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How the Panthers became one of my “other” teams

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I am a Bears fan, but over the years a variety of other NFL teams have become root-for-able. The Panthers — our next opponent — are one of my favorites.

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Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The pullover Starter Jacket had to be fresh. I don’t mean clean. I don’t mean new. It had to be those things as well. But I needed something that was Chicago fan fresh. At age 14, that meant something no one else at school possessed.

That’s how I rolled. I was an NBA jersey innovator. In the days of JORDAN 23 and PIPPEN 33, I spent my middle school years rocking ANDERSON 7 and MUTOMBO 55 and ROBINSON 13 and JOHNSON 2 and finally RODMAN 91, but only the new black joints.

I bought that in 1995. In sports, teal was in. The expansion Carolina Panthers were bathed in it. I saw it myself when they came to Soldier Field. The Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars were the first NFL expansion teams of my life, and watching the Panthers in person inspired me. They were in their fifth game and were 0-4, yet they already seemingly had talent and moxie and heart. They had identity. A Bears fan can appreciate identity.

We beat them 31-27 in a back-and-forth affair. Robert Green scored the game-winning touchdown with 42 seconds remaining, and Donnell Woolford sealed the game with an interception. It was a great day to be a Bears fan. The Panthers were part of my great day.

The next year, when it came time to buy a new winter jacket, it was Starter or bust. I didn’t want Chicago gear. I wanted something no one else had. The Panthers were it. They finished a spunky 7-9 that first season and blew up in year 2, winning the division at 12-4.

And that’s how the Panthers became my “other” team.

From the Chicago Tribune, Oct. 9, 1995 (via Newspapers.com)

The tale of the “other” team

The idea of a sports fan’s “other” team — or “2nd” team — was always strongest in pre-interleague MLB, when a fan of a National League team could safely pick “my AL team,” or vice-versa, since the leagues only met in the World Series.

More broadly, the “other” team is a team that a sports fan can root for in a secondary manner without betraying her or his actual team. The general rules for selecting your “other” team:

  • No ongoing rivalry with your team
  • No historic rivalry with your team
  • No geographic rivalry with your team
  • You can’t pick a successful team to supplement the pain of rooting for your actual team

In other words, if your “other” team in any way puts you at odds with your actual team, the betrayal has occurred and you must back away. This otherwise poses too great a risk for cheating on your actual team, something becoming a problem this year with a lot of Bulls fans who are trying to lowkey sidle up to the T-Wolves. We see you.

The Panthers didn’t have that problem. For my purposes, they were perfect. They had no rivalry with the Bears, whether current, ongoing, or geographic. And in 1995, they were an expansion team while the Bears were a team on the rise, after the ‘94 playoffs and early ‘95 success. When the Panthers hit it big in 1996, I was focused obviously on our own struggles. But once we missed the playoffs, I now had a team that I could openly root for to win the Super Bowl, and to ideally beat the favored Packers in the NFC.

The Panthers weren’t my first “other” NFL team. That honor goes to the Eagles and Oilers, who caught me during my Tecmo craze. But the Panthers were my first “other” team based on reality, and not video games, which made them special. When they knocked off the defending champion Cowboys in the divisional round to set up an NFC title game in Green Bay, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot: I was already prepared to root against the Packers, no matter their opponent.

Now I got to root for their opponent.

It didn’t work out. But my “other” fandom was born. The Panthers then took a slide, but rebounded in 2003 with a castoff quarterback in Jake Delhomme, a castoff running back in Stephen Davis, two fabulous receivers, a sick front-7, and the legendary Rod “He Hate Me” Smart returning kicks. The 2003 Panthers were tons of fun. And they might have won a Super Bowl if not for a decision by their head coach.

John Fox.

Redskins v Panthers Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images

Super Bowl sadness

While the Bears plodded through the final year of the Dick Jauron era, the Panthers soared to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Trailing 21-10 in the 4th quarter to the not-yet-dynastic New England Patriots, the Panthers mounted one of the greatest scoring runs in Super Bowl history.

It was undone by the 2-point conversion chart.

With 12:39 remaining in the game, Panthers running back DeShaun Foster scored on a brilliant 33-yard run. Down five, John Fox elected to go for two. Pass failed. The Panthers got the ball back on an interception, and proceeded to unleash the longest pass in Super Bowl history, 85 yards from Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad.

Now up 22-21, John Fox elected to go for two again. Pass failed.

The Patriots scored a touchdown and, up five, went for two and converted, taking a 29-22 lead. The Panthers scored a touchdown to tie the game at 29. The Patriots drove the field and kicked a game-winning field goal to win 32-29.

The Panthers, of course, did not need to go for two quite so early. If they’d just kicked extra points, they would have led New England 31-28, and Adam Vinatieri’s kick would have been to tie, sending the game to overtime.

This pissed me off as it was happening, nullified only by the fact that Rosy Colvin would win a ring with the Patriots. But he was injured that game, making it worse. I never really trusted John Fox after that, though to his credit, he acknowledged his mistake.

“I think I learned at that time not to chase two-point plays too early,” Fox said in February of 2014, on the eve of his next Super Bowl, as Broncos head coach. “Like everything, you live and learn.”

