Monday morning I left a rainy Dallas and arrived in a rainy Charlotte at noon. My friend Kim picked me up at the airport and promised me “it never rains like this” and that it would clear up around 7, just in time for the Panthers game. I’ve known Kim since high school and our friendship is largely built on going to Indians games when the Yankees are in town. She’s maybe the only Tribe fan I don’t just tolerate, but I actually like and respect. That’s quite the honor, IMHO. As game time approached we got ready and headed downtown, I mean uptown. Charlotte calls its city center uptown because it’s on a hill. Honestly, it was so foggy and raining, I couldn’t see anything, so cannot confirm nor deny said hill. We’ll have to trust them on that.
Bank of America is right off the freeway and Kim dropped me off before heading to the hotel we were staying in that night. I was in a bit of a hurry to meet my team contact, Steven for this game at 5:30 pm in the press box. It was just after 5 and I walked quickly to will call, but had to stop to take some pictures with the panther statues that adorned the entrances to the stadium. Best statues at a stadium award goes to the Carolina Panthers- those kitties are fierce! Their sassiness was contagious and I could feel a little pep in my step as I headed up to the press box. This was the friendliest press box I’ve visited during my trips. People were polite and there wasn’t any air of self-importance that sometimes hangs above the “little people” like me. After meeting with Steven, I headed back out of the stadium to see what the tailgate scene was like. I was on the side of the stadium near the freeway and I found a bar that was hoppin’ and the Panthers Lair, but that was dead. There were lots of areas around the stadium for fans to hang out in, but I think the weather was keeping people from getting there early. It was starting to rain heavily, so I threw my new kitty ears hat that I had bought for this game on and headed back into the stadium.
This is one of the older NFL stadiums and the outer concourse is separated from the lower bowl that goes completely around. The main concourse was showing its age a bit, but it was still fairly wide and there were concessions along the stands side and bars/ fan activities along the outer wall. I wonder what about the 90s made stadiums “dress up” their concourse ceilings with drapes, but this seems to be a recurring trend. I like turquoise, so anytime you can add it in is fine with me! That was another thing I like about the Panthers- their colors, oh and they have four Buckeyes that start. There were a lot of things drawing me to this team. I decided to go see those Buckeyes warm up and walked through a section entrance to the small aisle that surrounded the main level seats.
Kim had texted me she had gotten a field pass so I looked for five Buckeyes… six if you count Jack Mewhort who plays for the Colts. It was a college reunion of sorts, though the players had no idea Kim and I existed. Kim later told me she O-H-I-O’ed with Ted Ginn, so he knew about one of us. The ushers were strict with only letting people down near the field with actual tickets. I asked politely if I could go down to take a picture and the usher agreed as long as I promised to come back. While I waited for her to come over by me, I surveyed the stadium and noticed there wasn’t any standing room. This stadium was built with the intention of keeping people in their proper seats. I took a few pictures of Kim and we joked how “big time” she was before I returned back up to the aisle. Not wanting to break the usher’s trust, I made sure to stop and thank him for letting me down for a few minutes.
I circled around the inside of the stadium and the rain was starting to come down harder. What happened to 7 pm, Kim?! I decided to head back into the concourse to stay dry and explore the upper levels. Clubs and suites levels were blocked off (no surprise) and I rode an escalator to the top concourse which was half covered, half open. I sucked up standing in the rain to look out of the stadium and could see the crowds of fans trying to get in. It looked like a mess out there. When I went back to the field, some pre-game entertainment had started with a local preacher (mic’ed up) giving a prayer. I didn’t have a problem with it, it’s nice to pray for everyone, but I’ve never seen that done at a sporting event in my life. Welcome to North Carolina! After his short prayer a band started to play and eventually the cheerleaders, the Top Cats came out and did some basic kicks (sorry girls, I saw the Cowboys Cheerleaders the day before). I was like what the French is a Top Cat, then found out it’s the female version of a panther. That’ll come in handy for trivia. Do organizations take this stuff into consideration when they decide what to name their sports team?
