It’s been a long, long time since people have seen anything like this outside of a football stadium: Carolina Panthers fans bailing on a game with several minutes yet to play, with sad or dazed or just-plain blank looks on their faces.
Whether two-by-two or small, dejected clumps, they pushed through the exits of Levi’s Stadium on a mild winter’s night, after watching Von Miller and the Denver Broncos put the freeze on the Panthers’ offense for three-plus quarters of play. Not four. Three-plus.
“We didn’t come to play. It hurts a lot,” said Caleb Johnson of Charlotte, who made his getaway as time continued to tick down to the inevitable back inside. “Congratulations to Peyton, but this hurts.”
Angela Higbea – who was doing a quick out-and-back from Charlotte with her husband Sean for what they’d hoped would be a historic weekend – wished she could get back even quicker, since there was suddenly nothing to celebrate.
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“I am really glad we came,” said Higbea. Then, noting their 6 a.m. Monday return flight: “Wish I was on the red eye now, just to get out of here.”
Even Riley Fields, the Panthers director of community relations – a man who can muster a smile as easily as he can pull of his trademark cyan-electric-blue sportcoat – was spotted making a quick getaway afterward.
He offered a smile upon seeing a familiar face, but it didn’t come easy...
Panthers fans find badwagon in LA
Casey Poteet is originally from the Charlotte area and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. She remained a Panthers fan, though. It’s usually tough to watch games on the West Coast because she’s outnumbered, but this year Carolina’s success has garnered lots more bandwagon fans. “That’s fine. Whatever it takes to get them to pay attention,” said Poteet.
Super couple hits the game
Heather and Jim Harper were just friends when they went to the Panthers’ last Super Bowl in Houston in 2004. Now married, the two bought Super Bowl 50 tickets from a friend who is a season ticket holder and won the lottery. Of the Panthers’ often fun-loving behavior on the field, Jim Harper said: “They worked hard to get here, why not celebrate it?”
Packers fans convert for day
Mike and Jeff Steggman have been taking a father-son Super Bowl trip for years. Since they’re from Milwaukee, they’re normally Packers fans. But they said they were cheering for Carolina since the Arizona Cardinals beat the Packers the week before the NFC Championship game in Charlotte, when the Panthers trounced the Cardinals.
Bojangles hits the spot can cut
Bojangles’, the Charlotte-based chicken-and-biscuits chain, decided to bring a bit of home to California this week, and fans seemed to appreciate it. Restaurant representatives made a cross country roadtrip to feed the Panthers’ players and coaches Friday and give away sweet tea and koozies to fans over the weekend. Panthers fans flocked to the familiar big red-and-yellow truck before the Super Bowl, and they ran out of tea within two and a half hours. “It’s nice seeing familiar company on random soil right next to Levi’s stadium. It feels like home right here,” Panthers fan Alex Jones said.
Also at the Bojangles’ spot, fans said BBC reporters stopped by to try their first sweet tea and “gulped it.” “It’s the official sweet tea of the United Kingdom now,” Jones added.