southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Confessions of a Panthers Fan: Coping With Success One Day at a Time

There is this something, perhaps its intuitive, about being a fan of a small-market team that produces the unshakable feeling that the odds are stacked against you. Somehow, someway, the playing field is not level, our chances are uneven.  Obviously, we tell ourselves, the mega-markets of New York, Chicago, LA, Miami, and a handful of others, possess an infinitely greater probability of success year after year simply by virtue of their size, resources and mystique.  The media, we surmise, only want to see the teams from these sparkling cities in the Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Finals.  Podunk, backwoods, neanderthal Charlotte, North Carolina?  Never!

Particularly as it relates to the NFL, with its hard salary cap, this inherent feeling of institutional injustice is not only unfounded, it is irrational. Nonetheless, I, as an otherwise rational human being (if I must say so myself), am powerless to its firm grip on my soul – indeed, it is wedged deep within my sports psyche.  What’s worse, this way of thinking flies in the face of an abundance of evidence to the contrary, which I conveniently neglect to consider.  Things like facts and evidence are not allowed within shouting distance of the protective sports bubble I’ve so masterfully crafted.  In this way, I am very much like the Republican primary.

If I did consider empirical data, which I don’t, I would not have to look terribly far to find copious examples of small market teams reaching the pinnacle of their respective sports. The reigning “world” champions of Major League Baseball hail from none other than tintsy-wintsy Kansas City, Missouri.  Kansas City is so small that people often mistake it for being in the “great” state of Kansas, which must be quite a blow to one’s ego.  You literally have to show people on a map that Kansas City is in the Show Me State.  Kansas City should be called the Believe Me City.

With a population of roughly 470,000 people, it ranks as the 37th largest city by population in the United States.  Charlotte, by contrast, is the 17th largest city with a population of roughly 810,000 hard-working, good-looking and sweet-talking folks.  Charlotte throttles Kansas City in the population rankings, but lags far behind in World Series rings.  Of course, Charlotte does not have a baseball team, which is not helpful in this fight.  The point, though, is that Kansas City, with all her faults (and she has many), provides a prime example of a really small-market team sitting at the apex of a major sport.

Easily my favorite team not based in the Carolinas is the San Antonio Spurs. With their 5 NBA titles, all since 1999, the Spurs have achieved a level of excellence and consistency that is virtually unparalleled in recent NBA history.  Like Tim Duncan from the elbow, bank it: death, taxes, and the Popovich-led Spurs being in the playoffs.  While San Antonio is larger than Charlotte, it is not exactly a sexy landing spot for free agents.  In fact, it most likely ranks 3rd in its own state, behind Dallas and Houston.  Apparently, the Riverwalk and top notch Tex-Mex are not enough to attract the modern, sophisticated NBA player.  And, most damningly, of course, San Antonio is located in Texas, a hard sell by any standard.  Moreover, San Antonio only has one professional sports team to its credit.  Despite these many obstacles, the Spurs are one of the most successful franchises in American sports history.

And then there are the Green Bay Packers.  That storied NFL franchise that has 4 Lombardi trophies (the damn thing is named after a Packers coach), including the first two, and 9 other league championships in the pre-Super Bowl era.  This is the same Green Bay, Wisconsin that is not only small (just north of 100K cheeseheads), but is cold…really cold.  Lambeau Field did not earn the “frozen tundra” moniker for nothing.  Far worse than these two obvious blights on its record, Green Bay is mind-numbingly dull and boring.  It is about as lively as a Ben Carson rally.  Yet, despite these now three major strikes, Green Bay has far from struck out.  After all, the Packers have been a fixture in recent playoffs history, remarkably having made them the last seven consecutive seasons.

Up until now, my “red-headed stepchild” outlook on the sports world – and with respect to my own teams in particular – has been especially useful. Growing up in Charlotte and being an avid – ok, borderline insane – fan of our teams, I was able to rationalize, and to effectively explain away, the consistent losing as being a function of our small-market status.  The little brother syndrome with which I was imbued provided a convenient mechanism to cope with unending defeat.  Interestingly, it was almost as if the losing became a badge of honor – somehow making me a better, tougher, more resilient person as a result of my being able to roll with the proverbial punches.  I have spoken with friends from Philadelphia who confirm that this is a real thing.

Let me be clear, however: there have been intermittent periods of success by my teams that I not only appreciated but also celebrated (with the best of ‘em). After all, Super Bowl 50 will not be the first rodeo (thanks, Peyton) in which the Carolina Panthers have danced.  No, the Panthers lost the 2004 Super Bowl to New England in dramatic (read: agonizing) fashion after John Kasay shanked a kick-off out of bounds handing the ball to Tom Brady at the 40 yard line, which led to the inevitable game-winning field goal.  But, the truth is, I did not genuinely believe that we had a shot against that juggernaut of a Patriots squad.  The Jake Delhomme-led 2003 Panthers were good, not great, catching fire at the right time to finish 11-5, and then embarking on an incredible run to the Super Bowl.  It was more lightning in a bottle than anything else.

The Charlotte Hornets have, for the most part, been a study in mediocrity. Typically, they just miss the playoffs or just sneak in – either way, providing a quick and clean resolution to their season.  They currently sit in 9th position in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the first team on the outside looking in.  A fairly apt metaphor for their schizophrenic existence in Charlotte (and New Orleans, but that’s a different story for a different day).  As previously mentioned, Charlotte is not yet in the big leagues with the respect to baseball.

So, on the eve of Super Bowl 50, what do I make of the essentially flawless 2015 version of these Carolina Panthers? Being a fan of the Carolina Panthers this year has been the easiest job in the world.  Now I know what it feels like to be Steve Kerr.  The anxiety and “bundle of nerves” approach to game day has been replaced by supreme confidence and, according to my friends, a somewhat obnoxious swagger.  The Panthers are 17-1 and many of the wins were recorded in blowout fashion.  When there has been a close game, the “here we go again” sigh of resignation has been discarded in favor of actual positive thinking; in fact, I am all but certain that these Panthers will make the key play at the right time to secure the win.  All but once, they have.

Setting aside the perfectly imperfect 17-1 record, this year has made being a Panthers fan way cool. Famous, but previously on the down low, Panthers fans such as Steph Curry and John Isner are flying their Panthers flags high and proud – from Twitter to the Australian Open to the shoes of Tripoli.  And new Panthers fans have flocked in droves to a bandwagon that has already exceeded capacity and is now bursting at the seams.  Turn on the TV and one cannot escape the dazzling smile of Cam Newton, who by now must have overtaken Peyton Manning as the king of commercials.  A victory no one could candidly say they saw coming.  We are the cool kids on the playground; we are Marco Rubio following the Iowa Caucuses.  And we are favored to win Super Bowl 50!

I always thought that if one of my teams reached the Promised Land, life would be instantly more gratifying and infinitely easier. I would know exactly how to act; I would have all the answers.  Boy, was I wrong?  To the contrary, I do not know what to do with myself, and have absolutely no answers…none.  I am quickly coming to the realization that I am not comfortable playing the role of Goliath.  I keep looking around for my slingshot.  Absent a slingshot, I need a comfortable couch and a good shrink to help me cope with the sudden and overwhelming success.

Of course, my favored Panthers could be upset by Methuselah Manning and the daunting Denver defense on Sunday night. Ironically, if that were to happen, all might be right in my world again.  But, if we do win, as goes the predictions, I will be left to pick up the pieces, learn to cope with the unexpected success, and take it all one day at a time.

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February 6, 2016 - Posted by | Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte, Charlotte Hornets, NBA, NFL, Super Bowl 50, Uncategorized | , , , ,

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