'Blue beard' Panthers fan joins crowds uptown for Carolina-Arizona game
The white stuff that fell on uptown Charlotte Friday night was finally melting off Sunday afternoon, making way for lots of blue and black – and only a very little red.
By 1 p.m., tailgaters were getting warmed up at the Roaring Riot tailgate along the railroad tracks on the north side of Cedar Street, where about 150 Panthers fans and one lonely Cardinal fan sipped on beers and waited for the grill cooks to prepare chicken and hot dogs.
One of the cooks was running a couple of minutes late with his orders because he was busy flame-broiling an Arizona Cardinals baseball cap.
Zack Luttrell, president of Roaring Riot (a huge Panthers fan club), was smiling over the scene.
By the end of the night, he’d know whether or not to cancel the Charlotte-to-San Francisco flight he booked on miles, and the hotel reservation he’d made for Super Bowl weekend.
Fifteen feet away, Cards fan Mike Donnelly chatted up a few Panthers fans while dishing out compliments – it was probably in his best interest, given the setting, but they did come off as genuine.
“Gorgeous city,” said the Phoenix resident, who was on the only connecting flight from Houston to Charlotte that wasn’t canceled Saturday.
Back on the other side of Cedar, at the north entrance to Bank of America Stadium, dozens of Panthers fans lined a fence waiting to shout support at players as they arrived at the field.
Among the first: Center Ryan Kalil, who was riding in the back of a white Range Rover that needed to get through a barricade from Mint Street onto Stonewall. He briefly got out to talk to a CMPD officer who moved it so the vehicle could pass.
Before Kalil was recognized by more than a couple of fans, he climbed back in; tight end Greg Olsen was visible in the front passenger seat. As the SUV pulled away, a passerby yelled, “Knock ‘em dead, fellas.”
‘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 Mint Street 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.
When they showed up at a giant Panthers tailgate in Atlanta before the Falcons game last month, these four spent at least an hour in the same place, happily obliging picture taker after picture taker after picture taker.
What's the point? Simple, says Kalai, whose costume is a riff on the Alien from the horror movie of the same name, as if re-born as a Panthers fan.
"A lot of people are worried about what people think; they're afraid to actually show how much of a passionate fan they are."
Adds Ferrell, from behind a Panther mask with a Cardinal stuck in its teeth: "A lot of people want to wear their team colors on their sleeve, but that's what we do, literally. ... The Oakland Raider fans are crazy, so why can't we be? Why can't we be nuts? Why can't we dress up? Why can't we be the craziest fans in the NFL?"