Right before the big blizzard hit this past weekend, I ran into a woman at a department store in Pennsylvania. She was wearing a Carolina Panthers scarf, so we struck up a conversation about the team.
She quickly told me she was from North Carolina, which I could’ve guessed by her southern drawl. She also told me she hoped to get back home for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. When I asked her how she was going to manage that with the doomsday forecast looking more and more like reality, she said without hesitation: “I’ll just have to drive at 4 a.m. Sunday.”
Now, that’s dedication. She roots for the right team. The Panthers are a dedicated bunch themselves.
After throttling Arizona on Sunday by a count of 49-15, Carolina heads to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The team is talented on both sides of the ball and their coaching staff meshes perfectly with personnel. Panthers football is all about execution and fun. But while the schemes and game plans that have led them to a 17-1 record thus far have been applauded, the enthusiasm and effervescence they bring to the field has been sadly panned by too many.
Cam Newton and company have not been shy about their 2015 success. The Panthers like to celebrate. Newton, in particular, is a true showman. The quarterback is just as well known for his celebrations as he is for his dual-threat capabilities as a signal caller. Whether it’s his Clark Kent-to-Superman shirt rip, his choreographed first-down signal, or any of his numerous gestures and dances, Newton lets the world know he is beating you. Some call it taunting and unsportsmanlike. In a league filled with Roger Goodell robots, it’s actually entertaining to see Newton’s genuine excitement. The Carolina fans love it.
There’s a big difference between—to paraphrase Ben Dreith—giving your opponent “the business” and simply enjoying the game of football. Newton and company excite a fan base and themselves when they hoot and holler. Don’t like it? Then make a play and keep the Panthers out of the end zone.
Overlooked amid the Panthers’ celebratory antics is what often happens after a touchdown. These cats have put mega-smiles on countless children this season. Several times this year, after hitting pay dirt, Panthers players have handed the football to a young fan. Great stuff. It’s sports, ladies and gentleman. Cam Newton shaking his whatever shouldn’t make anyone upset at all.
But it does.
From mothers who have written letters to the editor to Hall of Famers like Richard Dent, Newton’s detractors are plentiful. He’s been called a brat and disrespectful. Bottom line is this: Like it or not, Newton’s style fuels Carolina. His attitude and animation on the way to the end zone, as well as once he’s there, works for this club. It’s doubtful the Panthers would be Super Bowl bound with a subdued Newton.
Right now in presidential politics, Donald Trump is leading the way. The Republican front runner doesn’t apologize when people slam his approach to the campaign. Newton follows a similar blueprint. Keep on keeping on no matter what the naysayers say. Or, as Newton puts it in one of his many television commercials, “Too bad they don’t make Band-Aids for feelings.”
So while the anti-Cam crowd is frowning, the feelings of Panthers fans are sky high. Ron Rivera’s coaching, the addition of key veterans, the steadiness of Greg Olsen, and the stinginess of their defense can all be pointed to as reasons why Super Bowl 50 will feature the Carolina Panthers. Make no mistake, however, Newton’s play and, yes, his energetic on-field exploits, drive this bunch. A guy having a lot of fun is killing it in the No Fun League.
I don’t know if the Panthers fan stuck in Pennsylvania due to inclement weather made it back to the Tar Heel State in time for the NFC title tilt. But one thing’s for sure. Just like her team’s quarterback, she’s smiling ear to ear right about now, no matter what anyone says or thinks about it.