Charlie has been director of communications for the Panthers since 1994 and has been in the NFL since 1976.
When the NFL realigned in conjunction with expansion in 2002, the new NFC South looked like a Volkswagen in the Daytona 500. Tampa Bay's 9-7 record was the only winning mark in the new division from the previous year and the Panthers were in the midst of a 15-game losing streak.
So much for looks.
The NFC South has been the best division in the National Football Conference over the last eight years. If perception indicates otherwise, check the numbers.
The balance of the division is reflected in its champions. Every team has won the South at least once and Tampa Bay has the most division titles with three. Carolina and New Orleans have two and Atlanta one.
It is the only NFC division to have three Super Bowl participants in the last eight years. Only one division -- the South -- has had two Super Bowl winners and no NFC division has a better playoff winning percentage. In six of eight years, the South has had a team in the NFC championship game. Tampa Bay and the Saints have won world titles while the Panthers lost Super Bowl XXXVIII on a last-minute field goal, which is regrettable because no team has competed more consistently during that time than the Panthers.
Carolina's 76 victories since realignment are the most in the division and seventh most in the NFL. Until last season, the Panthers had never finished below second in the division. They are one of only four teams since realignment -- and the only one in the NFC -- that has won at least seven games every season. The others form pretty good company: Indianapolis, New England and Denver.
Only twice have the Panthers entered the final weekend of play without a chance at making the playoffs. That was in 2007 -- when Carolina started four different quarterbacks -- and this past season.
A title in 2003 would have undoubtedly put the spotlight more on the Panthers, but the loss to the Patriots does not diminish what they have accomplished against tough competition. As a team, the Panthers have suffered a similar fate as its division.
If divisions are measured by publicity, the NFC East is Secretariat. It is no contest. With all four teams located in major metropolitan centers with huge media coverage, the East will always get the most attention. The NFC West is at a time and geographical disadvantage while the North benefits from its make-up of traditional NFL rivalries.
Sometimes it seems the results are in small print. Perception becomes reality. The South will get attention with the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV win, but the reality is that the division has been very competitive for years.
The path does not promise to get any easier as long as long has the NFC South is the highway traveled. What was thought to be a two-lane road has turned out to be a super-highway where everybody has been in the fast lane.