Continuing the countdown of the Panthers’ 25 best moments, the No. 21 entry looks at Carolina’s first Monday Night Football game in 1997.
In honor of the Carolina Panthers’ 25th year as an NFL franchise, Old North Banter is looking at the team’s best 25 moments in franchise history. Before looking at the team’s first ever Monday Night Football game, feel free to read our No. 22 entry.
The 1997 Season Before Week Five
After the Panthers fell short in the 1997 NFC Championship game against Green Bay, Carolina entered the 1997 season looking to continue on its success from the 1996 season during which the team finished the regular season with a 12-4 record. With wide receiver Rae Carruth and safety Mike Minter entering the fold via the NFL Draft, the Panther fans filing into Ericsson Stadium entered with beaming optimism.
Entering the team’s fifth game of the season, Carolina was 2-2 on the season, already 1-0 against fellow NFC West opponents with a Week Two win in the Georgia Dome against Atlanta. After a road win against San Diego, the Panthers fell at home against Kansas City before San Francisco came to Charlotte for an intradivisional matchup the following week on Monday Night Football.
Panthers versus 49ers
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San Francisco, 3-1 heading into Week Five, struck first in the Queen City in the first quarter on a Steve Young touchdown pass to Terrell Owens from eight yards out. The Niners expanded its lead in the next quarter by 10 with Young scoring on a two-yard rush and Gary Anderson booting a 25-yard field goal before the Panthers got on the board with a 17-yard Carruth touchdown reception from Kerry Collins. Anderson kicked another field goal, this time from 48 yards, shortly before the first half concluded.
Carolina failed to score again until the fourth quarter while Garrison Hearst put the Niners ahead by seven more with a three-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Trailing by 20 points, the Panthers attempted to stage some sort of a comeback, scoring on an eight-yard pass from Steve Beuerlein to Rocket Ismail. After another Niner rushing touchdown, this time by Terry Kirby, the final Carolina score came via Beuerlein to Mark Carrier for a 20-yard touchdown pass. However, a failed ensuing onside kick and a three-and-out by San Francisco put the Panthers on their own 19-yard line with seven seconds left in regulation. The game ended with an incomplete pass from Beuerlein and the Niners leaving Charlotte with the win, 34-21.
For the first time in its short history, Carolina had the opportunity to showcase its talent in front of a national audience. Despite losing, the Panthers appeared to hold its own against the Young- and Owens-led San Francisco 49ers who would go on to appear in their fifth straight conference championship game.
However, this game became indicative of the Panthers’ 1997 season. Carolina ended the year with a 7-9 record, tied with Atlanta for second place in the NFC West behind the 13-3 Niners, yet the Panthers split its schedule against its divisional foes. Also, the Panthers would get another chance to shine on Monday Night Football in 1997 in Week 15, and in contrast to what happened against the Niners, Carolina took the win in Dallas against the Cowboys, 23-13.