The Carolina Panthers are thousands of miles away from home and will have far fewer fans in the stadium this Sunday than they usually do.
The team that hasn’t lost a game at Bank of America Stadium since November 2014 might not have its home field advantage for the Super Bowl, but the Panthers are making sure Levi’s Stadium feels as much like home as possible on game day.
That means the players will keep up their lighthearted locker room traditions. It means the ritual “Keep Pounding” drum will be on the sidelines, and “Sweet Caroline” will be blasted through the stadium if the Panthers beat the Denver Broncos.
“There are all kinds of different things that we try to do to make this as much of a home game for both teams as we can,” Eric Finkelstein, the NFL’s director of events, said at Levi’s Stadium Tuesday.
The players have been playing artists like Future and Kings of Leon in the locker room, just like they do in Charlotte. The team, doing as Ron Rivera so often instructs, kept their personalities at Media Night Monday in San Jose, just as they do off the field in Charlotte.
And Panthers defensive backs toted their Thieves Ave. sign, named after their penchant for interceptions, with them on their cross-country flight to California Sunday.
Finkelstein said although the Panthers aren’t the home team, their locker rooms at Levi’s Stadium will feel familiar nonetheless.
“We make them customized for the teams, we’ll put up specific graphics for both teams in the game. We try to make them as much home locker rooms as we can,” he said.
The Panthers also have their own freshly painted end zone with their mascot, though as the visitors, theirs is on the north side.
Aside from that, the NFL honors team requests to keep certain game-day traditions, he said. The Broncos, for example, will have their mascot horse, Thunder, parade on the field as is customary during home games after a touchdown.
Finkelstein declined to offer additional details about the Panthers “Keep Pounding” drum, which is typically banged before home games in Charlotte by a special guest four times, each to symbolize a quarter of the game.
“(The drum) is en route, but it should be here for game day,” Finkelstein said.
What’s not so certain is how friendly crowds will be.
Monday’s sold-out Media Night featured an audience mostly of orange and red jerseys thanks to the heavy presence of Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers fans. Some in the audience even booed when the Carolina Panthers were announced.
Denver has a clear geographical advantage: It’s less than 1,300 miles from Santa Clara; Charlotte is nearly 2,700 miles away.
It’s not clear how the Panthers-Broncos fan split will pan out Sunday, but its certain Levi’s Stadium won’t have the black-and-blue swarms typical of a Sunday in Charlotte.
“There’s no question we play well at home,” tight end Greg Olsen said Monday. “We’re going to get off our home field now, and that’s where the true test is.”
Panthers fans will, however, be treated to one last Sweet Caroline this season if Carolina defeats the Broncos.
“The NFL is encouraging clubs to incorporate some of their traditions through the game. So you will hear some familiar songs on game day, including touchdown songs and ‘Sweet Caroline,’” Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said.