NFL - NFC SOUTH
2021-2022 TEAM LEADERS
After the expansion of 1976, which saw the NFL go to 28 teams, there was a lull in growing the league. In the 60s, pro football added the Cowboys, Vikings, Falcons, Dolphins, Saints, and Bengals and merged the AFL and NFL. As part of that merger agreement, two more teams were added in the 70s, the Buccaneers and Seahawks.
Even though the NFL didn’t do any expanding in the 1980s, future Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was plotting a course of action to bring football to the Carolinas. Charlotte had just received an expansion NBA team, and Richardson, with the help of local politicians, was making plans to build a stadium.
When the NFL announced in 1992 that it was going to expand and that it had narrowed the list of potential locations down to five, Carolina was already ahead of the game. Beating out St. Louis (who got the Rams in 1995), Baltimore (which would get the Ravens in 1996) , and Memphis (who briefly got the Oilers in 1996 before they moved on to Nashville), the two chosen expansion locations were Charlotte and Jacksonville.
Dom Capers was hired as the Panthers’ first head coach, wide receiver Rod Smith was the first selection in the expansion draft, and Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins was the team’s first-ever draft pick.
Previous expansion teams did not have the luxury of free agency, so they were left with mostly castoffs. But the Panthers had no such limitations, and it showed on the field.
Championships by the Carolina Panthers
When the Buccaneers and Seahawks entered the NFL, expansion teams were doormats. In their first two years in existence, they combined to go 9-47. In contrast, the Panthers were 7-9 in their first year in the league, and by year two, they were 12-4 and playing for the NFC Championship.
Carolina lost to Brett Favre and the Packers, but the future had been determined. It was not a case of if, but when the Panthers would find themselves in a Super Bowl.
2003 NFC Championship
It took six years, two coaching changes, and five starting quarterbacks for Carolina to finally get the formula right, but in 2003 it all came together. They finished first in the NFC South, and then won three straight playoff games to get to the Super Bowl: 29-10 over Dallas, 29-23 against St. Louis, and 14-3 in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. The defense recorded four sacks, got four interceptions – including three by Ricky Manning – and the Panthers were in the Super Bowl.
And if not for a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri, they may have won that Super Bowl too.
2015 NFC Championship
The 2015 Panthers were easily the best team in franchise history and one of the best in NFL history. Quarterback Cam Newton was the league’s MVP, Carolina scored a league-high 500 points that season, and the defense ranked sixth in the NFL.
The 15-1 Panthers beat the Seahawks in the divisional round and then demolished the Cardinals for the NFC Championship, 49-15. Newton accounted for 382 yards of offense and four touchdowns.
In the Super Bowl, however, they ran into an even better defense, and lost to the Broncos 24-10.
Key Stats by the Carolina Panthers
Along with their two NFC Championship Game victories, the Panthers have been runners-up in the NFC twice. In 1996, in just their second season, they lost to the Packers in the NFCCG. They also made it that far in 2006, but lost to Shaun Alexander and the Seahawks.
The Panthers have won their division six times, including 1996 when they were a member of the NFC West, and in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2014, and 2015 as a member of the NFC South.
The Panthers have been in the postseason a total of eight times in their history.
There were three previous professional football teams in the Carolinas prior to the Panthers. The Charlotte Bantams played in the 1930s, the Charlotte Clippers were a minor league team in the 1940s, and the Charlotte Hornets played in the World Football League for two seasons in the 1970s.
Top Players in Carolina Panthers History
The Panthers don’t have any primary members of their team in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kevin Greene was an NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Carolina, but only three of his 14 seasons were spent with the team.
Reggie White also played with the Panthers before retirement, but that was just for one season.
At some point, Steve Smith should get into the Hall of Fame as the best Panther of all time and one of the great wide receivers of the 2000s. Smith was a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-Team All-Pro, and retired from the NFL with 1,031 receptions and 14,731 yards. He was put into the Panthers Hall of Honor in 2019.
Sam Mills may not have a Hall of Fame resume, but he was one of the most popular players to ever play in Carolina. He was a five-time Pro Bowler by the end of his career, he’s a member of the Panthers Hall of Honor and the Saints Hall of Fame, and he coached for the Panthers for seven seasons after his playing days were over.
Top Coaches in Carolina Panthers History
The Panthers have a short history, and have never won a Super Bowl, but they’ve been blessed with a series of good coaches throughout their history.
Their first coach, Dom Capers, was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1996 when he took the second-year team all the way to the NFC Championship Game. He later won a Super Bowl as the Packers’ defensive coordinator.
John Fox was the head coach when the Panthers made their first Super Bowl appearance, winning the NFC just two years after the Panthers were 1-15. Fox won 81 games in Carolina and twice won the NFC South.
Ron Rivera is the winningest coach in team history and was on the sidelines when Carolina made its second Super Bowl appearance. With the Panthers he was twice named NFL Coach of the Year.
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