I remember it like it was yesterday.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: the Carolina Panthers against the New England Patriots. The proverbial David versus Goliath matchup, pitting the upstart NFC South Champions against the dominant former Super Bowl champs.
Except this time, David’s slingshot didn’t quite get the job done, with the Panthers falling 32-29 on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
That loss was heart-wrenching. As a 13-year-old boy, I recall the tears coming to my eyes as I watched the final seconds tick away, wishing my Cardiac Cats could have just one last opportunity. Alas, it was not to be.
Later, as I reflected upon the amazing season that my favorite professional football team had provided me with, I began to realize that we would always be remembered for the exploits of then first-year starting quarterback Jake Delhomme; the amazing catches by the “Little Playmaker,” Steve Smith; our dominating defense; and our exciting comebacks.
There was so much more to that team, which won not always by sheer talent, but because of its selfless approach and never-say-die attitude. More than I could discuss in one article, that’s for sure.
But the same feeling that I had back then is the same feeling that I had as I watched the 2011 version of the Panthers: undying enthusiasm. As the final game came to an end, I again found myself wishing the season could last forever. Once again, it was not to be.
However, in my opinion, all you have to do is look back at that ’04 team to realize that special things can happen when you develop a winning mentality. You may seem under matched at times, with an inexperienced quarterback (Cam Newton in ’11 and Delhomme in ’04), an aging wide receiver (Smith in ’11 and Muhsin Muhammad in ’04), and an unproven head coach (Ron Rivera in ’11 and John Fox in ’04), but if you believe in yourself, you can go a long way.
This year, the Panthers believed, fighting to the bitter end of every game, win or lose.
And for the first time in a long time, their fans began to believe again. They saw that while their team was often an underdog, it was capable of pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes at any given time.
That, to me, is why everyone had better watch out for the “Black and Blue Attack” in years to come.
The Lombardi Trophy is coming to the Queen City one day soon, you mark my words.