This season the NFL is celebrating 100 years. In Charlotte, N.C, there is another celebration taking place as the Carolina Panthers celebrate 25 years in the NFL. The Panthers have a lot to look back on.
The history of the Carolina Panthers dates back to July 16, 1987 when former NFL player and businessman Jerry Richardson met with interested parties to enter Charlotte in a multi-city competition for two NFL teams. Four months later, Richardson announced that Charlotte had entered the bid. While it took six years to get the necessary approval and voting from NFL owners, Richardson’s patience paid off. On Oct. 29, 1993, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue awarded the city of Charlotte an NFL team and thus the Carolina Panthers were born.
Two years later, the Panthers, under the leadership of Head Coach Dom Capers, Quarterback Kerry Collins and Linebacker Sam Mills, made their NFL debut. But like all expansion teams, things got off to a rough start when the team lost their first five games. It appeared the team was looking at an 0-6 start when they trailed the New York Jets 12-6 with 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter. However, the game turned when Mills intercepted a Bubby Brister pass and returned it 36-yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 13-12 lead at halftime. The Panthers went on to outscore the Jets 13-3 in the second half to win the first game in team history, 26-15. The Panthers finished the 1995 season with a 7-9 record. The next season was even better as the Panthers went 12-4, winning the NFC West and making the playoffs for the first time. They upset defending Super Bowl Champions the Dallas Cowboys, 29-17, advancing to the NFC Championship Game where they fell 30-13 to the eventual Super Bowl Champions, Green Bay Packers. Despite the shortcoming, Carolina was pleased with the progress. In eight years, the city of Charlotte had gone from no football team to nearly having one in the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the team would miss the playoffs the next seven years following the 1996 season. The low point came in 2001 when the team won its season opener, a 24-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings, only to lose 15 straight to end the year with a 1-15 record. Looking for a new leader, Richardson fired George Seifert who had previously replaced Capers when he was fired following a 4-12 mark in 1998 and hired John Fox. Fox’s first season was an improvement as Carolina won seven games, but not enough to end the Panthers playoff drought. Things changed the following season when they signed quarterback Jake Delhomme from the New Orleans Saints in 2003. Thanks to his leadership and the emergence of wide receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers went 11-5 and returned to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. This season was highlighted by a 29-23 double-overtime victory over the St. Louis Rams en route to their first Super Bowl where they fell to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 32-29. The Panthers would reach the playoffs two more times during the Fox era. Once in 2005, when Smith won the triple crown on the way to an 11-5 mark and another trip to the NFC Championship Game, a 34-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and again in 2008. The 2008 run marked the debut of Double Trouble, running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, who combined for 2351 yards rushings as the Panthers went 12-4 and won the NFC South for the second time in franchise history.
After falling 33-13 to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 divisional playoffs, the Panthers would experience a five-year playoff drought, including a disastrous 2-14 campaign in 2010 which marked the departure of Fox and the beginning of the Cam Newton and Ron Rivera era in Charlotte. Their first two seasons were frustrating, but they turned it around in 2013 when Newton and Rivera guided the Panthers to a 12-4 mark and a return to the playoffs. It marked the first of four playoffs appearances for the Panthers under Rivera and Newton, including a 15-1 season in 201, which saw Newton win league MVP honors amidst the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance where they fell to the Denver Broncos, 24-10.
Currently, the Panthers are in their second year under the ownership of David Tepper who replaced Richardson following the 2017 season. His goal is to bring the franchise and its fan base their first-ever Super Bowl title.
The Carolina Panthers’ upcoming opponent is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like the Panthers, the Jaguars come in with a 2-2 record and entered the NFL in 1993. The series is tied at three apiece with the Panthers winning the last two games, including a 20-9 win at Jacksonville in Week One of 2015. This game will be the first home start for quarterback Kyle Allen. An undrafted free agent in 2018 from the University of Houston, Allen has done an excellent job filling in for Newton, who has been sidelined with a foot injury, going 2-0 as a starter, throwing 4 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Another key player to watch for is rookie linebacker, Brian Burns. A first-round pick out of Florida State, Burns has made an immediate impact for the Panthers, recording two and a half sacks and winning Rookie of the Month honors. Burns looks to build on his success this Sunday against the Jaguars.
