For 20 years at Bank of America Stadium, Anna Hunter and her family have impressed me with their bedsheet-sized banners. There have been a number of times when I saw their handiwork and thought to myself: “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”
There was “Tshimanga’s Tsherrific!” for Tshimanga Biakabutuka. There was the one when Kevin Greene, nicknamed “Salt,” came back with San Francisco to face the Panthers after a bitter contract dispute and the Hunter banner read “Happy to Be Sodium Free.”
More recently, there have been creative banners celebrating the Panthers’ secondary and defensive tackle Kawann Short. Hunter likes to look beyond the team’s biggest stars to players who get slightly less glory “because I feel like they need it more,” as she said.
But Hunter is out of the banner business now, and that’s a shame. She is an unintended consequence of a too-restrictive Panthers’ banner policy enacted after “Bannergate” – when Cam Newton grabbed an oversized Green Bay banner from some Packers fans in Bank of America Stadium and disposed of it.
“The disrespectful Cheesehead brought his big tacky sign to Panther stadium,” as Hunter put it to me, “and overblown chaos ensued.”
The Green Bay fan ultimately made a lot of noise and got the Panthers to pay to get him a new banner. OK, that’s fine.
But then the Panthers suddenly decided no banners could be more than 2 feet square and no banners could be hung anywhere in the stadium at all. They all had to be small enough to be held by one person.
Hunter complained to the Panthers and in a phone conversation found team management “very cordial but unyielding,” as she said.
Hunter and her family own three PSLs in Section 232 and have for 20 years. Her three grown children have been raised in Panthers lore – she has a picture of all three kids smiling with former Panthers linebacker Sam Mills. Some of her kids started to make banners themselves. It became a family tradition to paint banners on the back porch on Saturdays.
The Hunter family has had pets named Cota, Fred and Roman – all were named in honor of Panthers players.
After all the big banners they made, Hunter is not about to go small. “It’s too hard to clap, scream, hold a drink and nachos, and hold a banner, too,” she said. “Plus, no one on the field could see it.”
Hunter has had so many good experiences with her banners over the years. Several Panthers players have come over to thank her for making them. Patrick Jeffers actually arranged to borrow his to take to a school appearance.
I think the Panthers’ new policy works OK for most of the stadium, but it is too restrictive for longtime fans such as Hunter who are only trying to add to the stadium’s atmosphere. Hunter and the other legitimate banner-makers are like the kids who followed the rules and still are getting kept in for recess because of one kid who got into a conflict.
I understand the Panthers don’t want to cover up their ribbon boards or graphics. But there should be a way that a handful of larger banners could be pre-approved by sending a photo to someone with the Panthers a few days before the game. Those banners could then be pre-assigned to one of the many blank spots on the stadium’s lower retaining wall.
Making and hanging those larger banners should be a privilege reserved for PSL holders such as Hunter and the “Jump Zone” folks. There are hardly ever more than 3-4 banners hung on the lower level anyway. By reserving a few spots for larger signs from dedicated fans, another banner day for everyone is still possible.