I found an empty row of seats and stood in the pouring rain waiting for team introductions. The Panthers were announcing the starting offense this game and I was treated to not one, not two, but THREE Ohio State mentions (Andrew Norwell, Philly Brown, and Teddy Ginn). Please don’t punch me for all the OSU love, I can’t help it. Well I could, I just don’t want to. Jordin Sparks performed the anthem and it was phenomenal! That girl can sing. A lady behind me kept yelling, “b*tch sing it, kill it,” which seemed like an odd thing to yell during the national anthem, but hey it was entertaining and Jordin did both those things. After the anthem, a giant drum was brought out for the ceremonial banging to start the game. While the honored gentleman did this, the crowd yelled: “Keep Pounding.” That slogan wasn’t thought through, or they didn’t care that it could be taken as an innuendo. Perhaps the Panthers employees and fans are more mature than me.
The sky broke wide open and there was a torrential downpour for the opening kick. You’re a filthy liar Kim! I was asked to find my seat and I was more than happy to go down to the press box and watch from the comforts of climate control. Again when I do my hair, I’m not trying to get it messed up! It was real messed up, glad I had a hat. That’s why sideline reporters always wear hats during bad weather games. Your hair does crazy things with even slight precipitation. I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me and I’m blanking on his name, but did IT for the team and had family that lived in Ohio. He told me to get ready for the halftime meal, which would be BBQ and nachos. Yes, please! The nachos were ok, but the hot dogs- those were fantastic. I used to eat two or three in the press box before Ohio State games, but here I wanted people to think I was a lady and savored just one. Seriously how do they make them so delicious?!
Kim let me know that some of Dominic’s coworkers were leaving and I could have one of their tickets if I wanted to come down and watch the game with them. I said goodbye to my cushy press box life and met them at a bar in the concourse behind their section. They tried to lure me with beers, but I declined and adhered to my strict no drinking while at stadiums policy. It’s self-imposed and probably one of the smarter things I’ve decided to do while traveling around the country. Kim had a rain jacket and gave me her poncho to wear as it was still raining. The field was a mess and I wonder if the Colts were regretting wearing white because their uniforms were getting very dirty.
The way the game was going early on it looked like the Panthers would easily roll to 7-0, but the Colts came back in the fourth quarter and made it very interesting. I’m glad it ended up being close because it kept the fans in the stands and the energy remained high. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri hit a field goal sending the game into overtime and we were ecstatic- free football! The way the momentum was swinging I thought the Colts were going to win, but it was one of the more dramatic overtimes I’ve seen. Both teams hit field goals to send it to sudden death. Teddy Ginn had the game-winning touchdown in his hands but dropped it. OH NO! You thought I was going to leave that out, didn’t you? I’m fair and balanced over here. Not wanting Teddy to get blamed for the loss, we cheered extra hard and he did make up for it a little bit with a nice catch that extended the drive. The Panthers ended up nailing a field goal to end the game and extend their record to 7-0. I had become emotionally attached to Carolina during this game and was very invested in them winning by the end! We cheered and danced in celebration. It’s been fun to go to games on my own, I’m not shy and can strike up a conversation with anyone, but it was really nice to have friends with me to switch things up a bit.
Kim and Dominic headed to a bar and I promised to meet up with them after I was done meeting with Steven. I went up to the press box to charge my phone and wait for him to meet me. One guy came up to me and said I was the most chill person he’d seen following a game in the press box and I smiled and told him that’s because I wasn’t working. No deadline = very relaxed human being. For as much as I wanted to be a media member a few years ago, seeing them hard at work during games has solidified to me that I could never do that. They’re a special breed and I have a ton of respect for their work ethic and speed in which they get it all done… SEC speed if you buy such hype. Fingers were typing a mile a minute and I know they wished the game had ended in regulation. The reality of working in sports- late nights and weekends!
Steven came up and signed my witness log book and I was on my merry way. It was 1:30 am when I met back up with my friends at the bar for a victory drink. The bars closed very promptly at 2 and we had an after party in the hotel. By after party, I mean we ate snacks and talked about the game for an hour before they passed out. I was so sad when my alarm went off two hours later and I left for the airport. Charlotte, I couldn’t see you (fog prevented me from ever seeing the city), but the Panthers were fun to watch, so I’ll be back!
Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.
Special thank you to Steven for his time and assistance during my visit!