“Keep Pounding.” – Sam Mills
|Nuts and Bolts
Prestige: 3 stars
1 Super Bowl appearance
3 NFC Championships
3 NFC South titles
6 playoff appearances in 20 seasons
Established in 1994, based in Charlotte, NC
Owner: Jerry Richardson
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Play in the National Football Conference – South Division
Play at Bank of America Stadium
Squeaked into the playoffs, won the NFC South at 7-8-1
Expectations this year:
In great position to compete for a third straight NFC South title
The Carolina Panthers were the NFL’s 29th franchise and came into existence in 1994. For most of their existence they’ve established themselves as a scrappy underdog that plays a pounding style of football with a strong defense and ground game. The Panthers win games you don’t expect them to, but have historically shrunk when the spotlight became too bright. In the team’s 2003 run to the Super Bowl, they earned the nickname “Cardiac Cats” for their penchant to win games in heart-stopping fashion, but ultimately fell just short of a championship.
In 2011, however, the team drafted star quarterback Cam Newton #1 overall. Newton became arguably the first ever franchise quarterback for the Panthers and the one whom the organization and fans hoped could lead the team to a consistent winning culture. Coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances, fans in the Carolinas are optimistic the team is ready to step into the conversation as one of the NFL’s top teams.
|The latest news from Primer
Note this section would be whatever news we have most recently covered on Primer that has been tagged #Panthers.
STORYLINES TO KNOW
One of the first things you realize about Cam Newton (#1) is that the man is a lightning rod for attention. Before the 2011 draft, Newton said in an interview that he saw himself as not just a quarterback, but “an entertainer and an icon.” That didn’t sit well among a lot of people, but Newton’s words proved to be prophetic. He burst onto the scene his rookie season, throwing for over 400 yards in each of his first two games. Newton became the first rookie quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards, while adding 700 yards on the ground and setting the record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14. His 35 total touchdowns were also the most ever by a rookie player.
However, Newton is still often left out of discussions about the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. The Heisman trophy winner from Auburn has not experienced as much immediate NFL success in terms of wins as other young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson. Newton was also seen as immature because of his pouty responses following losses during his first two seasons in Carolina.
But as Newton has matured and elevated his game, the team has improved. The Panthers won 12 games in 2013 and were the #2 seed in the NFC. This season, although the Panthers finished with a losing record, the team won the division for the second year in the row, the first time an NFC South team had ever accomplished that feat, and won its first playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. Which brings us to…
The Upcoming Season.
The Panthers have never in their history had back-to-back winning seasons. While the Panthers couldn’t get that particular monkey off their back last season, finishing 7-8-1, they did knock a few others off by making it to the playoffs for the second year in a row, getting Cam Newton’s first playoff win, and becoming the first NFC South team since realignment in 2002 to win the division in consecutive years.
This season, Carolina seems primed to make it three in a row. The team bolstered the offensive line in free agency by adding Michael Oher (#72), known for being the subject of the Oscar-nominated film The Blind Side. With the other teams in the division in turmoil, the team can feel confident that they are in the driver’s seat in the NFC South.
PLAYERS TO KNOW
Franchise leaders on both offense and defense
As the franchise quarterback, Cam Newton is the best player on the Panthers offense and a transcendent talent who makes wow plays a couple times a game with both his arms and his legs. As long as he is playing, the team will always have a chance to win. Newton is joined by equally talented middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (#59). Kuechly has established himself as the best linebacker in football in only three short seasons. Drafted #9 overall out of Boston College in 2012, Kuechly led the entire league in tackles his rookie season. He became the youngest ever recipient of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award the following season, then again led the league in tackles last season. He’s the captain of the fearsome Panthers defense and elevates the play of everyone around him.
Building Blocks on Offense
Tight end Greg Olsen (#88) came to Carolina from the Chicago Bears in possibly the best trade in franchise history. Olsen is a reliable target with sure hands that can also serve as a mismatch with his speed and size. Last season, he finished with a career-high 1008 yards and six touchdowns. He teamed up with rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (#13) to give the Panthers their first 1000 yard receiving duo since 1999.
Benjamin, the team’s first round selection out of Florida State, turned in a fabulous rookie season. Standing at 6’5”, 240 pounds, he acted as a huge target for Newton in the redzone and had several crazy catches throughout the season. He finished with 1008 yards, like Olsen, and added 9 touchdowns. Although he struggled with drops and inconsistency, he showed improvement throughout the year and will likely be a favorite target of Newton going forward.
Despite getting two receivers to 1000 yards, the foundation of the Panthers offense is the ground attack. Running back Jonathan Stewart (#28) was a former first round draft pick and formed the second half of the Double Trouble rushing duo with former Panther De’Angelo Williams. The duo broke up because of injuries and financial concerns, but Stewart played at a high level at the end of the season. If he can stay healthy, he could live up to the talent many saw when he was drafted in 2008.
Keep Pounding – This phrase is sewn into the collar of every single Panthers’ jersey and holds great meaning. Before the Carolina Panthers Super Bowl season in 2003, former linebacker Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and given only a few months to live. He didn’t miss a game that season and didn’t pass away until 2005. This phrase originated from a speech he told the team before their victory in the wildcard round against the Dallas Cowboys.
“When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do — quit or keep pounding. I’m a fighter. I kept pounding. You’re fighters, too. Keep pounding!”
This phrase has come to embody everything the Panthers organization stands for and their mentality both on and off the field. The team started a foundation in Mills’ honor with the slogan to raise money to find the cure for cancer. Since its inception, it has raise more than $1.4 million dollars.
Sam Mills – The originator of the motto “Keep Pounding,” Mills was a linebacker who played only three seasons for the team, but made a huge impact. Mills started every game for those three seasons, made the Pro Bowl in 1996, and had an interception returned for a touchdown in 1995 that sealed the Panthers’ first ever win. Mills continued to coach the linebackers until his death of cancer in 2005. He is currently the only player in the Panthers’ Ring of Honor, and has a bronze statue of himself outside of the stadium.
Steve Smith – At only 5’9”, a lot of people thought Smith was too small to make an impact in the NFL. But Smith has carried that chip on his shoulder his entire career as motivation. He’s the most competitive receiver in the NFL and only the third receiver to ever attain the Triple Crown of receiving (yards, receptions, touchdowns). His greatest asset is his biggest flaw, though. His fieriness has boiled over at times, leading to fights with both opponents and teammates. However, he’s still perhaps the best player to ever wear the Panthers uniform.
Julius Peppers – Peppers was the #2 overall draft pick out of North Carolina in 2002 and was a cornerstone on the defense that carried the team to the Super Bowl the following season. The 6’7”, 290 pound defensive end has freakish athleticism; he played basketball on UNC’s Final Four team in 2000 and has the second most interceptions for a defensive lineman in NFL history. While Peppers will likely be the first Carolina Panther to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, he earned the nickname “Judas” Peppers with fans because he spurned the Panthers to go to Chicago.