Bicycle clubs do not unite people. Jogging does not unite people. Art galleries, no. Men named Trevor, never. The mind slips to fields of flowers and minivans.
A guy’s guy named Cam, you think Glasspack mufflers and listening to “Hot Rod Lincoln” and fast cars.
Carolina Panthers, yes, unity.
And chicken wings and beer and church.
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If you don’t want to sleep in the garage, put church before beer.
There are things that bring people together and – starting Thursday, as the Carolina Panthers return to action after a magical run to the Super Bowl last season – those things again combine to give people what they need, in a world filled with the nonstop blatherings of the mean old scary lady Hillary Clinton and the real life Riddler villain bent on world domination, Donald Trump.
The Panthers bring people together against the Denver Broncos. Sure, Denver stomped the Panthers in the Super Bowl. But sports is about renewal. Panthers’ fans, they just love them.
Danny Holmes owns the Towne Tavern in Fort Mill and Wings University in Rock Hill. On game day, both specialize in two things: wings and Panthers. They have a hundred televisions, and when games are on, none is showing CNN or CSPAN or even FOX News. You can talk about Trump and Clinton there: You get to talk to yourself. Talk politics on game night, the bartender will shun you even if you wave a $100 bill.
It’s football season.
Holmes said one word Wednesday as he prepared both places for the Thursday night kickoff game, a word that explains the whole regional love affair with the Carolina Panthers: “Us.”
“To be in the first game kicking off the season,” he said, “against the team from the Super Bowl, it is huge for us.”
“Us” means the fans, the team, the movement of uniting people that took the Carolinas by storm last year as the Panthers lost just once before the Super Bowl.
“People have been talking about this game for a week, a month, months,” Holmes said. “People are, well, riled up.”
At The Well church in Rock Hill last season, the pastor wore his Panthers jersey to preach. The parishioners wore jerseys. There were game functions, watch parties, leading to the Super Bowl. There was joy and inclusion and fellowship. The Panthers helped bring it all.
Just two weeks ago, the Panthers drum line performed at the church. They love their Panthers at The Well.
The reason is the fellowship and community the Panthers bring to people. The Panthers, associate pastor James Holston says, unite people.
“People always want to root for something,” he said.
There are new cooler signs at Xpress Beverage in Rock Hill. The coolers filled with cold beer now have Carolina Panthers signs on them, as if Mark Kaveh, owner and Panthers fan for 22 years – as long as there have been Carolina Panthers – needed more Panthers. He wears his jersey and he talks Panthers with all customers. He sells cans of beer with Panthers on them. Almost every inch of the place is Panthers logos and signs and schedules and more.
He went to the Super Bowl. Like all great fans, he blamed the loss on the officials.
“You can play against the good team,” Kaveh said, “but you can’t play against the bad referees.”
People have been looking forward to the new season since the last season ended, Kaveh said. All are united to celebrate.
The beer coolers are full. The prayers are out there. The wings are cooking.
Finally, the wait is over.