As you neared the Bank of America Stadium parking lot, you heard the roars. Hordes of Panthers fans lined the street. Some climbed up the nearby bridge to try to catch a glimpse of the players pulling in. When each car arrived, thunderous cheers erupted.
It was a rousing introduction to Super Bowl week for the NFC Champions departing for San Jose on Sunday.
The fans produced an incredible send-off for the Panthers, who were greeted by more fanfare when they arrived at the airport.
A group of fire trucks and police vehicles were waiting for the team on the tarmac. Fans got as close as they could to the fences to watch the scene unfold.
Quarterback Derek Anderson was the first one off the buses, hustling to be the first player onboard per his usual road trip routine. It was a moment of familiarity in an otherwise extraordinary travel procedure.
Practice squad members and players on injured reserve made the trip. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, ruled out for the season after tearing his ACL in training camp, boarded the plane with a smile from ear to ear. Cornerback Charles Tillman, who recently had surgery to repair a torn ACL, made his way up the steps with the help of a crutch.
Tillman jokingly apologized to those behind him for taking so long to reach the top, but really, there was no rush.
This was a moment, like so many to come this week, for the players to savor. They posed for group pictures and captured as much of the scene as they could. Linebacker Thomas Davis strapped a video camera to his chest to film the day of travel.
"Hey, just send me that video," defensive end Jared Allen told Davis. Both players have 23 years of combined NFL experience. Neither has ever been to a Super Bowl.
When the wheels started turning and the plane headed for the runway, the fire trucks performed a water cannon salute – a final tribute from a city that's shown so much passionate support for the Panthers all season.
Then, just before takeoff, a flight attendant spoke on the intercom to offer a playful reminder about fastening seatbelts.
"I hear Superman is on board," she said, referencing quarterback Cam Newton. "Superman didn't need no plane, but he needs one today."
Fasten those seatbelts. The Super Bowl ride has just begun.
View photos of the Panthers departing from Charlotte and arriving in San Jose, presented by PrimeSport.