Peter St. Onge

Why Cade should pick the Panthers

Cade Pope, a 12-year-old from Oklahoma, wrote letters to every NFL team inviting them to make a case “why I should choose your team to become ‘my team.’” One owner – Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers – wrote him back.

Cade is still mulling.

Dear Cade,

I’d like to explain why you should become a fan of the Carolina Panthers – even though they are not, technically, “my team.”

There are lots of reasons people become a fan of sports teams. Often, it’s what you inherit from your parents. Just as often, it’s geography and finding the closest team to your front door. The Panthers’ owner, Mr. Richardson, brought up another.

“We would make you proud by the classy way we represent you,” he said in his note to you. “You will love Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Cameron Newton, Greg Olsen and all of our players.”

Yes, he said “Cameron” Newton, like a dad would. That’s pretty cool. It reminds me that there are even more reasons fans become fans. Let’s talk about those.

First, Mr. Richardson’s note. Like yours, it was handwritten, and like yours, that says something about taking the time to think and write carefully.

That’s not unusual for Mr. Richardson. A friend of his told me this week that he responds to fans all the time with handwritten notes and letters. The note you got was authentic, a word I wish we could use more often when we talk about important people.

Why does that matter? Fans might not always agree with decisions he makes, on the field and off, but they believe that above all he wants to do well by his fans and his city – on the field and off. Trust me, as a fan, that’s good to know.

So this is probably a good time to explain why the Panthers aren’t “my team.” I’m a fan of the New England Patriots. It’s the team I grew up with, and although I haven’t lived in New England in more than 20 years, I’ve stayed a fan.

In part, it’s a habit from my childhood, like the way your favorite color stays your favorite color. But mostly it’s about my dad.

Growing up, I watched the Patriots pretty much every Sunday with him. Even now, whenever the Pats win a close one, he’ll call and say: “I’m getting too old for this,” and we’ll laugh because neither of us will ever get too old for this.

The reason for that is being a fan is really about the connections it brings – to family and friends, to the community you live in, even to people you hardly know at all, like a guy in the stands you high-five after a touchdown. Or like the owner of a football team.

Some fans are lucky enough to understand that the joy these bring far outweighs the disappointments that may come on the field. The luckiest among us know that’s true in any part of our lives, that we should treasure the connections that are special or memorable or just fun.

That’s what you have in that handwritten note of yours. And I’m guessing that no matter which team you choose as “your team,” you’re going to be a fan of the one here.

That’s OK. A little secret: A lot of us have more than one “my team.”

Just don’t tell my dad.