Making history isn’t an entirely uncommon thing in a franchise as young the Carolina Panthers. John Kasay, the last Panther from our opening season, was cut during the tenure of our current Head Coach. We are still young, yet we are old enough that certain records and legends have begun to cement themselves into a lore and a personality that is coming to define our fan base.
Players like Sam Mills, Steve Smith and Thomas Davis have set a standard for guys coming to this team to succeed in spite of expectations. Cam Newton came to us a transcendent talent, yet still mired in questions and barely disguised disdain. Good luck telling me the 2015 NFL MVP hasn’t succeeded in spite of those expectations. Even still, there is an edge to many fans created by the spite of those expectations. The woes of being a small market team, some might say. Poor management and coaching, others.
Regardless of your opinion, and they are legion, there is truth to the idea that, historically, we have struggled. We have kept pounding, but we have not always overcome. The most telling fact of our franchise is that on the eve of our 22nd season in the NFL, we still have not posted consecutive winning seasons. Three straight play off berths on the strength of three straight NFC South titles? Sure. But one of those titles (2014) came with a losing record that was the joke of the league entering the post season that year. That is a history that we are now poised to erase.
I was among the group of fans last year that watched our season with a small sense of disbelief. We didn’t feel like maybe the other shoe would drop at some point in that run of near-unending success, we knew that it would. When and how was anybody’s guess, but we knew that shoe was coming down. Until it didn’t. Until we were 15-1 and the clear favorite through to the Super Bowl. Until we lost a close game with nothing to blame but the fact that sometimes you don’t win close games. That had nothing to do with being a small market team.
There is a feeling of optimism, of hope, surrounding this team that hasn’t ever felt this real. Is it hubris, lingering from last season’s success? Maybe. Is it short memories and new fans? Maybe a little of that, too. But the truth is closer to the fact that we were good last season. We should be good this season.
There is no real way to say if we are going to be better, or even as good, in 2016. Players don’t always perform at the same level. Injuries happen. And sure, there are still questions about our team.
- How scary is the depth at offensive line?
- Will our rookie corners pan out?
Every team in the NFL is built to have questions, though. It is one of the few virtues of the salary cap. I’m less concerned with the nature of our questions than I am with the strength of our answers:
- How are we going to get a first down? Cam Newton.
- Who is going to be our #2 receiver? Funchess/Olsen, take your pick.
The fact is that the Carolina Panthers are as primed and ready as they have ever been to take on a season. That we have yet to have a winning record in consecutive seasons is about to be a quirk of our past and not a truth of our present. The 2016 season will only see that history kept alive by a long streak of injuries, which is to say that it can only be tradition by subtraction.