Well, Carolina… We made it. It’s been a long ride, but the Carolina Panthers are headed to Super Bowl 50. This team has everything: charismatic offense, powerhouse defense, heart and soul, and a heck of a lot of fun. We can each learn a lot from the Carolina Panthers. I would like to take a moment to share the biggest lessons I have learned from the NFC Champions.
It was impossible to escape the negativity from analysts this season. With Kelvin Benjamin injured, people had little to no faith in the Panthers. Each week, people came up with another reason Cam and his squad would be defeated. However, with the exception of that one week in Atlanta, the Carolina Panthers proved everyone wrong. But with each victory, everyone managed to still tear apart the Carolina Panthers. "It's only the Bucs." "You won't beat Dallas with Romo back." "Norman should be suspended." "Seattle was sliding all over that field."
The Carolina Panthers are headed to Super Bowl 50, facing one of the greatest quarterbacks in history in what may be his final game. It won't be an easy battle against the number one defense, but the Carolina Panthers have taught us to silence the haters by proving them wrong. “All year long no one has given us a shot,” Tolbert said. “We’re not supposed to be here – that’s what everyone else thinks.”
Whether they win in two weeks or not, this is a team that has overcome immense amounts of scrutiny. Watching Cam Newton grow, both on and off the field, can teach each of us to never give up, no matter what others say about you.
There's one overarching theme in each post-game presser: work. Whether the panthers won or lost, the work ethic of the Carolina Panthers shone through. Following the victory over Tennessee, Rivera gave his team the day off. The team still showed up, including Cam, to get mentally prepared. If you recall, the Panthers played a total of three games in 12 days. "Those are the things you have to do if you want to be ready for the next go-around. You don't have to do it, but you have to be willing to do it. That's what we've got right now - a group of guys that are willing to do things," Coach Ron Rivera said.
You're looking at a team full of extremely talented players, who may not be the best in the NFL, but are willing to work hard and put in the effort required to be a championship team. In the words of Cam Newton, it isn't going to be quick grits. Winning a Super Bowl will be like slow-cooked collard greens.
Teamwork makes the dream work. It’s the relationships between the Carolina Panthers that makes them a huge success. All the way up to the ownership and management, we see this team reminding everyone what football is truly about. In the words of my dad, “This is the type of team that draws me in. They’re all just players, but they make a great team.” My dad, a Yankee born and bred, compared this team to the 1996 Yankees. These players are so much more than just athletes because each individual knows they are a part of something bigger than themselves. They make you want to cheer for them. I’m biased; I won’t deny that. But I find it difficult to not love this team. If you’ve seen Greg Olsen’s kids run towards him before each game, there’s no way your heart doesn’t melt (unless you don’t have a heart at all). Luke Keuchly is one of the most iconic defensive figures in the game and he’s still so humble. I’ll be honest, Cam Newton was not my favorite when he was in college, but he won me over shortly after the Panthers drafted him. He loves the game. He takes his role extremely seriously. He knows he is an inspiration to many and doesn’t take that lightly. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have fun, and that is something that’s hard to come by in the game today. Each of these players, as I said before, knows they are a part of a team that is so much bigger than each individual piece of the puzzle. This shows us all that humility and encouragement is so much stronger than simply having the athletic ability to be successful in the NFL.
It’s a well-known saying: if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. No one, not even the thousands of Panther haters, can deny that the Carolina Panthers are having the time of their lives each time they step out on the field. Even if you hate the, arguably excessive, celebrations in the end zone, you know they are having fun playing the game. Before the NFC Championship, Mike Tolbert said, “We’re going to be who we are and have fun with what we do on and off the field.” The passion these players show each and every game is something hard to come by in the NFL today. This team has a fun-loving personality. If you haven’t watched the footage of Cam Newton mic’d up during Week 11, you haven’t truly experienced the fun this team has on the sidelines. This team manages to put a smile on my face, which as a Panthers fan, is something I haven’t experienced in quite some time. This team is a perfect reminder to love what you do and enjoy each moment.
Now I would like to take a moment to appreciate Jerry Richardson. I don’t care what team you cheer for. If you do not have the upmost respect for Mr. Richardson, I have zero respect for you. This man bleeds Carolina blue. It was his dream to bring the NFL to the Carolinas. He is one of two NFL owners to own his team for its entire history. He is one of the classiest, most faithful men in the history of football.
All Carolina Panthers fans remember that heartbreaking day, February 1, 2004, when Tom Brady’s Patriots beat our beloved Panthers in their first Super Bowl appearance. The score was 32-29. (Everyone else remembers this Super Bowl from the infamous halftime show with Janet Jackson.) I think we’re all slightly disappointed the AFC championship ended as it did. I personally would’ve loved for the Panthers to avenge their first appearance. Regardless, the Carolina Panthers, following a painful decade, have done it. And what I would argue are some of the most faithful fans in the NFL are able to celebrate an extremely exciting season by travelling to California.
Fans have waited twelve years for this team. When the Panthers drafted Cam Newton, I don’t know that anyone knew the potential of this team. But fans are excited about this team. It is this team that reminds fans to have faith.
Keep Pounding. It’s a phrase Panthers fans have heard for years. It’s a phrase that has gained national recognition for the first time. What does it mean? Before each game, a special guest hits the “Keep Pounding” drum. A drum that represents overcoming adversity. Sometimes the guest is a child battling a terminal illness. Sometimes it’s a figure like Steph Curry. I felt it was fitting for Jerry Richardson to pound the drum prior to the NFC Championship game. “Keep Pounding” is the biggest thing I believe we can learn from the Carolina Panthers. It means everything this post is about. Keep proving the haters wrong. Keep working hard. Keep having faith. Keep working as a team. Keep having fun. “Keep Pounding.” Never give up and fight for what you believe in because it will pay off.
Danielle Barilla is a graduate of the University of South Carolina currently living in Myrtle Beach where she works as a television news producer. As lover of game 7s and Olympic golds, she often roots for the underdog, which comes natural to her as a Charlotte sports fan. However, her New York/championship roots show through when she cheers for the Yankees. She loves binge watching sitcoms and teen dramas on Netflix, eating Asian food and getting too aggressive over SEC football.