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LONG WAY TO GO PLAYING HOME GAMES A FUR PIECE FROM THEIR FANS HASN'T DETERRED THE PLUCKY CAROLINA PANTHERS

Dec. 18, 1995
Dec. 18, 1995

Table of Contents
Dec. 18, 1995

LONG WAY TO GO PLAYING HOME GAMES A FUR PIECE FROM THEIR FANS HASN'T DETERRED THE PLUCKY CAROLINA PANTHERS

Selling beer on Sunday, considered a heinous sin in certain
precincts of the Carolinas, has been forced upon the town of
Clemson by the South Carolina Supreme Court. In addition some of
Clemson's 10 churches now start Sunday services earlier so that
their congregations can scurry home ahead of the heathen hordes
pouring across the border from North Carolina. Both are
temporary arrangements, mind you, deemed necessary after the
Carolina Panthers decided to play their inaugural season at
Clemson University's Memorial Stadium, in this town of 11,900.

This is an article from the Dec. 18, 1995 issue Original Layout

Yes, the NFL has come to the Carolinas with the winningest
expansion franchise in league history, but the Panthers have not
exactly won over their home region. Before the season, the town
of Clemson had feared "80,000 drunks loose in the streets," says
Jimmy Howard, Clemson's favorite barkeep and the owner of the
Sloan Street Tap Room. But the Panthers have had trouble filling
the 74,300-seat stadium. Before Sunday's capacity crowd for a
game against the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina hadn't come
within 18,000 of a sellout. True, the home schedule hasn't been
a blockbuster, what with the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, the New York Jets, the New Orleans Saints, the
Arizona Cardinals, the Indianapolis Colts and the Atlanta
Falcons joining the Niners on the card in Memorial Stadium, but
some Panther officials nonetheless had far higher expectations.

"I overestimated the enthusiasm," says Carolina president Mike
McCormack, who had hoped for enough sellouts to break the NFL
record for average home attendance in a season (79,486, set by
the Buffalo Bills in 1991). The Panthers are averaging 55,399,
fifth from last in the NFL and 14,431 fewer per game than the
coexpansionist Jacksonville Jaguars, who have had seven sellouts
and have sold out their 73,000-seat stadium for the next two
years. Even the Clemson Tigers outdrew the Panthers, averaging
72,000 per game.

This is not to say that the NFL's venture into the Carolinas is
a bust. On the field the 6-8 Panthers have more than fulfilled
their end of the bargain. They are the first expansion team to
win more than three games in their inaugural season, the first
expansion franchise to win four games in a row and the first
expansion franchise to defeat the Super Bowl champs of the
previous season, which the Panthers did by beating the 49ers
13-7 on Nov. 5. "We have a lot of respect for what they're
doing," said San Francisco quarterback Steve Young after the
Niners won Sunday's rematch 31-10. "And as for an 'expansion'
team, that's not a word we use anymore for them."

In building a team that Carolinians could be proud of, the
Panthers' top priority was defense, and that has been the key to
their competitiveness. After Sunday's games Carolina ranked
sixth in the NFL on defense (306.5 yards allowed per game),
playing the 3-4 alignment that has fallen from favor around the
league but that coach Dom Capers had used to great success
during his three-year stint, 1992 to '94, as defensive
coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because active
linebackers are crucial to the scheme, the Panthers signed four
veterans, three of them unrestricted free agents: 27-year-old
down lineman-turned-outside backer Lamar Lathon, late of the
Houston Oilers, who is Carolina's best pass rusher; 36-year-old
inside man Sam Mills (Saints), who has fulfilled projections as
the leader of the defense--he recovered a fumble and had an
interception against San Francisco on Sunday; and outside
linebacker Darion Conner (also Saints), 29. Inside linebacker
Carlton Bailey, 31, came to Carolina from the New York Giants as
a free agent.

Defensive ends Mike Fox (Giants), 28, and Gerald Williams
(Steelers), 32, also were unrestricted free agents, as was
safety Brett Maxie (Falcons), 33, who is tied for second in the
league in interceptions, with six. The corners are 32-year-old
Tim McKyer, acquired in the expansion draft, and rookie Tyrone
Poole, Carolina's second college draft choice, out of Fort
Valley State.

