I arrived to Charlotte in 1985, age 8, from Royal Oak, MI (a suburb of Detroit). My parents met and grew up in Huron, OH. I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan and a Detroit Lion fan. I remember watching a soccer game in the Superdome and the excitiment felt in the city when the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, although I didn’t really know what was happening.
I arrived in Charlotte knowing nothing of the traditions of ACC basketball. It wasn’t until I went to Duke Divinity School that I gave into the wonder and the absolute joy of Tobacco Road and now I bleed Duke Blue. I arrived to Charlotte before any other professional team and the only sports I remember watching was a Charlotte O’s minor league baseball game…I got a foul ball that night!
I was thrilled in 1988 when the NBA birthed the Charlotte Hornets. I was an instant fan of Muggsy Bogues, Kelly Tripucka and Rex Chapman. I loved watching Dell Curry, Alonzo Morning and Grandma…aka…Larry Johnson. I remember after going to a game we could stand in the players parking lot asking for autographs and watching them get into their cool cars. Charlotte was winning my heart.
In 1993, my junior year of High School, it was announced we would get an NFL team and I was pumped. Let’s face it the Brown are like the Cubs. It seems our best football is in our past. I still root for them to beat the Steelers and especially the Ravens! Yet, here I was given a fresh slate, a new start to give my whole heart to a local team, my city’s team.
In 1995, my freshman year in college, the Carolina Panthers started their first season. I was a fan from day one. We finished 7-9 that year…the best of any other first-year expansion team. I remember watching us play an unbelievable second year when we won the division and the joy of beating the Cowboys at home.
One of my favorite players back then was Sam Mills. He made some incredible plays for the Panthers and he seemed to put the new team on his shoulders to lead them through their first three seasons. It is awesome that his jersey is retired in the stadium and that he coached for a number of years.
In two weeks the Carolina Panthers will go back to the Super Bowl, a place they have visited only once before. The shoulders that helped carry them there, in 2003, was Sam Mills, who found out later that year that he had intestinal cancer. The doctors gave him only a few months to live. In an emotional speech to the team he told them to “Keep Pounding.” He never gave up and fought cancer. He kept coaching although he was going through chemo and radiation. I cannot imagine the inspiration he left on those players who looked at all he was going through and was still fighting.
Keep Pounding will be a chat we will hear over and over again the next two weeks but I hope the message of what it stands for is highlighted. I hope the name Sam Mills and the man he was and the inspiration he is will pound into the hearts of those who hear. I have always been a fan and will continue to be so. The video below highlights why this is the Carolina Panther’s mantra. As I wear my jersey, with Keep Pounding sown in the collar, and root my team on to what I hope will be their first Super Bowl victory…to all those who are hurting, fighting cancer, going through hardships in life…may they feel inspiration and KEEP POUNDING!