Super Bowl 50: The Spirit of ’95


Super Bowl 50 marks the end of twenty years of Carolina Panthers football. Yet the fingerprints of its beginning are still here.

When Super Bowl 50 was a good twenty years away, a football team began play in the National Football League. The brainchild of Jerry Richardson, the Carolina Panthers sprung into existence in 1995 with a roster that was a combination of expansion draft guys, some free agents, and draftees. It was a decidedly blue collar team that took the field that year. Does any of that still resonate with the team that bares the same name and just went 15-1?

Oral histories seem to be the rule of the day. While I am still not sure what motivated the Pete Prisco piece on the Jacksonville Jaguars of 1996, I completely understand the interest in Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated to record the first season of Panther football from oral accounts. Klemko managed to talk to old coaches, executives, players, and even Kerry Collins to get a good story on the personality of that team.

So here’s five things I learned from Klemko’s article.

1. Winthrop had poor facilities in 1995.

This has probably changed since, but tiny weight rooms were nothing compared to the shower situation. Frank Reich complained of dirty water that would get up to your ankles. Reich also admitted to not showering there after five weeks. There was also a common problem of the toilet flushing taking away cold water and scalding the showering people.

2. Every game was a road game

It is easy to forget but the Panthers played their first year at Clemson’s Death Valley. While that led to most Panthers home games being subject to local blackout, it also meant a good two to three hour bus ride to get from Charlotte to the game (a little shorter if leaving from Winthrop). That bus ride might have been something of a blessing for the team since it forced them to get to know each other.

3. Greg Kragen didn’t turn down the opportunity

Although it is barely touched on, Kansas City Chief Greg Kragen was looking at retirement when the Chiefs asked him to wait until after the expansion draft so they could include him in it. Kragen got picked by the Panthers and instead of retiring, he worked really hard to get in good shape. Kragen’s comment was that Coach Dom Capers didn’t recognize him. Kragen would become a key part of zone blitz scheme of those early Panthers teams.

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4. The Magic of beating the Patriots (The Parcells Patriots)

This is a Panthers win that was forgotten in my memory. The Panthers went and beat the Patriots (a team a year away from the Super Bowl) in an overtime game to secure their third straight win. Guys described having fun during that game. I think it also included the only audible that Collins called all year.

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5. Sam Mills

The genesis of Keep Pounding was the influence of Mills on that team. The linebacker was the team’s leader and responsible for the team being on the same page despite running an ever more complex defensive scheme. Mills gave the team its first victory over the New York Jets, and the 1995 Panthers still swear by him.

So these Panthers came from different places like those Panthers did. They have fun like those Panthers did. They embrace opportunity with the franchise. They Keep Pounding, and like the ’95 team they are looking to do unprecedented things (’95 Panthers went 7-9 as the best first year expansion team ever).

Super Bowl 50 gets ever closer, but the Panthers haven’t really changed all that much in twenty years.