This Sunday, the Panthers will induct four players into their Hall of Honor.
Jake Delhomme: Quarterback, 2003-09
On March 5, 2003, the Panthers made a decision that changed the course of the franchise when they signed free-agent quarterback Jake Delhomme from the New Orleans Saints. That season, Delhomme guided the Panthers to their first playoff berth in seven years with an 11-5 record culminating the franchises first-ever Super Bowl appearance. Born on Jan. 10, 1975 in Breaux Bridge, L.A, Delhomme would go onto play seven seasons with the Panthers, leading them to the playoffs three times and to two NFC Championship games. Delhomme set then franchise records in touchdown passes (117), wins (58) and game-winning drives (22). After being released by the Panthers in 2010, Delhomme would split time with the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans before retiring following the 2011 season. Currently, Delhomme provides color commentary on the Panthers radio network. He also spends the offseason in Breaux Bridge with his wife Keri Melancon and daughters Lauren and Lindsay.
Steve Smith Sr.: Wide receiver/return specialist, 2001-13
When the Panthers drafted Steve Smith out of the University of Utah, No. 74 overall in round three of the 2001 draft, the franchise had no idea he’d be a future Hall-of-Famer. Smith was born on May 12, 1979 in Los Angeles, Calif. and made an impact starting with his first touch in the NFL. He returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in a 24-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The legend grew as Smith set franchise records in receptions (836), receiving yards (12,197) and touchdowns (67). He also recorded five 1,000-yard seasons, was selected to five Pro Bowls and helped lead the Panthers to five playoff appearances. He also scored the game-winning touchdown in the 2003 NFC Divisional playoffs against the St. Louis Rams. Smith’s best year came in 2005, becoming the only wide receiver in NFL history to win the triple-crown; leading the league in receptions (103), yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12). He brought the Panthers back to the NFC Championship Game. Smith played three additional seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in 2016. Today, Smith can be seen commentating on NFL Network. He also lives in Charlotte with his wife Angie (married in 2000) and their four children Peyton, Baylee, Boston and Steve Jr.
Wesley Walls: Tight end, 1996-2002
Prior to joining the Carolina Panthers in 1996, Wesley Walls played six seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. Walls caught a total of 106 passes and nine touchdowns. In his first season with the Panthers, Walls went from unknown to a red zone weapon, catching 61 passes for 713 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned the first of five trips to the Pro Bowl in seven seasons. Walls’ efforts helped the Panthers reach the playoffs for the first time where he caught the first postseason touchdown in franchise history in a 29-17 upset over the Dallas Cowboys. Walls finished with 324 receptions, 3,902 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns in Carolina before being released after the 2002 season. He played one more season with Green Bay Packers in 2003 before retiring. Born on Feb. 26, 1966 in Batesville, Miss., Walls now lives in Charlotte with his wife Christy and son Colton. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Jordan Gross: Offensive Tackle, 2003-13
When you are ranked the number one offensive tackle by Sports Illustrated, you are expected to make it big in the NFL. Jordan Gross lived up to that billing from the day he was drafted eighth overall of the University of Utah in 2003, helping the team to reach the Super Bowl in his rookie season. During his 10-year career with the Panthers, Gross would play in 167 games, earn three Pro Bowl nods, one All-Pro and help guide the Panthers to the playoffs four times. Without his efforts, Delhomme and Newton wouldn't have been protected and find open receivers like Mushin Muhammad or Smith or open running lanes for DeAneglo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. After retiring following the 2013 season, Gross joined the Panthers radio and television broadcast teams serving as the sideline reporter before stepping into the broadcast booth in 2019. Born on July 20, 1980 in Nampa, Idaho, Gross currently lives in Fruitland with his wife Dana and their three children Teddy, Rainey and Boone.