I’ll be the first to admit it, I am THE epitome of a Panthers bandwagon fan. I had absolutely no interest in the boys in blue & black, much less football, until a few months ago, around the time that I realized something special was happening in our city. I gradually started surprising my friends with questions, like “Did we win?” and “What time is the game?” I even watched a few and interrupted my own rehearsal to catch it on the NFL app. It was weird… Audrey likes football now? The answer is… no, Audrey does not like football now. Audrey likes witnessing magic being made.
The rules and mentality behind football still confuse and astound me. It’s just a bunch of guys running around trying to get an odd-shaped ball from one side of a field to the other, meanwhile hitting each other (rather hard) and suffering the occasional concussion, right? Ok, I know there’s way more to it than that, but that pretty much sums up my level of understanding, and desire to understand, for a long time. And again, I STILL DON’T GET IT. The hysteria, the obsession, the oodles of money, it all seems a bit excessive (and don’t get me started on “fantasy football” – really, because I don’t know the first thing about it, other than it seems like a jockified version of Dungeons and Dragons). Football culture is a foreign concept to me and probably always will be. But last week, I bought my very first piece of sporty spiced paraphernalia, a Carolina Panthers t-shirt, and here’s why.
The transformation over the past few months of our once relatively unknown city has been incredible. As each Sunday passed and the Panthers kept winning, there was an undeniable camaraderie growing among Charlotteans. People from all demographics, races, ages, and areas of the city had something to talk about. In a slow line at Harris Teeter? Ask your neighbor if they saw the game, and you’ll probably enjoy a pleasant conversation with stranger for a few minutes (even if they hadn’t). In a shitty mood? Watch yet another video of Cam “illegally” handing out footballs to star-struck kids, and feel your faith in humanity magically restored. As Charlotte became increasingly covered in blue and everyone from pre-schoolers to politicians were “doing the dab”, something deeper was happening. We were coming together. The differences between Queen Charlotte’s many and varied residents were being forgotten, and, even if just for a few hours on Sunday nights (and maybe Monday mornings) we were all pretty happy. A sense of peace and unity penetrated deeper into our city each week, and I definitely caught the fair-weather bug. Here’s a lovely piece from WFAE on what I’m talking about.
Of course, today is THE BIG GAME and the culmination of all the fuss. I’ll be watching with a group of great friends, and I can with certainty say that I will be the biggest football fan in the room – a first! Of course I am pulling like crazy for the Panthers, and to win Super Bowl 50 would just be cat’s meow (see what I did there). But in a way I feel like, as cheesy as it is, we’ve already won. Charlotte feels like a real city with real city pride, similar to New York or Paris, but without the instigating tragedy. We are shining bright and we are not the other Southern city anymore. People know who we are, where we are, and most importantly, what Charlotteans are (starting to become) all about – playing fair and supporting each other, no matter what. Whether you are on the bandwagon or not, the citywide spirit can’t be denied or ignored. Honestly I’m a little scared of what will ensue on the streets and in the bars of Charlotte after the game, in any outcome. The fire that has been ignited by this team is not something easily extinguished, and it will probably only get bigger, even after the season is over, at least I hope.
I heart CLT.