As 2019 turns to 2020, take a look back at some of the most significant moments in the Carolina Panthers organization over the last decade.
David Tepper buys Panthers
Billionaire David Tepper's purchase of the Carolina Panthers in the summer of 2018 signified a seminal shift in the direction of the franchise. In just two years after purchasing the organization, Tepper has announced plans to build a new practice facility in Rock Hill, purchased an MLS team to share Bank of America Stadium, constructed an indoor practice facility in Uptown and made a number of changes to the fan experience including Panthers on Mint, the 5th Quarter and the 53 Club. Tepper's expectations for the Panthers franchise, and the investments he has made and continues to make, will be the North Star for the team and will continue for decades to come.
2015 NFC Championship
Bank of America Stadium officially holds 73,778 people, but there are hundreds of thousands of Panthers fans who claim they were in the stands on January 24, 2016. It was a coronation…a celebration…a knockout punch. 34 points was the second-largest margin of victory in an NFC Championship game ever. Cam Newton was flipping into the end zone. Luke Kuechly literally had fans falling out of the stands in exultation. The memory of winning the 2015 NFC Championship at home will always have a bittersweet taste because of the result of Super Bowl 50, but it was a moment of exultation unlike any other in Panthers franchise history.
Cam Newton drafted
The first two years of the 2010s brought the end of one era and the beginning of another. After Carolina went 2-15 in 2010, the Panthers were awarded the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, selecting Cam Newton. Arguably the most recognizable player, celebrity and name in Panthers history, Newton won an MVP and an NFC Championship trophy, went to the playoffs in four seasons and set numerous NFL records for quarterbacks, including the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback ever. Newton's panache and flair for the dramatic captivated fans and opponents alike as no game was ever in doubt when Newton was on the field. The night Carolina drafted Cam Newton certainly redefined the 2010's for the franchise.
Luke Kuechly drafted
While Cam Newton's selection laid the groundwork for Carolina's offense over the decade, drafting Luke Kuechly one year later in 2012 became the foundation of Carolina's defense. Since he was drafted, Kuechly leads the NFL in total tackles, has been picked for a franchise-best seven Pro Bowls and set the standard for a Panthers defense that finished in the top five in sacks four times. While Julius Peppers was Carolina's best defensive player of the aughts, Kuechly takes the title for the 2010s.
Steve Smith returns for Hall of Honor
In early 2019, Steve Smith got a text. It asked him to hop on FaceTime…somebody wanted to talk to him. He didn't have an iPhone so he had to borrow one in a 7-Eleven. It was a mundane setting for a call that meant so much to so many, especially Smith, arguably the greatest player in Panthers history. Owner David Tepper told Smith that he was being inducted into the Panthers Hall of Honor, alongside Jake Delhomme, Jordan Gross and Wesley Walls. It was a significant moment for Carolina's legacy as an organization that hadn't touched its Hall of Honor in decades. It was even more significant as an embrace to Smith, who had felt estranged from the organization after his release in 2014. When Smith gave his induction speech during the ceremony this fall, he took off his shirt to reveal his Panthers Super Bowl XXXVIII jersey with the words: "I never thought I'd be able to wear a Carolina Panthers jersey again," he said. "So I thought … one last time."
It's not one moment. It's too many moments. But the collective effect is the same. Cam Newton hasn't been able to stay healthy in the latter half of the decade and that has changed Carolina's fortunes and outlook. Cam's first shoulder surgery carried into the start of 2017, and it was the hit in Pittsburgh that derailed a 6-2 start in 2018. It was a foot injury in the preseason at New England in 2019 that eventually landed Newton on injured reserve. And of course, it was all the rest of the hits in between. The ones that came at the end of runs and scrambles. The ones where protection broke down in the pocket. The ones that would have been penalties if it were any player other than Cam Newton. They've taken a toll, and now the Panthers enter 2020 with Newton's health taking center stage.
Christian McCaffrey drafted
In 2017, the Panthers utilized the eighth overall pick to draft a running back out of Stanford with question marks. Was Christian McCaffrey big enough for the NFL? Could he run between the tackles? Would he be able to stay healthy? Three years later and McCaffrey has proven those doubts to be ludicrous and more. Among numerous franchise and NFL records that he's set, McCaffrey became the third player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in 2019 and is a candidate for the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award. McCaffrey has become one of the marquee young faces of the NFL, as well as the city of Charlotte, and his selection was one of the biggest moments of the last decade.
Ron Rivera let go
In the same way that Cam's arrival set a tone for the rest of the 2010's, so did the hiring of Ron Rivera. Which is why Rivera's firing with just weeks left in 2019 comes in as such an important moment. Rivera was one of just four head coaches in franchise history and finished his tenure as Carolina's winningest coach over nine seasons. He embraced the city of Charlotte and the Carolinas as a strong advocate for minority groups, the military and the Humane Society. Rivera was known as a player's coach and his strong relationship with his players was certainly reflective in their response to him being let go. While injuries were partly to blame for Carolina's performances in 2018 and 2019, the Panthers poor run defense in 2019 could not be ignored as the Panthers slid to a 5-11 record. Rivera's legacy will always be his three consecutive division titles and bringing the Panthers oh-so-close to a Super Bowl title.
2015 left a lasting legacy for Panthers fans everywhere. Blowout wins…come-from-behind-wins…crazy defensive scores…so many records broken. But the more superficial and wide-reaching impact was something that was initially associated with Cam Newton. And then all of the Panthers in sideline celebration photos. And eventually made it to memes with Betty White. Yep, it's the Dab. The dab didn't start with Newton and the Panthers, but it certainly became a cultural phenomenon in 2015 because of Carolina. It was everywhere from national news shows to sitcoms and movies and of course, the internet. The dab disappeared nearly as quickly as it started, but it had quite a ride in the 2010s and it definitely owes that to Newton and the Panthers.
Carolina's Men of the Year
In January of 2015, Thomas Davis was awarded the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award, the league's most prestigious award. It was a fitting tribute to a man who contributed so much to Charlotte and his hometown of Shellman, Georgia through his Defending Dreams Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to enhance the quality of life for underprivileged children and their families. Davis was hardly the only Panther player to go above and beyond in his platform and reach to help others.
Greg Olsen was a two-time Man of the Year finalist due to his work with Receptions for Research and the HEARTest Yard, which have changed the outlook of countless families struck by cancer and cardiovascular disease, especially children.
Julius Peppers also returned to his home team and state and became involved with recovery and cleanup after Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas.
And, of course, Cam Newton, who currently leads online voting for the Man of the Year award, has spent years as the siren of Charlotte with his programs for underprivileged children. From SantaCam to his Thanksgiving Feast to his work with Make-a-Wish and the countless times he has brought food and fellowship to the homeless in Charlotte with no expected publicity, Newton has taken his great power and great responsibility seriously. It doesn't take a national award to prove that Panthers players are active in making their communities better, but the Panthers certainly deserve it.
- Dave Gettleman hired in 2013 and fired in 2017, followed by the return of Marty Hurney
- Trade for Greg Olsen in 2011
- Julius Peppers return to the Carolinas
- 2014 win in Atlanta to rally and win NFC South for second consecutive season
- Domination in first international game in London in 2019
What do you think? Leave a comment below with some of your most significant moments for the Panthers from the 2010s.