Carolina Panthers Football
The Carolina Panthers are have played 13 seasons in the National Football League. The Panthers were an expansion franchise along with Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1995 NFL season.
Three NFC Title Game Appearances
The Panthers have proven to be a competent franchise, reaching the NFC Championship Game three times and the Superbowl once in their short time in the league. The Panthers defeated the World Champion Dallas Cowboys in their first ever playoff game, though the Panthers lost to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field the next week in the NFC Title Game.
Many experts believe the Panthers and the Jags were given a boost in the expansion process, though the real key to the early success of these organizations was the advent of free agency. The Panthers were able to build a veteran team based on the defensive philosophies of expansion coach, Dom Capers.
1996-1997 NFC Championship Games
In only their second year in the league, the Panthers were able to send eight players to the Pro Bowl, including Kerry Collins, Lamar Lathon, Wesley Walls and Kevin Greene.
Coach Dom Capers was a product of the Pittsburgh Steelers system. Capers brought the zone blitzing scheme which was a hallmark of the Steelers defenses of the 1990′s. Kevin Greene was a major addition, because his pass-rushing skills helped enhance the zone blitz.
Quarterback Kerry Collins was the first overall draft pick in Carolina Panthers history. Collins would become a star in only his second season, though Collins’ drinking problems would lead to his early departure from the team. The Panthers’ faith in the talent of Collins was proven years later, when he led the New York Giants to the Superbowl. Though Kerry Collins never reached the potential he showed early in his career, Collins remains an NFL player to this day, acting as the backup to Vince Young in what will be Collins’ 14th NFL season in 2008.
Rae Carruth and Fred Lane
Other Panthers selections had personal problems. Rae Carruth, the 1st round selection of the Panthers in the 1997 NFL Draft, would go to prison for the murder of his girlfriend in 1999. The following year, running back Fred Lane would die of gunshot wounds during a domestic dispute with his wife. The Panthers had traded Lane to the Colts earlier that offseason, after a previous domestic dispute.
End of the Capers Years
Along with Kerry Collins and Rae Carruth, several of the Carolina Panthers high draft picks disappointed. Tim Biakabatuka, the 1st round selection of the Panthers in the 1996 season, was often injured. With several top draft picks failing to deliver and their top veterans getting old quickly, the Panthers fired Dom Capers after the 1998 season.
The Carolina Panthers hired George Seifart to replace Capers. Seifart was the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners had been a consistent winner throughout Seifart’s years and Seifart had won two Superbowls as a head coach. Still, the Niners had unrealistic expectations due to their five Superbowl titles in the eighties and nineties, and they eventually let Seifart go.
The Seifart stint in Carolina never worked the way it was hoped. Through the first two years of Seifart’s reign, the Panthers were an average team and posted records of 7-9 and 8-8. Seifart placed his team in the hands of Steve Beurlein. At first, this move worked, and the Panthers had one of the top passing offenses in the NFL in 1999 and barely missed the playoffs. Seifart’s third and final season was a complete flop, after Beurlein was waived in the offseason and the team eventually had to rely on a rookie quarterback.
John Fox would become the third coach of the NFL Carolina Panthers. Fox was a defensive coordinator on the New York Giants team which had reached the Superbowl a year before. Fox decided to build up the Panthers’ defense, and went a long way to doing this when he drafted Julius Peppers as the 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Other defensive additions were Kris Jenkins, Brentson Buckner and Mike Rucker, giving the Panthers the best young defensive line in football. The Panthers would add two standout free agent additions, with quarterback Jake Delhomme from the New Orleans Saints and Stephen Davis from the Washington Redskins. These additions and the emergence of wide receiver Steve Smith made for a championship year in 2003.
Davis led a solid rushing attack for the 2003 Carolina Panthers. Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith became stars at their positions, linking up for many big plays in the Panthers’ run to the Superbowl. For the second time in franchise history, the Panthers would defeat the Dallas Cowboys (this time led by Bill Parcells) in the playoffs. The Panthers would beat the Donovon McNaab and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, advancing to the Superbowl against the New England Patriots.
The Panthers put on a classic performance in the Superbowl, with Jake Delhomme matching Tom Brady point-for-point through much of the game. Only a game-winning field goal late in the game seperated the Panthers from the Patriots, who were in the midst of three Superbowl wins in four seasons.
Many experts picked the Panthers to repeat as NFC Champions in 2004, but the season would be one of disappointment for Panthers fans. Steve Smith broke his leg early in the 2004 season. Injuries would plague Carolina all season and the team missed the playoffs.
2005: NFC Championship and Doping Charges
The Panthers rebounded in the 2005, with Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme returning to form. The defense, which itself had key injuries the year before, also returned to dominant form. Like the 2003 team, the 2005 Panthers would need to go on the road to make the Superbowl. They defeated the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in the first two rounds of the playoffs, before losing to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship.
The season was one of controversy and trouble for the Panthers, nevertheless. Punter Todd Sauerbrun and two linemen, Todd Steussie and Jeff Mitchell, were part of a 60 Minutes story which alleged the three were involved with a steroids ring.
Panthers Falter in 2006 and 2007
The Panthers remain a top pick by many preseason experts. But key injuries continue to plague the team. Jake Delhomme has been injured for significant periods of time in the past two seaons, while linebacker Dan Morgan cannot seem to stay healthy. Kris Jenkins was injured often, and finally traded to the New York Jets in the 2008 offseason. Julius Peppers has been hurt for extended periods, though he continues to be considered one of the top defensive ends in the NFL.
The Panthers have some hope for the future. Steve Smith remains an elite receiver, while young draft picks like Deangelo Williams and Jon Beason give hope that the Panthers can make a turnaround.
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