On October 26, 1993, NFL owners unanimously selected Carolina as the 29th NFL franchise and the first expansion team since 1976. Fireworks exploded over uptown Charlotte as jubilant fans gathered to celebrate the news. “This is a dream come true for me and my partners and for the 10 million people in the Carolinas,” said Carolina Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson, who became just the second former player to own an NFL team along with George Halas of the Chicago Bears.
The “dream” began on July 16, 1987 when Richardson met in Charlotte with a group of interested parties to discuss the feasibility of entering the multi-city competition for two NFL expansion franchises. On December 15, Richardson officially announced an NFL franchise bid for the Carolinas.
One of the first orders of business was to choose a stadium site. Locations in North and South Carolina were considered. On December 15, 1989, Richardson Sports selected a site in uptown Charlotte as the future home of a privately financed NFL stadium that would seat more than 70,000 fans.
Across the Carolinas, support for an NFL expansion team poured in at an unprecedented rate. U.S. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina lobbied NFL owners on the Carolinas behalf. Likewise, North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin and South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell formed a blue-ribbon committee of leading citizens in both states. Fans demonstrated their enthusiasm by selling out preseason games in Raleigh, NC in 1989, Chapel Hill, NC in 1990 and Columbia, SC in 1991.
At the League owners meeting on March 18, 1992, the NFL reduced the list of expansion candidate cities from eleven to seven with the Carolinas making the cut. Two months later, the NFL narrowed the list of expansion hopefuls to five communities – Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Jacksonville and the Carolinas.
However, on October 20, 1992, NFL owners decided to delay the expansion vote until the fall of 1993 because of a labor dispute between the League and the players. Fortunately, on January 6, 1993, the League and the players approved a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. On March 23, 1993, the expansion race officially resumed.
On June 3, Richardson Sports revealed its impressive plan to privately finance a 72,300-seat stadium from the sale of Permanent Seat Licenses, club seats and luxury boxes, beginning on July 1. A remarkable 15,000 pieces of mail from first-day orders were collected. By the end of the first day, all 8,314 club seats sold out and all 104 luxury suites were reserved and ultimately leased. First-day PSL orders totaled 41,632.
Finally, on October 26, 1993, NFL owners unanimously selected Carolina as the 29th NFL franchise.
The Carolina Panthers reached the NFC Championship game in only their second season with a record of 12 – 4 in the regular season. They lost to Green Bay in Wisconsin on a cold snowy afternoon to end their playoff hopes with a 1 – 1 record.
The Panthers struggled for many seasons, changing coaches twice during that time. Coach John Fox has given the Panthers new direction onto becoming a playoff contender. In 2004 Fox led the Panthers to an impressive 11 – 5 season, a playoff birth for the first time since 1996 and their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
The Panthers fell short of the NFL championship by only 3 points in a last minute field goal by the New England Patriots. But the Panthers came out of that game with a new perspective and a new strategy for success in the future. They are determined to return and win what they could not on February 1, 2004.
In 2005 the Panthers took the field with a quest in mind. In a hard fought season they finished 11 – 5 and clinched a Playoff spot in the NFC Wildcard. After Blowing out the NY Giants 23-0 and got payback against the Chicago Bears at home in a close 29-21 nail-biter. But the road to Super Bowl XL ended prematurely in Seattle as the Seahawks de-clawed the Panthers in a 34 -14 rout. The Panthers finished the Playoffs with a 2 – 1 record and an appearance in the Pro Bowl for Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith & Julius Peppers.
Once again the Panthers look into the future with a hope and passion for something they never had……Keep the dream alive!