Cruising around downtown Charlotte Friday afternoon, I saw few signs that, in less than 48 hours, the city will host the Panthers' season opener -- let alone any regular season Panthers game.
I saw a few people in oxford shirts (this is still, at least for the moment, a banking town), but none -- none -- in teal blue. Dozens of people were walking around East Blvd. near the intersection of South Blvd. for the Greek Festival. More were gathered under tents off Church Street for the Brews and Barbecue. Construction workers were erecting more condos that nobody will buy. The weather was humid and in the low 80's, with a clear carolina blue sky.
In sum, it was a typical late-summer Friday afternoon here.
So where was the buzz for the Panthers? On Sunday the defending NFC South champs open up the season, at home, against an NFC rival from the northeast. This should add up to some excitement. Sure, the Epicentre was preparing to host a pep rally (as it is scheduled to do before every home game this season), but even that was sparsely attended.
What gives? Here is one theory: There seems to be a strange sense of dread around town about the Panthers. They went 0-4 in the preseason and endured a rough offseason. The owner fired his kids from the front office. The star defensive player said he wanted out and skipped minicamp. And Jake Delhommeis back for more picks (ESPN's Bill Simmons summed up the way many Panthers fans feel about Jake in this column Thursday).
Sunday should be a great day. The weather is expected to be fine, it's a season opener and there figure to be hundreds of Eagles fans around to taunt (Try this one: "Nineteen-Sixty"). But I doubt local fans will be as peppy as they were for last year's home opener, which fell one week after the Panthers shocked the Chargers in San Diego.
This seems to be an annual charade for the Panthers here. Ever since they failed to meet huge expectations in the 2006 season, when many experts were picking them to reach the Super Bowl, local fans greet the start of the season with levels of pessimism and caution that are more characteristic of ... well, Eagles fans.
If the Panthers want the home-field advantage they enjoyed last season, it looks like they will have to earn it once again. That starts Sunday.