Carolina was not expected to do too much in their inaugural season. After all, they were an expansion team and expansion teams are suppose to be the whipping posts for more established teams. Many experts, analysts and fans pointed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and how awful they were in their first season and essentially used that as the measuring stick for the '95 Panthers success.
I thought I would write a post that was not about current events in the NFL or any news regarding the current roster or staff in Carolina. You will not find anything regarding scandals, how well the rookies will do in 2012 or the Panthers chances of making the playoffs. Instead, I am taking the Panther faithful back in time to Year One or more specifically, 1995. This year will always be special to me and here are the reasons why. First, I was a skinny, nerdy looking teenager living in Spartanburg, SC and was very much on the Panthers bandwagon. Sure, I had my love for the Atlanta Falcons but that love would gradually fade away and now I see the Dirty Birds as more of a casual friend. That same year, the Atlanta Braves would win their division, the pennant and finally, the World Series. I guess that would be the benchmark for the season I could expect from my two favorite teams; one of surprises and defying the odds. Yes, there is mention of baseball here on a football blog. However, I want you to open your mind and think back to a time where there wasn't all this BS happening in every aspect of the sporting world. Plus, it will give the Braves fans here something to reflect on and reminisce.
In similar fashion, the Atlanta Braves were not expected to do much in postseason of 1995. They had been to the playoffs three times before and came up short each time. However, they did finish with the best NL record and behind the pitching of future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, beat the Colorado Rockies 3-1 in the first Division Series played by MLB.
Carolina opened up its season to a 23-20 overtime loss to Atlanta thus laying the foundation for the I-85 rivalry. In retrospect, I wish that series could be closer but there was a time Carolina did not have an answer for the mobile Michael Vick. But I digress. The Panthers started the way of any typical expansion team and lost its first five games. Losses to Falcons and the Chicago Bears were painstakingly hard because they were both decided by a mere three points. However, the Panthers went and did something no one could or would ever predict: they won four in a row! One of those wins coming against the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers. As long as I live, I will never forget that game and the look of disbelief on my brother's face (he was a die hard Niners fan at the time).
The Braves moved on to the National League Championship Series and met up with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were good but the Braves were better as indicated by the four game sweep. This was new and uncharted territory for the Braves as they had not put away a pennant this fast in previous years. They won in Game 7 in both 1991 and 1992. They lost to the Phillies in six the following year. Obviously, the excitement was building for Braves fans. Atlanta would meet up with the Cleveland Indians in the World Series in what was billed as the best hitting team (Indians) versus the best pitching team (Braves). The Series was a good one but in the end it saw Tom Glavine get the series clinching win and bring Atlanta its first and only major sports championship.
After their winning streak, the Panthers found themselves swapping wins and losses from Week 11 to 17. They had their ups (blowing out the Cardinals and evening the series against the Falcons). They had their downs (a disappointing loss to the Niners and a close loss in the final week against the Redskins). However, the groundwork was laid of what was to become and quite possibly the spark of something great.
1995 was definitely one to be remembered and it set the precedent for each team. The Braves would continue their winning ways for another eleven seasons and the Panthers would make history the following season by becoming the first team to get to the NFC Championship game in only its second season. It would take them another six years to reach the Super Bowl but what they were able to accomplish in a matter of two years was very impressive. I am 31 years old now and even if the Panthers or the Braves make a championship run, none will compare to the magic that was 1995.