We are officially one day before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the Carolina Panthers. Your author is Dave Warner.
Pro sports imitates life in North Carolina.
The Carolina Panthers were born here. Sure, every adult football fan who lives here has another team they've been rooting for since childhood, but those of us who were here in the Tar Heel State when this franchise was born have been with them from the start. It was a sign that our state deserved to be up there with the New Yorks and Chicagos and Dallases of the world. North Carolina is important enough to have an NFL franchise. That means something.
But the Panthers should have been first. If not for Adam Vinatieri's golden leg, the Panthers just might have been the first pro sports team in North Carolina to win a major league championship — the first team that didn't utilize a Chevrolet, anyway. The local boys came so close to making good.
But they weren't first. No. Those ice-skating upstarts in Raleigh were first. They aren't even native to North Carolina. They're just another bunch of northern interlopers who got tired of cold winters and decided the South was the place to be. So just like millions before them, they just showed up and moved in and acted like they've been here all along. Sure, the locals showed them plenty of Southern hospitality, but deep down inside, those locals never really felt quite at ease with them.
Now they skate around with that Canadian trophy of theirs while the native-born North Carolinians — especially those in Charlotte — try their best to downplay the accomplishment and convince everyone that their game isn't really our game and their team isn't as important as our born-and-bred local team. Of course, they only think that because the local team didn't win the first trophy.
It's time to even the score now. Dual allegorical battles will play out on the field during every Carolina Panthers game this year — natives vs. interlopers, capital city vs. queen city. Whether they want to admit it or not, all of Charlotte watched the team formerly known as "The Whale" show off that shiny silver cup, and now this city wants a shiny trophy of its own. Indeed, it demands that trophy, not just for the city, but for the sake of everyone who was born here, because the Carolina Panthers were born here, and they should be our champions.
And you know what? The Panthers could probably do it. Have you seen that defensive line? Ma'ake Kemoeatu is launching centers backwards as if he had Street Fighter II power moves, while Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker are out-hustling everyone in their path. Have you seen the receiving corps? Steve Smith is the ultimate killer YACrabbit — just ask the Chicago Bears — and Keyshawn Johnson isn't just giving Jake Delhomme one more target, but three, as Drew Carter and Keary Colbert look a lot better than they did before Keyshawn came to town. Have you seen the secondary? Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble may score more TDs this year than the Jets' offense. Have you seen the special teams? DeAngelo Williams is fast. YACrabbit fast.
Sure, the schedule is a beast, and the offensive line hasn't exactly gelled yet. It doesn't matter now. This team has a greater mission now than they did before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It must win a championship for both the queen city and for every native North Carolinian that ever dreamed big. Those are big weights for anyone's shoulders, but you can put the weight right on the Carolina Panthers. They can carry it. That's why they're better than your team.