We love our sports here in North Carolina — make that collegiate sports.
While the state has three professional franchises, football and basketball in Charlotte and hockey for some reason in Raleigh, sports fans in North Carolina drink beer and grill burgers in five camps — and we arrange these in alphabetical order because we dare not put one ahead of another — Duke University, East Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and locally The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, with apologies to the rest.
But the Carolina Panthers, who will play in Super Bowl 50, have had a unifying effect, bringing together people of all school colors — again, in alphabetical order — Blue Devils, Braves, Demon Deacons, Pirates, Tar Heels and Wolfpackers — who, for one day at least, can all be decked out in a Panther jersey, probably No. 1 or 59.
We know there are a few North Carolina haters who just don’t get it, and will be pulling for Denver on Sunday for any of the following reasons:
— They hate Cam Newton because he does The Dab, returning the Fun to the NFL. Well, Cam has had plenty to celebrate, 17 wins and just a single loss during an MVP-type season. We love Cam because he loves kids, gives them a football when he scores, which is often, and has that great smile.
— They love the legendary Peyton Manning, who will be quarterbacking the Denver Broncos in what almost certainly will be his final game and a chance to atone for a miserable performance in Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. Except for the fact that Manning is playing the Panthers, we could board this train, but that’s a pretty big hurdle to overcome.
— They are agnostic, rooting for any of the following teams, which is typically determined by the decade they spent their formative years, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Franscico 49ers, or the Dallas Cowboys or Washington Redskins, whose fans are young, old and in between, not generational. If you wonder why the New England Patriots were omitted, it’s because everyone who doesn’t live in Massachusetts hates those cheaters, their sullen coach, Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady, because no one should be that rich, that handsome, have that many Super Bowl rings and be married to Gisele Bundchen.
If you are a fence-sitter, we will give you some reasons to board the Panther train if only for Super Bowl 50. In no particular order:
— Michael Oher: You know him even if you don’t know it. The movie, “Blindside,” is about the difficult early life of Oher, an offensive tackle for the Panthers, and all the obstacles, including illiteracy, that he overcame.
— Thomas Davis: A linebacker for the Panthers, Davis has overcome not one, not two, but three “career-ending” ACL tears to his left knee. Davis not only plays, but was an all-Pro this season.
— Luke Kuechly: Another Panther linebacker, Kuechly might be the best in the league at his position, although no one can understand why. All he does is make plays.
— Jerry Richardson: The owner of the Panthers and a former standout receiver for the Baltimore Colts who caught a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL championship game, Richardson is a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t hog the microphone and is living with someone else’s heart. He deserves this.
But the best reason to root for the Panthers is the most obvious: They are the CAROLINA Panthers, and you live in North Carolina.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“When we root-root-root for the home team, we’re rooting for our home as much as the team.”