Panthers - coach Sam Mills and linebacker Mark Fields - today are battling cancer.

“At home, Jerry Richardson, 68, has had prostate cancer surgery and a quadruple heart bypass. Jon, 44, who oversees the stadium, is battling cancer. Their other son, Mark, 43, the team's president, went through a well-publicized divorce. Rosalind this year has had back surgery and two knee replacements, forcing her to miss some away games.

“But this is her style:

“When Jon Richardson was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, said Ashley Allen, ‘The first thing she said to me when I hugged her was, 'A miracle's going to cure Jon.' That's a committed statement when your first-born was just diagnosed with cancer.’

“Today, Rosalind Richardson jokes - and it's no joke now - that she had all this work done on her back and knees so she'd be ready for the Super Bowl. And she said she's glad her husband had his heart fixed in 2002 because he needed some strong arteries to get through this season of last-second triumphs.

“‘I think her family turns to her for counsel,’ said Jane McColl. ‘She's steady.’

“Life gives you no choice but to stay steady, Rosalind said: ‘I'm very strong. My mother (Jacquelin, a school librarian) was that way. Whenever something happens, you just deal with it. You do what you have to do.’

“Even when she's going nuts in the owner's suite at games, it would be easy to believe that Rosalind Richardson is all steadiness and sweetness. She said her joy in life is to make people happy, and that she entertains well.

“Probably the best week of the year - other than this Super Bowl Week - comes in July, before Panthers training camp, when all 16 Richardsons spanning three generations gather for a week at Litchfield Beach, S.C. It's a beach tradition: Rosalind - "Manny" to the grandchildren because that was her grandmother's name - holds a mandatory class for the kids. Last summer's topic: the U.S. Treasury. The year before: Lewis and Clark.

“But under that charming exterior is a competitor, even if the family prefers knowing it by a less edgy name.

“‘She's just as determined as he (Jerry Richardson) is,’ says daughter Ashley Allen. ‘Isn't that why you play? To win?’

“And so the woman who asked for a bugle for Christmas wants to remind Panthers fans that this is no time to celebrate how far her family's team has come.

“‘We're not quite to the top of the mountain, but we're climbing,’ she said, sounding like every coach who has ever mastered the art of sports speak.

“And if the Panthers should beat the odds, upset the New England Patriots and win Super Bowl XXXVIII, is she prepared to accept the trophy and say a few words like she did last Sunday?

“‘Of course I'll touch it,’ she said. ‘But I'll let Jerry hold it.’

“Now back to her moment in the primetime spotlight last Sunday.

“When Terry Bradshaw turned to her, Rosalind was wearing one of the 30 or so hats for which she is known - an eye-catching black fur number that was a gift from her husband.

“‘A doozy,’ one friend called it.

“Being up there on the podium with Bradshaw, her husband, coach John Fox and some players was no surprise. The surprise was that Bradshaw - who called her darlin' on the air - asked her to speak first.

“‘I believe my husband didn't know what to say yet,’ she said.

“So she said the first thing that popped into mind, saying it in an accent no one could confuse with Noo Yawk or New England.

“When she was done, Bradshaw, an old family friend, figured his national TV audience could use a translation: "For all our Yankee friends, that's Super Bowl,’ he said. ‘She's happy. I'm happy.’

“There was a certain charm to it all, a charm befitting Rosalind Richardson. But what happened afterward, in a private moment on the plane back to Charlotte, tells you something more about a woman who always seems to know just what to say and do.

“Somewhere between Philadelphia and Charlotte, amid all the excitement, she got to thinking about her moment on TV, turned to her husband and asked:

“‘Jerry, did I sound Southern?’

“‘Yes, Roz,’ he answered, ‘I think you did.’

“Well, she responded, ‘I just hope I did Florence proud.’

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Rosalind Richardson

Age: 66.

Church: Myers Park United Methodist.Prized possession: A Carolina Panthers helmet signed on Christmas Day by all 16 members of her immediate family. She keeps it in her hat closet.

Who talks funny? The Richardsons are friends with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his wife, Myra. The couples plan to go out to dinner this week in Houston, and have sat together at other Super Bowls. Rosalind Richardson says Robert Kraft makes good-natured fun of her Southern accent. Her response? "New England people have accents, too."

Superfan: Among the first to greet the Richardsons when they landed in Charlotte last Sunday night? Friend and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr., who ran onto the plane and jumped in Jerry Richardson's lap.

You da team!: Among the hundreds of calls, cards, e-mails, flowers and comments the Richardsons have received from NFL owners, neighbors and others were congratulations from New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Thanks to her: When Ericsson Stadium (now Bank of America Stadium) opened in 1996, team President Mark Richardson said his mom was the one who made double-sure it had plenty of bathrooms. “She said, 'I want to make sure we have enough female restrooms, " he reported. "And we said, 'yes, ma'am.' "

Panthers at home: A subtle sign that the team owner lives here? Little black panther figurines in a glass cabinet.

Guilty pleasure: While she doesn't watch much TV, and the den in their comfortable home is dominated by books and her new bugle, Richardson loves "American Idol." And Clay Aiken.

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