CHARLOTTE – David Tepper knew the adrenaline was going to be pumping during the lead-up to the season opener against the Cowboys. But it was pumping a little more than the Panthers owner expected.
“We had all this food and I couldn’t eat much – that was pregame and during the game,” Tepper said during a conversation Tuesday in his office at Bank of America Stadium. “It felt like when I coached my kids’ sports with the pregame jitters and the anticipation. To an extent, that surprised me.”
Fans were already fired up for the start of the new season, but the long-awaited reveal of the Panthers logo at midfield took things to another level. Tepper was able to experience that firsthand as kickoff neared.
“I knew that people wanted (the logo at midfield), and I read the replies and the amount of emotion – the tears – that surprised me, but at the same time it didn’t,” Tepper said. “I got chills when I saw that video.”
Once the game got underway, Tepper was thrilled with what he saw on the field. Quarterback Cam Newton ripped off a couple stadium-shaking runs and the defense didn’t allow the Cowboys to cross into Carolina territory in the first half.
“The offense had Dallas reeling. The defense was just great,” Tepper said.
Tepper’s main takeaway from the first half was Carolina’s offensive play-calling. He noted the number of pass attempts on first down (there were nine before the two-minute drill to end the half, an obvious passing situation).
“Those first-down passes,” Tepper said. “I’m real focused on analytics, and we hadn’t really done that before. I loved the mix of plays. The first down passing was a new look for this team.”
Tepper values analytics tremendously. It’s clearly going to be an emphasis for this franchise going forward.
“You have to incorporate modern ideas,” Tepper said. “I just want to make sure analytics are applied. I don’t want human biases to alter what we think is correct or not correct. There is an openness to it here, which is good.
“I want a tough mentality, I like grittiness, but this is a new age.”
The Cowboys made things interesting in the second half, but Carolina’s dominant defense sealed the victory courtesy of a Mario Addison strip-sack in the closing moments.
Tepper quickly made his way down to the victorious locker room to share a special moment with the team, as head coach Ron Rivera presented him with the game ball.
“It was fantastic. They seemed so happy to give me the ball,” Tepper said. “I actually wanted to sleep with the ball, but my fiancé threw the ball out of bed. She said the ball can’t come to bed. It was literally thrown off the bed. True story.”
That’s Tepper. At heart, he’s just a huge fan of the game. Always has been since his childhood in Pittsburgh.
“The first memory would be the ‘Immaculate Reception’ game when I was a kid,” Tepper recalled. “I remember that specifically, and when we won the first Super Bowl (1975 season) and I went downtown with my brother and cousin.
“The (Ben) Roethlisberger shoestring tackle after (Jerome) Bettis fumbled in Indianapolis – still don’t know how he got the guy. (Santonio) Holmes’ toe-catch against Arizona to win the Super Bowl.
“The Steel Curtain defense was just fantastic, and the linebackers in Pittsburgh, I’ve always had a connection with the linebackers. And our group here is a really good group. We have some of the best.”
Yes, “we” is no longer the Steelers. Now it’s the Panthers, and Tepper is familiarizing himself with memories and players that have a special place in the mind of Carolina fans.
“Steve Smith was here the other day and I talked to him before he was on the practice field,” Tepper said. “I understand that. When you look at the history of this team, you look at people you would put in that Panthers Hall of Fame. Smith would certainly be one.
“And we have other (worthy) players coming in the future.”
As for the future and the players who will be a part of this team, how involved does Tepper want to be in the roster-building process? Will he make his voice heard during free agency and the draft?
“I have great respect for how stupid I am,” Tepper said. “To the extent I think I have a good opinion about something, I’ll make it known. To the extent I don’t, I won’t.
“I’m trusting these guys. People have a job to do, and I like letting people do their jobs.”