In some ways, the Panthers Pride Rally at Romare Bearden Park delivered on its promise on Friday afternoon.
Panthers showed up. Fans showed pride. Emcees led rallying cries.
Mick Mixon, the voice of the Panthers, is always a treat. Charles Bowman, Charlotte market president for Bank of America, was an odd choice but came off as loose and fun. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Gov. Pat McCrory tried their best to pump up the crowd (although McCrory got the most significant reaction of either politician in the form of a loud chorus of boos, upon his introduction).
As for the players in attendance, here’s the list, in alphabetical order: Nate Askew, Tre Boston, Thomas Davis, Ed Dickson, Josh Norman, Scott Simonson, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert. Coach Ron Rivera also gets major props for an impassioned and gracious speech.
That’s the good news.
But I think it has to be considered a disappointment that star quarterback Cam Newton and/or star linebacker Luke Kuechly and/or star tight end Greg Olsen were not in attendance on Friday.
And yes, this is a personal opinion.
What’s not an opinion is that 1) thousands of these fans skipped work, skipped class, maybe drove a bunch of miles, probably paid for parking, and definitely hiked a few blocks to stand in the cold to cheer for the team; and 2) “Newton,” “Kuechly” and “Olsen” were the three most popular jerseys I saw on the backs of said fans.
What’s not an opinion is that after all the players were introduced, I watched dozens of people start making their way back to wherever they came from, not waiting to hear what any of the honored guests might have had to say. One woman, as she turned to leave, said: “I guess that’s it. Let’s get out of here...”
This is a complicated one. I think the Panthers are a wonderful and gracious organization. I think its fans are, by and large, equally classy. I think it is absolutely, positively commendable that big names like Norman, Stewart, Davis, et al – especially Davis, considering his broken arm – took time out of what are pretty busy lives right now to come out to please and thank a big crowd of supporters.
I also realize that – this being the biggest week of their lives – the marquee players are being pulled in other directions. (Panthers director of communications Steven Drummond told me afterward: “Most of our guys had other football commitments at the stadium. I wish we could have had everyone there.”)
I also realize that this was a free event.
A fellow staffer even pointed out, “Maybe Cam and Luke weren’t there for security reasons?” Another said: “But the coach was there!”
Anyway, so I guess I’ll end this by throwing out a question, not a criticism: If you attended the rally, were you satisfied with the formal program? Did you have certain expectations as far as who might be there? And if so, were they met?