It took 18 games to do it, but finally the rest of the nation got to see what we in the Carolinas have known for months – that this Carolina Panthers team is for real.
After watching the Panthers dismantle the Arizona Cardinals (49-15) to advance to the Super Bowl, my beloved brother in New Jersey sent me a series of text messages, each following an impressive play as the game was being sealed : “This might be a team of destiny.” “I see. They are good.” “Dem boys are good.”
What took you so long, Bro? I’ve been telling you that all season.
I guess it’s not his fault. Few people outside the Carolinas have wanted to hang the “greatness” tag on this team, despite its near-perfect record during the regular season. And even some of us closer to home couldn’t quite believe what our eyes were beholding.
As recently as Jan. 3, ESPN Senior Writer John Clayton made the case that, after the Cardinals’ 38-8 blowout of the Green Bay Packers, that Arizona could lay claim to being “the best team in the NFL.”
“And that could be selling them short,” he said.
Clayton acknowledged that the Panthers had the better season record, but the Cardinals, he said, had “the best numbers in football.” He went on to explain his rationale – something about offensive scoring average, fewest points allowed, and point differentials.
He concluded: “The Panthers dominated the Pro Bowl voting, leading the league with 10. The 14-0 start obviously helped. The Panthers earned every honor, but the Cardinals are finishing stronger. The numbers back them as football’s best right now, and it’s not hard to see why.”
Maybe it’s hard to hang the “greatness” tag on a franchise that’s so young. Though founded in 1993, the Panthers didn’t play their first game until 1995. That seems like just yesterday.
If one of the venerable teams — Pittsburgh, Green Bay or maybe Dallas– had gone 15-1, I suspect that Clayton and other sports commentators would have had no trouble at least talking about those teams as possibly being among the all-time greats.
But for the Carolina Panthers, no such respect. (And let us not forget: this is a team that closed the previous season with five straight victories before losing to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoff round.)
In addition to youth, I suspect that the Panthers’ demeanor also played a role in the team being constantly underrated. This is a group of men who seem to be having far too much fun to be truly great, led by a smiling, overgrown, kid of a quarterback named Cam Newton.
In racking up victory upon victory, these players hardly seemed to get their jerseys dirty. Even linebacker Luke Kuechly, the best at his position in the entire NFL, walks off the field each Sunday as if he’s ready for a photo shoot. None of the mud and blood we so often associate with the “greatness” tag on the gridiron.
But the Carolina Panthers are a great team, and now the rest of the nation knows it. And if they go on to win the Super Bowl, they should be talked about as being one of the best to ever play the game.
Thomas Davis wants to play
Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis has done some incredible things during his NFL career. His is the first known player to come back from three ACL reconstructive surgeries. But can he pull off one more medical miracle?
After breaking his right arm in Sunday night’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Davis said during a post-game interview that he thinks he has a shot at playing in Super Bowl 50. Take a look.