Says general manager Bill Polian, who came to Carolina after
building the AFC championship dynasty of the early 1990s in
Buffalo, "We felt that if we could play good defense and take
care of the football, we'd be in a lot of games and might have a
chance to win at the end with a field goal."

Toward that end the Panthers signed unrestricted free agent
placekicker John Kasay, who had been with the Seattle Seahawks,
to a five-year, $4.3 million contract. Kasay booted game-winning
field goals against the New England Patriots on Oct. 29 and the
Colts on Dec. 3. Those kicks made the difference between
Carolina's merely breaking the league record for wins by an
expansion franchise and doubling it.

"What we have become, quickly," says Polian, "is a professional
football team, meaning that we can go out and acquit ourselves
well in every game and not be an embarrassment to the league, or
to the organization, or our fans."

"Because of the way this team is put together, with the
experienced players we've got, we expect to win," says Mills.
"Each time we take the field, we expect to do a really good job."

Offensively, though, the Panthers have had to weather the
development of rookie quarterback Kerry Collins, whose 61.2
ranking compares favorably with those of other quarterbacks who
have guided first-year NFL teams (chart, page 62). Collins made
a big mistake on Sunday when, on first-and-goal at the Niner
one-yard line, his rollout pass into the end zone was
intercepted by Tim McDonald. "No excuses. There was no one open.
I should have thrown it away," said Collins, who has thrown 16
interceptions and only 12 touchdown passes in 12 NFL games. "It
wasn't a bad call. It was just a poor decision on my part.
Hopefully I'll learn from that."

What the franchise has learned about its attendance woes is just
as obvious. No team, expansion or otherwise, has played all of
its "home" games so far from home. Clemson lies as many as 300
miles and as much as a six-hour drive from Durham, Greensboro,
Raleigh and Winston-Salem, the four Tobacco Road cities in north
central North Carolina that lend 1.3 million folks to the 10
million-plus fan base that attracted the NFL to the Carolinas in
the first place. Clemson also lies 150 miles southwest of
Charlotte, where the team's new 72,500-seat stadium will be
ready for next season. After the Panthers move into that $160
million state-of-the-art facility, "they'll sell it out, and
they'll never have another empty seat," predicts Charlotte
Observer columnist Ron Green.

In the meantime North Carolinians seem as wary of Clemson as
Clemson is of them. Still regionally infamous is the hell night
of Aug. 12, when the Panthers played their first exhibition game
at Clemson. Highway construction work on both the North and
South Carolina portions of I-85, the only artery to Clemson,
caused a horrific traffic jam. Creeping drives of four hours
from Charlotte to the stadium were common. Those who missed the
well-documented ordeal were traumatized by the hearsay. As for
the Tobacco Road populace, they had largely given up on even
trying the trip as soon as the temporary Clemson site was
announced in 1993.

Carolina's players have quietly endured their 2 1/2-hour bus
rides from their Rock Hill, S.C., training site to Clemson on
the day before home games. And they express appreciation for the
hard-core fans who have shown up at Clemson. "When you've had to
sit in traffic as long as some of our fans have, it shows their
dedication," says McKyer.

So the painfully logical question is, and has been all along,
Why Clemson? Well, it was chosen because Panther owner Jerry
Richardson has a sociological agenda. Richardson was born north
of Raleigh, in Spring Hope, N.C., but resides in and runs his
food empire (Denny's restaurants, Hardee's hamburger emporiums)
from Spartanburg, S.C. He, more than anyone, knows that
laid-back South Carolina often feels left out of whatever
hustling and bustling North Carolina is up to, so he was
determined that the 1995 season be played in South Carolina to
ensure that that state's 3.7 million inhabitants could "feel a
sense of ownership of this franchise."

He initially dispatched McCormack to negotiate with the
University of South Carolina for use of its 72,400-seat stadium
in the state capital, Columbia. Replete with hotels, restaurants
and an airport served by major airlines, Columbia is 90 miles
south of Charlotte. But after university officials at first
balked at harboring a pro franchise and then asked for a $5
million rental package for eight regular-season games and two
exhibition contests, McCormack drove to Clemson and made a deal
that will cost Carolina between $2 million and $3 million,
depending on ticket revenues.

