While the Carolina Panthers franchise dates back to 1993, the story of the team stretches back to 1987. It was around that time that the NFL announced its intention to launch a team in Carolina after Charlotte got the Hornets. Local businessman Jerry Richardson along with a group of backers decided to build a 70,000-seat stadium with private money in the uptown sector of Charlotte. The announcement made national headlines as the community banded together to try and convince the league to green-light the team.
But, the lobbying did little to convince the NFL and it took until 1992 before the league announced a list of potential areas to launch new teams. Carolina was on the list along with Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, and Jacksonville. It took until October 26, 1993, when the league voted unanimously to award the 29th NFL franchise to the Carolinas. They voted to add the Jacksonville Jaguars as the 30th team a month later.
Dom Capers was hired as the first head coach of the franchise and the team drafted Rod Smith as the franchise’s first player in the 1995 NFL Expansion Draft. They added QB Kerry Collins but had a lot of work to do in the early years to build a roster. It didn’t take long for them to get into the playoffs and, in 1996 after drafting Tim Biakabutuka, they made their playoff debut. They beat the Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs that year but fell to the Packers 30-13 in the NFC Title Game.
Despite a strong start as a franchise, it would be seven years before the Panthers would return to the playoffs in 2008. The team had one of their best seasons as a franchise and finished 12-4, winning the NFC South and earning a first-round bye. But, the Panthers were bounced from the playoffs by the eventual NFC Champion Cardinals.
After going 2-14 in 2010, the team hired Ron Rivera to take over for John Fox as head coach. He immediately drafted Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Panthers failed to make the playoffs, but Newton was awarded the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award after breaking the rookie rushing TD record (14). He also became the first NFL rookie QB to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season and rush for over 500. Newton went on to win the 2015 MVP and led the Panthers to four trips to the playoffs. But, they were never able to make it to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers released Newton in 2018, only to re-sign him in 2011 after Sam Darnold went on injured reserve. The Panthers’ struggles continued and they ended last season on a seven-game losing streak.
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