Panther Tracks

Broncos fans smile through friendly abuse in Panthers country

Todd Harwood and his daughter, Isabella, 11, visit Mile High Stadium during the Christmas holiday a few years ago.
Todd Harwood and his daughter, Isabella, 11, visit Mile High Stadium during the Christmas holiday a few years ago. Courtesy of Todd Harwood

Todd Harwood, a Colorado native and Charlotte-area transplant, probably owns more Denver Broncos paraphernalia than a grown man should. Those are his words.

A Broncos flag hangs from his mailbox. A Peyton Manning fathead sticks to the wall of his daughter’s room. Among his collectibles are Broncos books, pajamas, posters, ticket stubs and photos of himself at Mile High Stadium when he was a boy.

He’s bled orange and blue since birth, he said.

But when Harwood, 45, moved to Mooresville in 1997, he adopted the Panthers as his home team. He likes them and always cheers them on, he said.

Until now.

Sunday, when the Panthers face the Broncos at Super Bowl 50, Harwood and his children will be the only three Broncos fan in a sea of Panthers loyalists crowding his home for a party. And because he’s “suffered” through several Broncos losses in the past, he said he’s prepared for the inevitable ridicule – playful ridicule, that is.

“Nobody’s harsh about it,” said Harwood. “So many people here are from other places. We’re not crazed 19-year-olds.”

Other Broncos fans in Charlotte share that sentiment. They get about the same reaction when they tell Charlotteans of their Broncos enthusiasm: Playful laughs. Occasional jokes. And “that look.” But nothing close to the intense animosity that bubbles between opposing teams in other cities.

Yet, Harwood still worries about his daughter Isabella, a die-hard Broncos fan who planned to wear Manning’s jersey to school Friday. “I’m not going to cry if the Broncos lose,” Harwood said. “My daughter might cry.”

Not like Denver

The two cities have swapped residents over the years.

From 2006-10, Mecklenburg and Denver counties exchanged more than 100 residents a year, according to Census Bureau data. An estimated 124 Denver County residents a year moved to Mecklenburg during that time. Mecklenburg sent Denver about 181 residents a year.

But the migration slowed during the recession.

Aminah Hardy, 37, moved to Charlotte in 2007 - a few years after leaving Denver, where she lived for during the 1990s. She was there when the team won its first Super Bowl in 1997, she said. “The town went bonkers,” Hardy said. “It was kind of scary.”

She doesn’t expect the same level of celebrating if the Panthers win.

“Panthers fans are really very civil and polite compared to other places I’ve been,” Hardy said.

Friendly competition

But don’t be mistaken: There is tension. Christina VanScoten’s co-workers in Matthews have (jokingly) “threatened” to quarantine her desk, tie her to her chair and stop her from going to work Friday, the company’s “Panthers Pride Day.”

“I’ve been taunted all week as I made it very clear I will be joining the celebration in my (John) Elway jersey and other Broncos memorabilia,” said VanScoten, 28.

Shelly Stevenson and Dan Johnson, who own Bottled & Tapped craft beer bottle shop in Cornelius, have been getting their share of trash talk from customers, Stevenson said. They moved here from Colorado eight months ago and are angling for a Broncos win.

David Bolinger’s co-workers this week decorated the uptown realtor’s cubicle with anti-Broncos signs, one which shows the team’s logo crossed out.

The 41-year-old Bolinger, who moved to Charlotte after living in Denver for 28 years, considers himself a die-hard Broncos fan – so much so, he wore a Broncos tie to the Panthers pep rally at Romare Bearden Park to get a rise out of Panthers fans.

Did it work? “Oh God, yes,” he said.

Gavin Off contributed to this report

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov