I want to talk about success. What it is. What it means.
The quick out in the playoffs was such a stomach punch for Panthers fans it certainly pushed it to the forefront of "what do we make of this season" even with the 12-4 record. (12-4!) "It" being success. And that's no surprise -- it should be the discussion for every team who doesn't win the SB.
(First, quickly, I don't want to get called out if I've missed a quote [don't follow media that closely], but from what I've seen, players have nailed it. They think the season wasn't a "success" because they didn't win a Super Bowl. And that's exactly what the franchise wants. Needs, even. I love that fire -- and as we all know it says you have the mindset an organization has to have to be successful.)
But, what about the fans? And, unfortunately, with the beating Cam takes in the press, what about the media? Their opinion matters now because it shapes everything (again, unfortunate, but true). Did you, me, we think this season is a success? Of course it was. Not just a success. A rip-roaring, earth-shattering success regardless of that blow out 3 weeks ago.
This is why:
I'll admit I'm no die hard Panthers fan. I'm a Colorado guy, but spent some time in NC, and have a ton of friends in the area. And I've noticed something in the last two years, and it's become so conspicuous in the last 6 months I've finally had to comment on it.
The Panthers are exciting. No, not just "winning" exciting (which, yes, is the main component there), but "exciting-exciting." Winning gets plenty of casual fans going, but this is different. Cam has turned all of my friends from NC (who I've for years noticed basically ignore the team) into actual fans. Not band-wagoners; but fans. People who are invested -- excited.
Do you want hardcore fans who were there from the beginning? Of course. But this is pro sports and it doesn't always work that way. Cam has changed things in Charlotte. Rivera has. It's exciting. Win or lose -- it's fun. That is success.
Be it the "Riverboat" thing, Cam's charisma, Kuechly's fire, it doesn't matter. It's going down in Charlotte now. People are noticing.
I'm not talking about moral victories. In the last 2 years I've seen college basketball groupies turn into huge NFL fans. John Fox couldn't do that with winning. Jake Delhomme couldn't do it with winning. (They did win a few games...). And Steve Smith couldn't do it all on his own.
Carolina Panthers fans are a "thing" now, an actual fan base IMO. And it's all thanks to Cam and Co. That is huge. And that is success.
You have to have that in the pros. I think college teams can be successful with a few rich alumni and a great coach. But pros need the flash. Gotta have it.
I saw plenty of tweets last night from #KeepPounding peeps about missing out on the SB. And of course I get that. But this team is young, and they have no where to go but up. But, even if they struggle next year, when you get a fan base going like Newton has, success is going to stick around. You guys will demand it.
This is professional sports. Entertainment. It's for fun.
And right now, Panthers fans are having fun. THEY ARE ENTERTAINED.
And if that isn't success. What is?
Alec Lepage is a 30-something sportswriter and blogger in Denver who got his start covering high school football. He has contributed to multiple sports blogs and covers the NFL and NBA for Cannon Satellite TV.