On October 26, 1993 a big firework lit the sky over Charlotte. On this day, the NFL decided that the 29th team in the NFL – the Carolina Panthers – would play in North Carolina. For the former professional football player Jerry Richardson – he played as a wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts – the dream of owning a team came true.
The dream began in July 1987 when Richardson and a handful of other business people from North and South Carolina teamed up with the goal to get one of the two new NFL teams to the Southern States. The chances did not seem bad because on the NFL map a hole gaped between Atlanta and Washington. Initially the new group had to put most effort into finding a suitable home town for the team. Should it be located in North Carolina or in South Carolina? Finally, in December 1989, they agreed to Charlotte, a city in North Carolina, but not far from the border of the neighboring state.
The support for the new team was overwhelming, stretched across state and party lines: The Senators Jesse Helmes (Republican, North Carolina) and Ernest Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina) lobbied together for a team in their home region and the fans flocked to two demonstration games.
In early 1992, the list of the eleven candidate cities was first reduced to seven, then to five: Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Jacksonville and Charlotte. The decision was obviously difficult for the NFL team owners: they postponed the decision. And the promoters knew to take advantage of the additonal time: They presented the newly planned stadium and started the ticket sales. Within a day, all suites and season subscriptions were sold out. This impressed the NFL owners clearly and so on 26 October 1993 they decided that the 29 NFL team should be based in Charlotte.
Before their first season, the Carolina Panthers formed a team of mostly experienced NFL players and so they proved to be a quick starter when they joined the NFL: They won their first game, the “Hall of Fame” game against the second expansion team, the Jacksonville Jaguars with 20:14. In their first season, they also set a new record for an expansion team with a record of seven wins and nine defeats and all games were followed by a lot of Carolina Panthers fans. And so it went on: In their second year they won their division and were able to reach the NFC Championship game.
After that, however, a long dry spell followed: Relying on veterans in the first few years left behind traces: New, unused forces had a hard time. The Panthers reached their low point in 2001 when they lost all of the following 15 games after a win in the season opener, an NFL record as well. But the Carolina Panthers did not give up: Only two years later they play in the Super Bowl for the first time, under their new head coach John Fox, however, they were defeated by the New England Patriots.