Max Muhleman, a Charlotte-based marketing maestro who
orchestrated the courting of the NBA for the Charlotte Hornets
and of the NFL for the Panthers, calls Clemson the worst
geographical location in the region to place a pro football
team. When he was attempting to attract the NBA in 1987,
Muhleman drew a circle around Charlotte with a 100-mile radius
(the equivalent of a two-hour drive from any direction, the
maximum for weeknight basketball) and hired college students to
look up the population of every town and hamlet inside the
circle. Voila! He turned NBA commissioner David Stern on to a
market Stern might never have considered because he didn't
realize it contained those five million people. Then, for
Richardson, Muhleman widened the circle to a 150-mile radius
(three-hour drive time, maximum for NFL Sundays) and presented
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue with that market of 10 million.
According to Muhleman's spin-doctoring, Carolina television
markets within that circle (Charlotte, the 28th largest TV
market in the U.S., Raleigh-Durham the 30th, Greenville/
Spartanburg/Asheville 35th, Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point
47th, Columbia 89th and Florence/Myrtle Beach, S.C., 114th) add
up to the third-largest television market in America, slightly
bigger than Chicago.

Stay well within the Muhleman Circle and "the equation works,"
Muhleman says, pointing to the chart he had used in his
presentation to the NFL. From the core at Charlotte, north and
east along Tobacco Road and even due south toward Columbia, the
chart was darkly shaded with dense population dots. "Of anywhere
in that circle, probably the worst place you could be would be
right there!" he said, shoving a finger at a remote white speck
on the southwestern rim of the circle--Clemson.

But that didn't matter in Richardson's strategic plan. "The
overwhelming desire Jerry had was to unify the Carolinas," says
McCormack. Unifying Germany might have been a simpler mission--or
at least "they're probably comparable projects," says Muhleman,
a native of Greenville, S.C. "The Mason-Dixon line should have
been drawn between North and South Carolina," says Green.
"They're different worlds."

Charlotte is the third-largest banking center in the U.S.,
behind only New York City and San Francisco. It is a hotbed of
basketball, as evidenced not only by its longtime devotion to
the college game but also by the strong demand for Hornet
tickets among the nouveaux riches of Charlotte society.

South Carolina is laid-back and steeped in the sports of
football and fishing, much in the manner of its Deep South
brethren, Georgia and Alabama. "You start at the South Carolina
line," says Green, "and go on out through the Sunbelt, and
football--especially college football--is important to people's
sense of worth. Up here in North Carolina there hasn't ever been
any good footbal--at least not since Charlie Justice played [at
the University of North Carolina in the 1940s]."

That didn't keep North Carolinians from purchasing approximately
50,000 Permanent Seat Licenses (a Muhleman creation that builds
additional revenue by requiring fans to pay from $700 to $5,400
for the right to purchase season tickets). The Panthers gave
their Permanent Seat License owners the option to start buying
season tickets for either the 1995 or '96 season and got only
28,000 takers for '95. McCormack had hoped to make up the
difference with one-year season-ticket sales to South
Carolinians but fell 7,000 short of that goal.

No matter. The Panthers are a critical success and have already
done something no one thought possible three months ago. They
have won more games this year than have the Cleveland Browns,
the New York Giants or the Washington Redskins. That achievement
should be enough to keep Carolina fans in both states happy--at
least until next season.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Clogged arteries around Clemson have kept North Carolina fans from driving to see a tenacious Panther defense. [Aerial view of Clemson University's Memorial Stadium]COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [See caption above--Carolina Panthers tackling San Francisco 49er]COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Colt quarterback Paul Justin got a typical Panther clawing from Bailey and Shawn King (96). [Carlton Bailey, Paul Justin, and Shawn King]COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS [Young man running with Carolina Panthers flag] COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Muhleman mapped out the strategy that persuaded the NFL to put a team in Charlotte. [Max Muhleman]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: BERASI/PARAGRAPHICS [See caption above--circular map of area that includes parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and surrounding states]COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Collins plays like a rookie: He can be brilliant, he's often bad. [Kerry Collins]

Victories have come early for expansion teams Carolina (6-8
through Sunday) and Jacksonville (3-11) their first time around
the league, but history shows real progress can take a decade.

