In my previous, pre-Panthers life, I was fortunate enough to have one of the best seats in the house for the Duke-UNC basketball rivalry that will renew Friday night in Charlotte in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
As Duke beat writer for the hometown paper from 2000-10, I sat courtside in both Durham and Chapel Hill for 20 regular season meetings. Between that run and my time as a student at UNC and a writer at multiple North Carolina newspapers, I’ve been in the building for about 40 of their matchups.
The intensity that envelopes the entire arena for the entire game is tough to match, but it does happen. NFL games feature a rarely replicated intensity between the white lines, and that feeling can spill into the stands.
Since I joined the Panthers in 2011, here are the five most intense games.
1) Panthers 24, Patriots 20 (2013, Week 11)
The Panthers entered this Monday Night Football showdown at Bank of America Stadium having reeled off five consecutive victories after a 1-3 start, including a 10-9 squeaker at the reigning NFC champion 49ers the previous week.
This game had a lot going for it before kickoff, and it over-delivered after kickoff. The intense action between Steve Smith and Aqib Talib that produced Smith’s famous “Ice up, son” line afterwards was but a part of the drama. Carolina retook the lead with 59 seconds left on a majestic Cam Newton-led drive, but Tom Brady nearly answered. Instead, an interception in the end zone on the last play and a flag for pass interference that was picked up prompted Brady to scream at game officials as he headed to the tunnel and eventually back to Foxborough with a loss.
2) Panthers at/versus Saints (2013)
Later that same season, Carolina’s win streak had grown to eight when the Panthers headed to New Orleans for a Sunday Night Football showdown with the Saints. The Superdome was at fever pitch from start to finish as the home team knocked the Panthers down a notch with a 31-13 victory.
Two weeks later in Charlotte, the Saints visited with Carolina looking to wrap up a playoff spot and keep its division titles afloat. Fans didn’t let a rainy day ruin their parade, and the Panthers marched 65 yards in 32 seconds to pull out a dramatic 17-13 victory in the final minute that had everyone singing in the rain.
3) Panthers 27, Seahawks 23 (2015, Week 6)
There’s something about Seattle’s stadium – much like Duke’s domicile - that brings an air of intensity to every game. Plus the Panthers came in as a pretty fired-up bunch for this one, having lost in the same building in the playoffs the previous season. That one stood among nine consecutive home victories for the Seahawks, who also had won all four meetings between the two teams over the previous three calendar years.
The Panthers entered the game with a 4-0 record and saw Seattle as a proving ground. With the crowd at full throat, Carolina christened a special season – one in which the Panthers would win their first 14 games – with a dramatic victory courtesy of a 26-yard Greg Olsen touchdown with 32 seconds to play. In that moment, the Panthers enjoyed the sweet sound of silence.
4) Broncos 21, Panthers 20 (2016, Week 1)
The 2015 season produced everything but a Super Bowl title, and then the league schedule dictated that the Panthers open the next season on the road against the team that stopped them short of a championship.
Broncos fans were on fire for the season opener, ready to celebrate anew their title on Thursday Night Football to kick off the 2016 NFL season. Reigning champs rarely lose that game, but the Panthers never trailed through three quarters. The fourth quarter was a different story, with C.J. Anderson’s second score of the stanza giving Denver its first lead – the only lead that mattered after a last-second field goal attempt by the Panthers missed the mark.
5) Panthers 34, Falcons 3 (2014, Week 17)
The Georgia Dome has certainly been louder on occasions with the Panthers in town, but this one was about Carolina silencing a palpable pregame buzz and then celebrating an improbable playoff berth in a stadium that had mostly emptied out aside from a large Panthers presence in the stands.
With four weeks left in the regular season, the Panthers were 3-8-1. Then they reeled off three consecutive victories to put themselves in position to win the division in a down year. The NFC South struggles set it up for a winner-take-all showdown between the rivals on the final Sunday of the regular season – and the Panthers were the ones doing the taking.