Sunday, December 9, 2012

On why I'm becoming a Panthers fan

The Panthers never seemed to catch on in Cary. Don't believe me? Go watch football at a Cary sports bar on Sunday afternoon. You'll see Steelers jerseys, Redskins jerseys and Giants jerseys. No Panthers jerseys. Except for maybe one guy watching the game on a corner screen at the bar.

Maybe it's because Cary (and the surrounding area) is filled with transplants, who have stronger ties to teams in other cities.

Whatever the reason, that's part of the reason why I was never a Panthers fan growing up. Not to say I ignored the team. I had one of those Panthers fake uniforms (Kerry Collins, I believe) complete with Styrofoam shoulder pads and a plastic helmet. I still have a Sam Mills jersey in a closet somewhere.

Growing up, though, I was a Dolphins fan, like my dad. I had multiple Dan Marino jerseys. That lasted until Super Bowl XXIV.

I was looking for a new team. The Dolphins weren't doing it for me. I always picked a team to root for in the Super Bowl, and the Tennessee Titans seemed as good a choice as any. They were new. They were in a neighboring state. They had pretty blue colors (yes, that mattered to me).

Then they came within one yard of tying the Rams at the end of the game, with Kevin Dyson stretching his arm out, trying to reach the end zone and coming up just short.

I was sold.

For the 12 years since I've been a Titans fan. I've never lived in Tennessee. I'd only visited the state twice before my wife moved to Memphis to teach for two years. It wasn't until 2010 that I saw the Titans play a regular season football game in person in Nashville. They haven't sniffed the Super Bowl since I've started pulling for them.

People always ask me why I pull for them, and I tell them the story of watching the Super Bowl. But it's getting harder to justify.

I moved to Charlotte in 2009 after I graduated from college. Here, the Panthers are everything, and it makes sense. You go to a sports bar here and you may see jerseys for other teams, but the loudest cheers come when the Panthers do well.

I read about the Panthers all the time in the Observer. I maybe read one story a month about the Titans in the Tennessean. I'm pretty sure I can name more Panthers players than I can Titans players. It's a chore to find a place that is playing the Titans game each Sunday. The Panthers are always on local TV, every week, no matter what time they play.

It's gotten hard to be a Titans fan.

Most fans would power through that, team loyalty overcoming the inconvenience. But here's the thing: I was never really that loyal to the Titans. I pulled for them, sure. I own the jerseys. But that's about it. They win? Yay. They lose? Eh. I love football too much to be the passive fan that I've become.

That's why I've decided to switch my allegiances to the Panthers, even though they're going through one of the worst stretches in the franchise's history.

I went to my first regular season Panthers game a few weeks ago. It was cold, the stadium was half full and the Panthers blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead to lose in overtime to the Buccaneers. I had a blast.

There's something special about rooting for (and griping about) the hometown team. You're all in the same boat. It's the same thing I enjoy about the Olympics and the World Cup: Almost everyone is pulling for the same team. You share in the joys of victory and the frustration of mediocrity.

The Panthers are my team. I'll be in Bank of America Stadium Sunday to watch them play the Falcons, wearing the one Panthers shirt I own. They'll probably lose. But when they do, I'll get to walk out grumbling with the rest of the fans instead of being the only one in the bar that cares that the Titans won. Or lost.

Plus, I still get to wear a pretty shade of blue.

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