First
First Season First
Year In First Above Playoff
League Win .500 Season

COWBOYS 1960 Week 1 1965 1965
(0-11-1) 1961
VIKINGS 1961 Week 1 1964 1968
(3-11)
FALCONS 1966 Week 10 1971 1978
(3-11)
DOLPHINS 1966 Week 6 1970 1970
(3-11)
SAINTS 1967 Week 8 1979 1987
(3-11)
BENGALS 1968 Week 2 1970 1970
(3-11)
SEAHAWKS 1976 Week 6 1978 1983
(2-12)
BUCCANEERS 1976 Week 13 1979 1979
(0-14) 1977


[BOX]

EXPANSION YEAR QUARTERBACK RANKINGS

QUARTERBACK Mark Brunell
TEAM Jaguars
ATT. 317
COMP. 184
YDS. 1,893
TD 14
INT. 7
RATING 80.9

[QUARTERBACK] Fran Tarkenton
[TEAM] Vikings
[ATT.] 280
[COMP.] 157
[YDS.] 1,997
[TD ] 18
[INT.] 17
[RATING] 74.7

[QUARTERBACK] Steve Beuerlein
[TEAM] Jaguars
[ATT.] 121
[COMP.] 61
[YDS.] 816
[TD ] 4
[INT.] 4
[RATING] 69.4

[QUARTERBACK] George Shaw
[TEAM] Vikings
[ATT.] 91
[COMP.] 46
[YDS.] 530
[TD ] 4
[INT.] 4
[RATING] 64.8

[QUARTERBACK] Kerry Collins
[TEAM] Panthers
[ATT.] 362
[COMP.] 177
[YDS.] 2,233
[TD ] 12
[INT.] 16
[RATING] 61.2

[QUARTERBACK] John Stofa
[TEAM] Bengals
[ATT.] 177
[COMP.] 85
[YDS.] 896
[TD ] 5
[INT.] 5
[RATING] 60.8

[QUARTERBACK] Dewey Warren
[TEAM] Bengals
[ATT.] 80
[COMP.] 47
[YDS.] 506
[TD ] 1
[INT.] 4
[RATING] 60.7

[QUARTERBACK] Gary Cuozzo
[TEAM] Saints
[ATT.] 260
[COMP.] 134
[YDS.] 1,562
[TD ] 7
[INT.] 12
[RATING] 59.8

[QUARTERBACK] Frank Reich
[TEAM] Panthers
[ATT.] 84
[COMP.] 37
[YDS.] 441
[TD ] 2
[INT.] 2
[RATING] 58.7

[QUARTERBACK] Steve Spurrier
[TEAM] Bucs
[ATT.] 311
[COMP.] 156
[YDS.] 1,628
[TD ] 7
[INT.] 12
[RATING] 57.1

[QUARTERBACK] Billy Kilmer
[TEAM] Saints
[ATT.] 204
[COMP.] 97
[YDS.] 1,341
[TD ] 6
[INT.] 11
[RATING] 56.4

[QUARTERBACK] Eddie LeBaron
[TEAM] Cowboys
[ATT.] 225
[COMP.] 111
[YDS.] 1,736
[TD ] 12
[INT.] 25
[RATING] 53.5

[QUARTERBACK] Jim Zorn
[TEAM] Seahawks
[ATT.] 439
[COMP.] 208
[YDS.] 2,571
[TD ] 12
[INT.] 27
[RATING] 49.2

[QUARTERBACK] Randy Johnson
[TEAM] Falcons
[ATT.] 295
[COMP.] 129
[YDS.] 1,795
[TD ] 12
[INT.] 21
[RATING] 47.8

[QUARTERBACK] Dick Wood
[TEAM] Dolphins
[ATT.] 230
[COMP.] 83
[YDS.] 993
[TD ] 4
[INT.] 14
[RATING] 30.6