By Ted Fleming
It won’t be a Happy Thanksgiving in Panthers Land this year. A 2-8 record will take the joy out of that holiday.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Head coach Ron Rivera and 2011 first overall pick Cam Newton were supposed to grow together as both came into the organization at about the same time. Coming off a two-win season, Rivera led the team to a 6-10 record with the help of Newton’s truckload of rookie records. Everyone said the future was now. Number one Panthers’ jerseys were flying off the racks, fan interest was beginning to peak and then 2012 happened.
For Panthers’ fans the promise of great things died by a thousand cuts delivered week in and week out by the opposition – a bunch of them self-inflicted. The agony that comes with losing six of their eight games by a touchdown or less is palpable, and it might have been easier to take if their heads were bashed in like the Manning brothers did to them in the other two defeats.
There were those fleeting moments, a pair of eight-point victories over the Saints and Redskins, but they both happened away from the friendly confines of Bank of America Stadium. That means the home crowd has not seen their team win since they stomped the once hapless Buccaneers into the turf last Christmas Eve. Thank goodness for the NFL rule that forces networks to televise team games into their home markets when playing on the road, otherwise those around the Charlotte area would be asking for double doses of Prozac from their physicians.
A season drags when your team is losing and there is little relief when there is only one other game to see on Sunday afternoons, especially when it is one of those dud matchups. It would not be surprising if subscriptions to DirecTV went up in the Carolinas so they could get the NFL Sunday Ticket for some of the more tastier games. At least the schedule makes didn’t force the Panthers on the masses on Thanksgiving like they did year in and year out when the Lions were imitating skunks.
Owner Jerry Richardson loves his team, loves the Carolinas (unless someone from California backs up a Brink’s Truck to his back door) and wants a winner more than anyone on the planet. He has tried any number of combinations at head coach and other positions of power in order to reach the big game, where the Panthers have been to once, losing a close one to the Patriots in in 2004.
Richardson is one of the good guys in professional sports and frankly, he deserves better than this. Rivera should not be fighting for his job and Newton should not have regressed. Ryan Kalil and Jon Beason and Chris Gamble and seven others should not have landed on injured reserve after Kalil thought enough of his team to predict the Panthers’ second try at the Lombardi Trophy. Losses by 6, 2, 4, 5, 1 and 6 should have been wins by at least those margins in a perfect world. Panthers’ fans should not be staying away from BofA Stadium as if they actually have something better to do on Sundays.
Alas, Thursday will not be a day of thanks for the Panthers’ owner, staff, players and their fans. If you do think there is something to celebrate, you need to have your head examined. But there is still Christmas where miracles have been known to happen, and New Year’s Day when we get to turn the page and try to forget what went so wrong the year before.
It is hoped that everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving Day with plenty of good food in the company of family and friends trying to fight off the effects of tryptophan to see the three games that will be televised in glorious high-definition. Come to think of it, Thursday will be a day of thanks after all.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.