SPARTANBURG, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley visited training camp to honor Carolina Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson and proclaim Monday as "Carolina Panthers Day" in the state.
And with the state's highest ranking official standing a few yards away from the Panthers' first fully-padded of camp, Richardson thanked Haley and the fans in attendance for all that South Carolina has done for him and his NFL organization.
"Thank you for the support that you and your colleagues have given us from the very beginning," Richardson said, noting that his mutually beneficial relationship with the state pre-dates the Panthers. "When I came to South Carolina, I was 18 years old, and a lot of good things have happened to me in my life since I've been here.
"For the state to recognize this as Carolina Panthers Day is really special for me personally."
Richardson, who turned 76 years old earlier this month, was first drawn to South Carolina by his football coach at Fayetteville (N.C.) High School nearly 60 years ago. Bob Prevatte, a Wofford College graduate, was in attendance for Monday's ceremony.
Richardson was a standout wide receiver at Wofford in the 1950s, and after two seasons with the Baltimore Colts that included a world championship, he moved to South Carolina and helped start Spartan Food Services, which opened the first Hardee's restaurant in 1961.
When the NFL awarded Richardson the league's 29th franchise in 1993, the state of South Carolina was in the loop from the beginning. The team's practice facilities in 1995 were at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.; that inaugural team called Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., home while a stadium was being built in uptown Charlotte; and every training camp since the team's inception has been at Wofford.
"Clemson really wasn't geographically a smart business decision on my part - we could have played in the center of North Carolina for example," Richardson said. "But we've always wanted to recognize South Carolina by our actions and not me just standing up and saying something."
Before Haley delivered the proclamation, flanked by nine members of the state's Senate and House of Representatives, she implored the crowd to "show some love" to Richardson.
"It's a proud thing to be able to say that the Carolina Panthers have made South Carolina part of their home. We appreciate it, and we wanted Jerry Richardson to know how much we appreciate it," Haley told the crowd.
"We love our college football, but when it comes to professional teams, the Carolina Panthers are the team that South Carolina calls their own. We cheer them on. We love the fact that they come and practice here."
SOUTH CAROLINA GOV. NIKKI HALEY'S PROCLAMATION
"Whereas the Carolina Panthers played the team's inaugural season in 1995 at Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, and whereas the team continues to invest in South Carolina by and through the operation of the Carolina Panthers training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the fourth-longest continuous training camp location among all National Football League teams, I, Nikki Haley, governor of the great state of South Carolina, do hereby proclaim July 30, 2012, as Carolina Panthers Day throughout the state and encourage all South Carolinians to join together and recognize the appreciation for the Carolina Panthers and Jerry Richardson for their contributions to our state."