Protecting Our House

By Chris Johnson
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In a recent press conference, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera addressed the fact that there were a number Washington Redskins fans at the stadium during the 33-20 home win.  He also went on to say how he would like to see that change, and how he wanted to see more of a home field advantage at the Bank of America stadium.  “We want to look up and see a sea of blue.”

Usually I reserve my Tuesday blog for the NFL recap, but this was something I wanted to address.  So here is your NFL recap in a nut shell.  Packers and Saints are good and can score a lot of points.  Arian Foster is a beast and single-handedly beat Tennessee.  Ndamukong Suh has no remorse for hurt players.  Tim Tebow needs about 57 minutes to get warmed up in a game.  Norv Turner sucks on the road. Nobody cares about games being played in London – just let them play here.  Carson Palmer may need to a little more time to become acclimated.  Dolphins, Rams, and Colts are all still in the suck for Luck campaign.  Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the topic at hand.

First of all, I want to congratulate the Panthers on the great win.  Cam and Smitty looked great, the defense did what it needed to get off the field, and we didn’t give up any huge plays on special teams.  There is room for improvement, of course, but we still walked away with a win.  The improvement doesn’t just need to come on the field, in my opinion, but also in the stands.  I, along with Rivera, would love to see a more intimidating fan base in Charlotte.   I don’t want fans of opposing teams thinking they can simply walk in and take over our stadium.  A few months ago I wrote about who brought the worst fans here, and I would like to make that a thing of the past.  So what gives, Carolina fans – why isn’t there a sea of blue?

The first reason I look to is the product on the field.  Everyone knows that it’s much more fun to watch a winning team than a losing one.  During the 2003 Super Bowl run, there was an electricity around the city like I have never felt before.  We were all proud of our Panthers, and we wanted the world to know it.  Last year was the worst of times – not only did we go 2-14, but we just really sucked.  It wasn’t, “are we going to win or lose,” it was “how bad are we going to get beat?”  Home games were empty, and you couldn’t even give tickets away.  Believe me, I tried.  The Panthers made a step in the right direction Sunday. The fans needed that win just as badly as the team.  Had we lost, it would have been the fourth straight, and against a team we should have beat.  Fans would have turned on players, coaches, and management (some already have) looking for who to blame.  Instead, we are 2-4 with two home games and a bye coming up in the next three weeks.  Now is a time that we can take some momentum into these home games and pick up another two wins.  Like I said, the Panthers took a step forward.  I think the fans need to as well.

The other argument I hear is that the Panthers are still a new team and that they don’t have an established fan base.  The Panthers are still relatively young for a franchise, but they have been around since 1995.  I myself was a New York Giants fan before we got a team here in Carolina, but when we got the Panthers my allegiances turned to the home team.  That is not to say that I don’t still pull for the Giants, but the Panthers are my team.  Of course, people cheered for other teams before there was football here in the Carolinas – it’s not like football didn’t exist, we just didn’t have a team. The Redskins are a good example of a team that most people in the area were fans of.  Sixteen years ago, a lot of the games on TV were either Washington or Atlanta.  The times of the growing up fans of a team are changing, though.  Kids that were 6, 7, and 8 are now in their early twenties. That next generation is either graduating from college or getting ready to.  They will soon be getting jobs and eventually getting their own PSLs.  The generation after that will have grown up completely Panther fans and so on and so on.

Another problem I see is the economy.  Going to games can be expensive, especially if you have to buy the PSL.  This is a problem that all professional sports are facing all over the country, not just here in Charlotte.  It just simply isn’t worth it for the casual fan to pay that much to go to the game.  With $40 for a ticket, $8 for a beer, $15 for parking, and $5 for a hotdog, we are already at $68 – and that is just for you.  Can you imagine if you are taking kids?  This doesn’t even take into consideration if you are coming from out of town and the time it takes to get there and back.  The casual fans are staying at home.  With the technology in televisions that we have now, people would rather watch there instead of venturing out.  I love the live game experience and making it out to the stadium on Sundays, but most of us can’t afford to be at all eight regular season games plus two preseason ones.  Some PSL owners sell some of their tickets for over face value in order to make up for the PSL fees, and quite frankly I can’t blame them.  I can suggest this – instead of using Stubhub or NFL ticket exchange, use Panther-based forums like Carolina Huddle, or sell them to people you know to ensure that other Panther fans are getting them.

The relationship between the team and the fans is a two-way street. We depend on each other.  The fans need the team to win, keep things exciting, and make it worth the price of admission to come out and support them.  The players and coaches feed off the fans – they want it to be deafeningly loud when the other team is facing third and three.  You can’t watch Steve Smith and tell me he doesn’t feed off the crowd.  The Panthers are making strides to the future, and I agree with Ron Rivera that our fans should too.

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