01/22/04 — Football’s Panthers: Take that, David Letterman

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Football’s Panthers: Take that, David Letterman

Not many months ago, late-night television comedian David Letterman asked a member of his audience where he was from, and the man said he was from Charlotte.

Charlotte? Where’s that? Letterman asked.

The Charlotte fellow said it was in North Carolina and said it was the home of the Carolina Panthers.

Letterman said he’d never heard of any of that.

Well, he has now.

That’s what makes the success of the National Foot-ball League’s Carolina Panthers worth noting, even for people who don’t keep up with sports. Sunday, the Pan-thers won the National Football Conference by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 14-3, in the championship game. With that, they won the right to play in the Super Bowl for the championship of the entire league.

We Tar Heels can relish in that. A shared pride in a sports team is something that can help draw a community together, a state, too. All over North Carolina, people were rooting for the Panthers Sunday.

To get to the Super Bowl is an amazing accomplishment for a team that has existed just nine years. But the Panthers were determined, and Sunday they played like pit bulls.

Carolina’s pass defenders were merciless toward Philadelphia’s receivers, knocking the Eagles around like bowling pins. When Panther defenders rushed Philadelphia’s quarterback, they did it with meaning. They finally knocked him out of the game with a rib injury. On that play, the TV announcers said a foul could have been called against the Panthers. Whether that is true or not, the painful tackle was an example of how aggressively Carolina was playing.

Carolina’s offense was equally assertive. One of the Panthers’ two touchdowns came on a run by a ball carrier who had to plow through a dozen — so it seemed — Eagle defenders to get over the goal line. It would have been easier to stop a bulldozer.

If they play like that in the Super Bowl, they’ll bring the championship trophy home to North Carolina.

That game will be in Houston on Feb. 1. The opponents will be the champions of the American Football Conference, the New England Patriots. To earn their berth in the Super Bowl, the Patriots had to beat the Colts on Sunday.

The Colts — they’re in Indianapolis, in Indiana, David Letterman’s home state. Maybe you haven’t heard of any of that.

Published in Editorials on January 22, 2004 1:32 PM