Two years after that Super Bowl, I had a chance to show my Panthers side what my Bears had learned.

The 2005 Bears and my “other” team

While Fox was making those calls on the sideline of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Lovie Smith was in his first month of his new job as head coach of our beloved Bears. He righted the ship quickly, and in Week 11 of his second season, he had the Bears at 6-3 and riding a five-game winning streak.

Coming to town were the 7-2 Carolina Panthers. Oh man, did I ever love that game.

Carolina was seemingly the best team in the NFC, and we put a hurting on them that day. Muhammad, now playing for us, scored the first points of the game on a three-yard pass from Kyle Orton, and we led 13-0 before the Panthers knocked in a field goal for their only points of the game.

This was our defense’s best game of the year. We battered Delhomme for two interceptions (both from Nathan Vasher) and an extraordinary eight sacks, all from the defensive line.

For me, it was more than just a Bears win. This game would have been special against any 7-2 NFC team, especially one two years removed from the Super Bowl, but it was particularly special against my “other” team. It was like watching your little brother ball out in his own tournament, and then coming home and playing one-on-one in the driveway, beating his ass before dinner.

“I love you, little bro,” you say to him with each blocked layup and pull-up jumper, “but don’t forget who’s who.”

Two months later, the Panthers made sure we didn’t forget. That was the worst. In January of 2006, we hosted Carolina in the divisional round, only to get knocked out of the playoffs. Beating my “other” team was sweet. Losing to them was cruel. I couldn’t go on rooting for them after that.

Not without fresh blood.

Rivera, Olsen, and “Win one for Peanut”

My “other” fandom for the Panthers went into the closet after 2005. That said, I did enjoy seeing their success blossom under Cam Newton, whom we beat in his rookie year of 2011 and on a last-second field goal in 2012.

While this was happening, other Bears alumni went east to Charlotte. First it was Chris Harris, in a disastrous 2007 trade. Then it was Greg Olsen, in another horrible Bears decision. Ron Rivera got his first NFL head coaching job with the Panthers in 2011, so the three games against Carolina in 2011, 2012, and 2014 all featured both Olsen and Rivera.

But my dormant Panthers “other” fandom wasn’t rekindled until one of the all-time great Bears made Carolina home.

In 2015, Charles Tillman went to the Panthers for his 13th — and as it turned out, final — season. The Panthers were already a playoff team. In 2015, they became world-beaters. They started 14-0 and went 15-1. Cam Newton won league MVP. Peanut started all 12 games he played and had two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

More importantly, he helped instill a culture of takeaways, helping the Panthers lead the NFL with 39.

Unfortunately, Peanut tore his ACL and was unable to compete in the playoffs. Bears fans stood with him. We rallied behind Tillman, rooting for him to win his first ring, something made easier as our Bears were in the first year of a rebuilding effort, led by the ex-Panthers coach Fox.

In January of 2016, I wrote a piece on WCG called “Why I’m rooting for the Carolina Panthers to win the Super Bowl.” My reason was simple: Peanut.

But I’ll tell you, it was fun to have my “other” team back.

They come to Soldier Field this Sunday. This will be the third game of the Mitch Trubisky era, and hot damn, what a start. He nearly beat the Vikings in his first game, and he did what we needed last week notch his first W, beating the Ravens. The Panthers will be a great test. I look forward to showing them who’s who.

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Jack M Silverstein is WCG’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” Say hey at @readjack. Thank you to Pro Football Reference and Newspapers.com.

Poll

Who is your "other" NFL team?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Bills
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Dolphins
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Patriots
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Jets
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Ravens
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Bengals
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    Browns
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    Steelers
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    Texans
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Colts
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Jaguars
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Titans
    (1 vote)
  • 5%
    Broncos
    (11 votes)
  • 5%
    Chiefs
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    Chargers
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Raiders
    (7 votes)
  • 2%
    Cowboys
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Giants
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Eagles
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Washington
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Lions (I’m sorry)
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Packers (GO SOMEWHERE)
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Vikings (YOU TOO)
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Falcons
    (2 votes)
  • 16%
    Panthers
    (32 votes)
  • 2%
    Saints
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Buccaneers
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    Cardinals
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Rams
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    49ers
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    Seahawks
    (9 votes)
  • 23%
    I don’t have an "other" team
    (46 votes)
196 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Other than the Packers, who is your most hated NFL team?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Bills
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Dolphins
    (1 vote)
  • 34%
    Patriots
    (52 votes)
  • 0%
    Jets
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Ravens
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Bengals
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Browns
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    Steelers
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Texans
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Colts
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Jaguars
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Titans
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Broncos
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Chiefs
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Chargers
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Raiders
    (1 vote)
  • 13%
    Cowboys
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Giants
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Eagles
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Washington
    (2 votes)
  • 9%
    Lions
    (14 votes)
  • 5%
    Vikings
    (9 votes)
  • 3%
    Falcons
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Panthers
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Saints
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Buccaneers
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Cardinals
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Rams
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    49ers
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Seahawks
    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    I only hate the Packers
    (20 votes)
152 votes total Vote Now