After a summer of soccer matches, Mint Street in Charlotte was closed for a familiar reason Friday night: Football.
Carolina Panthers fans milled about outside the gates to Bank of America Stadium, waiting for the start of the team’s annual Fan Fest two weeks before the team’s first home exhibition.
The No. 59 of Luke Kuechly and No. 1 of Cam Newton dominated the jerseys in the seemingly endless sea of electric blue that streamed down the sidewalks. However, more than a few were clad in the No. 90 of long-departed defensive end Julius Peppers.
For some, Friday night’s festivities had been a long time coming since the Panthers lost to the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 10 in the divisional playoff round.
One such fan, Justin Grahn, of Lake Wylie, S.C., comes to about six games a year. He smiled when he saw the mass of fans. “It’s that first little piece of football for the city.”
The Seahawks loss lingered on some fans’ minds.
Rob Morris predicted a 10-win season for his team, but said the Seahawks are to the Panthers what the Detroit Pistons were to the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. If the Panthers can get past them, he said, they could go far.
“I’m superstitious,” he said. “I won’t say how far.”
Charlotte resident Yolander Hunter was excited about the team’s prospects and the talent on each side of the ball. She thinks the Panthers will go 13-3 and far into the playoffs. “It’s like a cake, ya know,” she said, stirring an imaginary mixing bowl.
“You got all the right ingredients and you can do it.”
Hardiman: 704-358-5928; @samhardiman