It became abundantly clear as the season wore on that the Panthers' coach Ron Rivera, and much of his staff, were on the hot seat. Rivera's team had once again lost their way out of any hope for playoff contention. Already here at the CSR we were discussing possible Head Coaching and other coordinator candidates. But then, something clicked, and the Panthers finally began to win games. Ron Rivera was quoted as saying this:
"At the end of the day I'm being evaluated. But right now, it's not something I can be concerned with. If you start to worrying (about your job) and playing for the wrong reasons you're not going to give yourself a chance. When the moment comes or the time comes to be concerned, or not be concerned, then I'll go from there."
While some of you may not agree with the decision to have brought Rivera back, I admire his loyalty to the program. And he was exactly right in what he said. The Panthers didn't have much left to play for once they hit the 1-6 mark, and had even less once they were statistically eliminated from playoff contention. So what exactly happened, you ask? Let's take a look from a different perspective.
The Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens would end the season making the playoffs, but barely. And their last few games didn't strengthen any reasoning that they would go anywhere in the playoffs, either. However, for them a sad announcement arrived, and might have been a blessing in disguise. Ray Lewis told the media he would retire after the season, whether they lose in the playoffs or win the Super Bowl. Ray Lewis, a long-time motivator and defensive leader for the Baltimore Ravens, was calling it quits. And it ignited a fire in the locker room. The Ravens would go on to beat the Indianapolis Colts, another team whose success could be defined by loyalty. The Colts would be motivated by the loss of their head coach, who battled cancer for the majority of the year. However, the power of loyalty to Ray Lewis would ultimately beat them, and the fact that the Colts simply lacked the talent to beat the emotionally high Ravens.
As we all saw, this past weekend the Ravens would also beat the Broncos. Honestly, I didn't think the Ravens would have any chance to win. The Ravens are a good team, but the Broncos' season was just short of dominant in description. While the Ravens had quite a few things go their way in the win, I firmly believe that loyalty is what drove them to victory.
Ray Lewis was a man who played for his teammates. He gave emotional speeches about life and football, but you could almost always note a reference to his teammates, and how he leaves everything on the field for them. Ray Lewis commanded loyalty from his teammates, and for this one final ride his teammates have become motivated to get him as far as they can, whether he play one game, or two as the clock ticks down in his career. The AFC championship should be fun to watch, that my friends is certain.
What's the point?
The players for the 2012 Panthers really had nothing to play for as the season ended. The season was lost, many players were lost to injury, and it appeared that the Panthers would be yet again picking in the top 10 of the draft. However, the Panthers would instead come out and win 5 of their last 6 games, beating the likes of the Redskins, Falcons, and Saints. They would beat (and pretty decisively at that) two playoff contenders. And the reasoning for it? Their coaches.
While it is undoubtedly true that most players will tell the media that they want to keep their coaches, I have no doubt in my mind that this sentiment was sincere from the players. Charles Johnson tweeted that he hoped the Panthers would keep their entire coaching staff, and other players would fire off similar tweets and other such messages from different outlets. The Panthers team that touched the field to end off the season was very different from the one that started it. You could see the intensity and fire that players like Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, and Greg Hardy would play with to end the year. From the games that I had the pleasure of seeing, if I didn't know any better I would have thought the Panthers were making a playoff run. Should the Panthers continue to play as they did to end the season, their loyalty may very well guide them to greatness in 2013.
I have always respected this team, fan base, and organization for one thing, and that is loyalty. Whether it be Sam Mills and his incredible speech to motivate the Panthers, whether it be loyalty to the team even in our worst seasons as fans, or whether it be loyalty of players like Thomas Davis, who would take a pay cut to stay with the team he loves, the Carolina Panthers are built on loyalty, whether the loyalty be a strength or a weakness. Which is why I truly love this team and all of the fans who choose to follow us on the path to greatness.
Loyalty in football and in life (yes I'm doing it again) is a powerful force. When we devote ourselves to a cause or to a person/people, we often find strength we didn't know we had. This is why players like Sam Mills and Ray Lewis can have such an amazing effect on their teammates. When you find yourself fighting for someone or something rather than yourself, it can bring out the best in a person. I have found myself to be at my absolute best when I have someone or something that drives me. It is important to find the things and people you are loyal to, and when it comes the time to fight for them, you keep pounding until you succeed.