Being a fan of the Carolina Panthers is akin to being in a relationship with someone you can never quite figure out. They always intrigue you, they always excite you, but more often than not they leave you scratching your head wondering if maybe you're just not smart enough to get where they're coming from.
It's easy to root for the basic tenets of what this organization stands for: honor, integrity and hard work. It's these core beliefs instilled by Jerry Richardson that have produced tough, blue collar, high character players who more often than not have a heavy heart when they leave the organization.
Sadly, in the last few days we have had a good many players leave Charlotte with that same lump in their chests; Twitters aflutter, tearful farewells and odes to fond memories. As much as a fan believes in the black and teal it's tough to say goodbye to players who donned the Panthers' jersey with pride and played the right way, the Carolina Panther way.
More after the jump...None of us truly know what 2010 brings for the organization. The pure fact that at the time of this writing over one hundred and thirty comments were posted regarding the state of the team, and the leaving of Brad Hoover shows the passion that Carolina Panther fans have for their team, and their players. We all sit back and watch as the stories unfold:
"How did we cut him?"
"Why are we getting rid of him?"
"Why are the Panthers so obsessed with getting so young?"
These feelings are exacerbated by a fan base who truly believed we were on the brink of something very, very special for the 2010 season. Dominant wins against some of the league's elite towards the end of the 2009 campaign had numerous fans prematurely considering a possible Superbowl birth for the 2010 Panthers; and with each of these transactions it appears we are getting further, and further away from this dream.
I am here to tell you it's not the end of the world, it's not the end of the Panthers season... this is only the beginning.
The 2010 Carolina Panthers' nucleus may be very, very young... but that doesn't mean they wont embody those same characteristics the Big Cat expects from his Carolina Panthers- honor, integrity and hard work.
Too often the term 'rebuilding' is thrown around with any team daring to shed veterans, or retool a certain position. It is this term 'rebuilding' which I believe is being prematurely applied to the 2010 Carolina Panthers. It appears that in some fans' minds the team has already made the concession that 2010 will be a wash, a throw away season, one without hope. These same fans were the ones I chose to target when I self appointed the moniker 'CSR's resident optimist'.
I saw a fan base the beginning of 2009 utterly disillusioned and without hope. I saw all over the blogosphere and media threatening to leave to become a fan of 'Team X' or 'Organization Y' unless the Panthers kowtowed to the conditions they put forth; most often entailing firing coaches, benching players or signing other stars. The Panthers bided their time before pulling the trigger on these moves and slowly, but surely clawed their way back. Optimism was briefly restored to the Carolina Panthers' fan base saw the hope of success, and the possibility of a trip to the promised land. Sadly, the Panthers were a couple of plays and a few minutes too short from achieving this goal, they waited perhaps just a week or two too long to pull the trigger.
Now I see an organization not willing to wait those extra couple of weeks to pull the trigger. They're making the tough decisions now; before the draft, before training camp and before preseason. The 2010 Panthers are young, but they're also hungry. The last time I saw a group of young, hungry and unproven Carolina Panthers was in 2003 and they became our Cardiac Cats.
What some see as merely a cap dump and rebuild I see as a streamlining. I see an offense being turned over to one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL, I see the greatest RB tandem ever to grace an NFL field, I see a WR with a chip on his shoulder bigger than any stadium can contain and I see an offensive line- resolute and strong, rich with Pro Bowlers and promise.
I see a defense that is being molded in our sophomore DC's image, I see the best linebacker in the NFL, I see one of the most dangerous OLBs in the NFC and a secondary full of players dying to make a play. Will the defense look different? Absolutely, it's being polished every day. However, I learnt something while watching the 2009 Panthers play; we have a tactician at defensive coordinator that I haven't seen the Panthers have in the past. A man unafraid to change the defensive scheme to shake things up, and I see a coach who went from being met with skepticism to embraced with open arms; "In Ron I trust."
To Jake, Hoov, Rhys, D-Lew, Na'il, Kemo and Landon- we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for playing the right way and being true Carolina Panthers, for embodying that spirit. We wish you nothing but the best and will hope you succeed wherever you go in the NFL or beyond, but with a heavy heart we as a fan base need to move on too.
I trust in this organization and this front office to continue to supply us with a product on the field on Sundays we can be proud of, win or lose. Not because they'll always succeed, but because we know that they'll always give it 110% and be true Carolina Panthers.
I trust in the current scouts and coaches who have given the Carolina Panthers nine Pro Bowlers in ten drafts. Think about that for a moment... the Panthers have had a different player reach the Pro Bowl each year for the last decade, all of whom were drafted by the Panthers in that same time period (DeAngelo Williams, Kris Jenkins, Julius Peppers, Kyan Kalil, Jordan Gross, Steve Smith, Dan Morgan, Mike Rucker, Jon Beason); and yet we doubt their ability to evaluate young talent now, why is that?
So, Panther faithful don't dwell in the cuts and hardships brought on by retooling or modification. I hereby declare that we stop calling 2010 a 'rebuilding year' and instead look at it like the Panthers' front office is looking at it: 2010 marks an evolution. Just as they evolved and improved in 2009 so this 2010 team will fulfill their true potential; and I have no doubt they will achieve this as long as each and every player embodies the Big Cats' three basic tenets: honor, integrity and hard work.