The Carolina Panthers came into existence as an expansion team in 1987, and are members of the NFC South Division. Although a fairly new team, they have managed to reach the Super Bowl once in their short existence, but failed to take the title. The recent years have been uneventful for the club, but they hope to fight their way back into contention.
A plan is formed
The Carolina Panthers were founded when Jerry Richardson, a former player for the Baltimore Colts, decided that he wanted to bring an expansion team to Carolina in 1987. The idea was an immediate hit, with big names from both North Carolina and South Carolina taking up the cause, buoyed on by the plan to construct a new stadium to seat 70,000 fans.
Between 1989 and 1991, a number of pre-season games were held to garner support. Each of them proved to be a sell-out, as the fans made it clear that they were dedicated at this early stage to making the team a success.
In 1992, talks started up with the aim of deciding in which area the team would be based. However, disputes meant the talks broke down, and it wasn’t until 1993 that they began again.
The stadium was to be financed by the sale of club seats, luxury boxes and permanent seat licenses, which again relied on the support of the fans. In a massive show of dedication to a club that hadn’t even started to compete, all of the seats sold out in a single day.
Up and running
On October 26th 1993, the Carolinas received permission to host the team. It was the 29th franchise to come into existence, and the first new NFL team to arrive on the scene since 1976.
Don Capers became the first head coach, and Rod Smith the first player to be signed. In addition to Smith, the team also included such players as quarterback Jack Trudeau, defensive lineman Greg Kragen and wide receiver Mark Carrier. Quarterback Kerry Collins was signed in the 1995 NFL Draft, and to complete the team the club also got hold of linebacker Sam Mills, wide receiver Don Beebe and placekicker John Kasay, who is now the last remaining original player.
With the team finally ready for action, they went into their first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on July 29th 1995 with high hopes and a solid wall of support behind them. All their hopes were rewarded, as the team came together and won their first ever match 20-14.
Their home games were to be played at Clemson University until the construction of their stadium was complete. The debut regular-season began against the Atlanta Falcons, and things got off to a good start when they shot to a 13-0 lead. However, experience got the better of them, and they eventually went on to lose 23-20.
The disappointment was followed by despair as, in their first home game against the St. Louis Rams, experience got the better of the Panthers again, as they were dispatched 31-10.
It wasn’t until October 15th that the Panthers managed to pick up their first victory, coming against the New York Jets via a resounding 26-15 scoreline. This win gave the team new hope, and set the scene for some surprising records that year. By the end of the season, they had become the first expansion team to record four consecutive wins, and became the first to beat the current Super Bowl champions when they defeated the San Francisco 49ers 13-7.
They also finished the season with a record of 7-9, which was double the previous record for an expansion team. All in all, it had been a good year, and the Panthers could now look forward to building upon their success.
If their first season was deemed a success, then 1996 was to prove a sensation. Despite moving to the Bank of America Stadium, they also brought in some new signings who helped them to an incredible seven-game winning streak to get their season off to a fantastic start.
This form continued and they finished top of the tree in the NFC West, reaching the NFC Divisional Playoffs. To get to this stage was a victory in itself, but when they went on to beat their opponents the Dallas Cowboys 26-17, expectations began to rise significantly. Sadly, the hopes of all the fans were quashed in the NFC Championship, when they lost against the Green Bay Packers 30-13.
Despite the loss, the season was still seen as a resounding success for such a new team, and eight of their players were represented in the Pro Bowl, hinting at great things to come for the club.
Off the pitch problems
Behind the Panthers’ successful early campaigns, there were problems with their players. First, Rae Carruth was arrested in 1997 for conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend, and ended up in prison. Another player Kerry Collins then developed problems with alcoholism and was accused of making racist comments to his team mates.
With all of these unpleasant events, and the unwanted publicity that they were bringing to the Panthers, it became even more important for the team to perform well.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. The Panthers were desperate to build upon their early success, but by 1998 they had slumped to a 4-12 record. This was well below the expectations of the fans, and it led to the sacking of Dom Capers. The vacant position was quickly filled by George Seifert who, having won the Super Bowl twice with the 49ers, was an ideal candidate to bring the team the success they so craved.
Things went well in his first season in charge in 1999, but the 8-8 record was not enough to take them through to the playoffs and they missed out once again. 2000 saw another losing season of 7-9, which meant no joy for the fans who were becoming agitated at the lack of success that the team had managed since their first two seasons.
However, these seasons proved a bad omen rather than a minor blip. In 2001 the Panthers got off to a bright start with a win, but in a dramatic fall from grace they went on to lose their next 15 games in a row, scoring a new and undesirable record in the NFL.
Seifert had failed to live up to his potential, and the embarrassment led to his dismissal from the club. However, this was not before he had managed to select a crop of some fantastic players in the 2001 NFL Draft, such as Kris Jenkins and Steve Smith, who would provide the backbone for the team’s revival.
John Fox was assigned to fill the vacant head coach position. He came with a good defensive history, which was exactly what the team needed to get them out of the hole that they had dug for themselves.
In the NFL Draft, he made sure that he got hold of some real talent, which included Julius Peppers, Will Witherspoon and Mike Rucker amongst others, who came together to create a formidable defence.
It was the boost that the club needed, and the Panthers finished the season with a record of 7-9 which, although not where they wanted to be, was a great leap from the previous campaign.
Super Bowl XXXVIII
The following season began well with five wins in their first five games. The players had been inspired by the shock illnesses to two people close to the team – linebacker Mark Fields, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, and former coach Sam Mills, who recently found out he had intestinal cancer.
Their determination improved their performances dramatically, and they stormed to a 11-5 record, taking the NFC South Division title and being rewarded with a playoff berth. The Dallas Cowboys could not stand in their way, losing 29-10 in the Wild Card Playoffs, and in the Divisional Playoffs game against the St Louis Rams, the Panthers got through a tight match to win 29-23 in overtime.
This saw them through to the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and one step away from their first ever Super Bowl. They fought bravely, and were rewarded with a resounding 14-3 win which saw them reach the summit of the game for the very first time.
Super Bowl XXXVIII is now famous now for Janet Jackson’s half time slip up, but it failed to distract the Panthers. In an intriguing and incredibly tight match, they fought hard for the victory which they so craved, but finally lost to the New England Patriots 32-29 due to a final-minute field goal from Adam Vinatieri.
The game saw them develop the nickname the ‘Cardiac Cats’, due to the number of their matches which were decided in the dying seconds.
The 2004 season was entered into with great hopes of building upon their recent successful campaign, but in a cruel blow the team suffered a bout of injuries early on in the season.
The effect on the team was dramatic, and of their first eight games they only managed to win one. They fought back to end the season with a 7-9 record, but it was not enough to see them through to the playoffs in their 10th anniversary year.
In 2005 they managed to put the previous year behind them and make it through to the postseason. They went up against the New York Giants, and delighted the fans by managing a shutout of 23-0.
They then dispatched the Chicago Bears 29-21, which led them to the NFC Championship Game for third time in their history. However, despite coming so close, they couldn’t find a way past the Seattle Seahawks, and went out 34-14.
2006 and 2007 were uneventful years. They failed to pick up a winning record in either year, and as such they are still awaiting their return to the playoffs to try and get their hands on their first Super Bowl title.
- Conference Championships – NFC (2003)
- Division Championships – NFC West (1996), NFC South (2003)