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Strickly Panthers: On-the-job training

Training camp for the Carolina Panthers kicks off two weeks from today, but my training camp got under way Tuesday.

For the first time in more than a dozen years, I experienced a first day on the job, this one as the new Web writer for www.panthers.com.

My opener featured many of the mundane moments that I vaguely remember from my last first day. There was lots of paperwork, the quest for office supplies and directions to the bathroom, as well as the usual surprises involved with logging into the computer system for the first time (by the time I got online, I needed those bathroom directions again).

This first day, however, had some moments that few are fortunate enough to experience.

Like the moment when I turned the corner and suddenly found myself in the Panthers' palatial locker room, shaking hands with quarterback Matt Moore as he finished up a makeshift game of bocce ball in the adjoining equipment room.

Or the sit-down with team president Danny Morrison before I later joined Morrison in a meeting of front office personnel, where I exchanged warm handshakes and smiles with numerous employees.

And multiple times during the day, as I walked through the Bank of America Stadium concourse to my new office, I caught glimpses of the pristine, green field where the Panthers soon will thrill legions of fans.

That's not to say that I'm star-struck by it all; rather, I'm simply struck by my good fortune. I appreciate that in many ways I'm living a fan's dream, something that I've experienced in the past as well.

For the past decade, I've covered Duke University basketball and football for the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, a stint that started with an NCAA title for the Blue Devils in 2001 and ended with another one three months ago. It might not be pro sports, but a front-row, midcourt seat at Cameron Indoor Stadium still qualifies as the big leagues in my way of thinking.

I grew up in Knightdale, a small town just east of Raleigh, as a rabid ACC fan, but I also took to the NFL in rapid fashion. In that day, you were either a Redskins or a Cowboys fan around here. I gravitated toward Joe Gibbs, the Hogs and the Smurfs.

So while I certainly can't say that I grew up a Panthers fan -- I was born in 1971, they were born in 1995 –- I quickly grew into one upon their birth, and it's nice to be able to say that I've been there since their inception. Not in a John Kasay kind of way, of course, but in a small way at least.

On Sept. 17, 1995, working for The Dispatch in Lexington, I had a seat in the press box at Clemson's Memorial Stadium when the Panthers played their first home-away-from-home game, a lopsided loss to the St. Louis Rams.

That loss fell in the middle of an 0-5 start as a franchise, but the Panthers figured it out quickly to say the least, winning 20 of their next 28 games while reaching the NFC Championship game as a second-year franchise. I made that trip as well, happily braving bitter-cold temperatures to cover the Panthers' loss at the Green Bay Packers.

Seven years later, I saw the club's Super Bowl vision realized. Working for the Herald-Sun, I had the honor of covering one of the greatest Super Bowls ever contested, the Panthers' 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots in Houston.

That's all history, of course, so now I'm embracing the opportunity to write about the still-to-come chapters in the Panthers' ongoing tale. In the weeks, months and years to come, I'll aim to inform readers about the ups and downs (let's hope for more ups than downs) of the Panthers' plight.

I can't wait until opening day, but for now, I'm going to enjoy my training days to come.

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