GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – For football fans in eastern Carolina, the Carolina Panthers run to the Super Bowl has them feeling even more proud to be from North Carolina.
In fact, Panthers pride is at an all-time high!
The best record in the NFL, the dab, and keep pounding. It’s all a welcome sight for fans there from the very beginning.
“I remember the Steve Smith, St. Louis Rams game, you know when he went down the middle,” said Brian Paiz. He’s one of those fans down since the start. In fact, his love for the Panthers started as a student at East Carolina. “I remember the night they announced the team. I was a freshman in college when they announced it. I was in Belk dorm and they announced Carolina was going to get a team. We were really excited.”
Twenty-two years later and the Panthers are set to play in their second ever Super Bowl. Not bad for a franchise less than a quarter century old. Especially when you consider some teams have played since World War II without even sniffing a championship. Yes, I’m looking at you Cleveland Browns.
“It still really hasn’t sunk in until you start watching TV every day and seeing the coverage and things like that,” said Paiz. “I think everybody will be ready for that game on the 7th.”
But it’s not just about being a fan for Paiz. The more successful the Panthers are, the better it is for business.
“You can see it statewide, even in South Carolina. And it’s gonna shine a light back on the team, and that’s a good thing,” said Paiz, who goes by B-Paiz on Pirate Radio 1250 and 930 AM. The Panthers run this season is always a popular topic on the air. “I think it brings a pride to both states; North Carolina and South Carolina. Also, I think you have to look at the economic factor for what this team is going to do; how much economy that Sunday is going to bring around here. That’s a good thing.”
Pride in sports teams runs deep in the east. And nowhere is that more evident than at East Carolina. Pirate fans fill Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium every Saturday in the fall to cheer on their team. And on Sundays, many of those fans are also Panthers fans. But that hasn’t always been the case. With Carolina’s recent success, there seems there’s more Panthers fans than ever. We have to describe those fans using the b-word – bandwagon.”
“So you got the Panthers hat on, but are you really a Panthers fan,” 9 On Your Side asked Gilbert Malone.
“No, I’m not. Not really,” he answered. “I’m just rooting for them because it’s my hometown and I know Cam gonna get it done.”
“A lot of people jumping on the bandwagon, but is that alright because it’s bringing a lot of pride to the state,” 9 On Your Side asked.
“As long as they’re representing North Carolina, let them hop on,” said Malone.
“So the fact that you don’t know who the quarterback was ten years ago, it doesn’t matter, you’re still gonna pull for them,” asked 9 On Your Side.
“Jake Delhomme,” he answered.
“You know it, you know it,” said 9 On Your Side.
‘Yeah, a little bit,” Malone said.
So yeah, the Panthers bandwagon is getting pretty full. And that includes some fans who cheered for other teams before the Panthers came into existence.
“Since they have been doing well and playing good ball, yeah I’m a Panthers fan now,” said Donald West King, Panthers fan from Kinston. “I used to be Cowboys.”
“‘How long you been a Panthers fan,” asked 9 On Your Side.
“Oh, eight or nine years,” answered Harry Hart, Panthers fan from Grifton.
“So it wasn’t right from the get go when they started, it took you a while to warm up,” asked 9 On Your Side.
“Oh no, no,” he answered. “But, you know, they’re having a good year this year. It’s mighty good and I hope they win it. Because they ain’t never won it before.”
Still, there’s some in the east who won’t change their allegiance. That’s me, a lifelong Redskins fan at a game last season.
Panthers fan or not, it’s hard not to be excited about all the attention North Carolina is getting.
“North Carolina has always been on the map for tobacco. And tobacco road. And now the Panthers step up and take the road. It’s great, it’s great,” said Kenneth Barkley, Panthers fan.