FOR THE PANTHERS: STAFF WRITER CHASE SQUIRES
When I think of the Carolina Panthers, I think of a glorious season and a time when all was right with the world.
I had season tickets for the team's first year of existance, 1995, when the Cats borrowed Clemson University's stadium and played in a little town set back far from the interstate highway. My wife and I would drive the back way in her 1986 T-bird, down Highway 11, through the South Carolina foothills. The sun was always shining, the leaves were always changing and there was a lady who sold quilts from a shack alongside the road.
The team wasn't very good, but the boys did win a few here and there. It didn't much matter when they lost, and every win was a gift.
We parked on the grass close to Memorial Stadium and pretty much picked out whatever seat we wanted inside the half-full stadium. We cheered when we made a first down.
Before every game, we all stood together as neophyte professional football fans, and in jubilant innocence we sang the team's fight song.
Yes, the Carolina Panthers have a fight song.
I can sing both verses.
"Stand and cheer for the Panthers, stand and cheer for the team, the pride of both Carolinas, and the City of Queen, Car-o-lina!"
After a rousing chorus, we slide into a stirring march:
"From the mountains, to the ocean, Carolina, Carolina, best of 'em all. From the end zone, to the end zone, Carolina, Carolina, carry the ball!"
Brings a tear to your eye, don't it?
Ladies in the Carolinas wear fancy sweat shirts decorated with appliques to the game.
Men wear hulking college rings, brightly colored sweaters and drive custom vans decorated in their college team's colors. They still remember that running back Union High School had back in '58. Man, he could run.
The weather was mild. The tailgate parties were jovial.
Oh, I've been to New England Patriots games, too. In the old stadium. In the cold.
Fans shivered on aluminum benches, chilled to a butt-numbing level by the sub-zero temperature.
As far as I remember, the Patriots' fight song is: "Sit the $% down, you % or I'll % your % head and stuff it up your !"
Which is okay. Because from what I've gathered by attending Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, the Bucs' fight song is: "I've been drinking since 10 a.m., hold my beer, I think I'm going to puke again . . . Hey, let's fight!"
Actually, a quick search of the Internet did lead me to one New England Patriots fight song created just for this year's Super Bowl. You'll think I invented this, but I didn't.
It's a heavy metal song called: "Kill the Panthers."
Over the electric guitar, I picked up some of the lyrics:
"Pick 'em up, throw 'em down, put their faces in the ground," and "Skin the cats! Skin the cats! Skin the cats! Skin the cats . . . (repeat that for a while longer, and then) . . . Kill the Panthers, kill the Panthers, kill the Panthers . . ."
Nothing like those Panthers fans, back in 1995.
Of course, good things don't last forever.
The next year, the team moved to the big city, Charlotte, N.C., and a new stadium named for a Swedish cell phone company.
Ownership demanded fans buy expensive "seat licenses" before they could purchase season tickets, and I couldn't afford either. Beer prices went through the roof. And the Cats won 12 games en route to the NFC championship game.
Somewhere along the way, they stopped playing the fight song before the games.
But before kickoff Sunday, I'll raise my voice, in honor of that inaugural season.
"Oh, nothin' could be finer, than to be in Carolina, for a Carolina Panther football game . . . Car-o-lina!"