These Cinderellas are trying to get back to the ball
The Carolina Panthers broke the mold of NFL
expansion teams that take an incredible amount of time to start
winning. In the ‘96 season, which was their second year
of existence, the Panthers finished with a 12-4 record, won the
NFC West, and not only earned a playoff berth but first round
bye also. In their first playoff game in franchise history they
matched up against “America’s Team” the Dallas
Cowboys. The Panthers dismissed the defending champions with a
score of 26-17 and ended the Dallas Cowboy dynasty of the ‘90s.
Other than that magical ’96 season where the team played
at the highest level the team hadn’t enjoyed any other success.
From ’97-’02 the team only finished at 8-8 once and
every other year they were worse until the ’03 season came
around. Second year coach John Fox landed running back Stephen
Davis in free agency and he was ready to take the league by storm.
The ’03 Panthers took a great deal after the ’00
Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers played smash mouth football in
every sense of the word. They ran the ball 35 times a game and
the defense would bust guys in the mouth. Taking the game, back
to its roots, the Panthers dominated opponents and out huslted
oppenents time after time in exciting, close games, making a
Panthers ticket to Bank
of America Stadium one of the hottest bills around. Their
defensive line was heads and shoulders above the rest of the league
and could control the game with their play. The team finished
the season with an 11-5 record and won their second NFC West title.
In the first round they came up against none other than the Dallas
Cowboys. The Cowboys had just returned themselves to respectability
and were obviously out matched by Carolina. The Panthers just
showed the Cowboys they needed a lot more work done on their team
and demolished them 29-10. In the second round they faced off
against the Rams in a barnburner. The game went into double overtime
and ended on a 69 yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Steve
Smith. In the conference championship the Panthers defense made
the Eagles look silly. Philadelphia only managed to put three
points on the board in a 14-3 loss. The play that epitomized the
entire Panthers type of play came on a DeShaun Foster goal line
touchdown run. Foster shed 5 Eagle defenders and was almost down
once before he let out another burst and made his way into the
endzone. The Super Bowl was one to be remembered. Everyone picked
the New England Patriots to dominate the game and counted out
the Panthers due to their lack of offense. The Panthers showed
they could put points on the board and move the ball during the
game. Quarterback Jake Delhomme passed for 323 yards and three
touchdowns in a losing effort. The game ended when Patriot kicker
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 41 yard field goal as time expired to
put the Patriots up 32-29. The game became an instant classic
and will be talked about for generations.
In the off-season the Panthers had to make sure they made improvements
to their team because as a great man once said, “If you
ain’t gettin’ better then your getting’ worse.”
The team brought in guard Adam Meadows, defensive end Jessie Armstead,
and linebacker Brandon Short. Meadows is an upgrade from Jeno
James and Armstead and Short will give depth to an already strong
Panthers’ front seven.
In the draft the Panthers filled the holes that needed filling. They filled the
need at cornerback by drafting Ohio State standout athlete Chris Gamble and added
depth at wide receiver by drafting Southern California wide out Keary Colbert.
The Panthers offense wasn’t quite as bad as most people think. They wouldn’t
put up the same numbers the Rams of yesteryear would put up but they did enough
to win games. The team finished 16th in total offense but had the 7th best rushing
offense. The offense is lead by Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis and quarterback
The defense is what won the Panthers games in ’03. They
held opponents to 14 points or under on seven separate occasions
last season, including only giving up a field goal to the Eagles
in the NFC championship game. They’re lead by arguably the
best defensive lineman in the NFL, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.
Teams would game plan around him and it would open it up for other
defenders to get in on tackles.
All Images, Content
and Design © 2004