At Rock Hill’s Express Beverage on Celanese Road, the first thinsg you see as the Carolina Panthers prepare to battle Sunday are Panthers flags flying from the owner’s car. There are Panthers posters all over the front walls and windows of the building. Inside, Panthers gear everywhere. The owner wears a Panthers jacket and wristband.
“Keep pounding, Panthers!” says the owner as he flashes a huge smile and talks about watching the game that means so much to him.
The owner – as big a Carolina Panthers fan as you’ll find anywhere – is from Iran.
Mark Kaveh came to America in 1988. He is in the stands at Bank of America Stadium for most home games and has been going to see his team play since the mid-1990s. He plans to be there Sunday for the playoffs against the hated Seattle Seahawks.
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“The Panthers are my team,” Kaveh said. “They are the best.”
Interest in the Panthers is at an all-time high right now, with a 15-1 record and a home playoff game on Sunday. A winning NFL team, the playoffs and Sunday beer sales are big economic boosts for Rock Hill and York County – and for Kaveh and other immigrants who own stores and work long, brutal hours.
But being a Carolina fan means far more than selling beer. The Panthers are just as much a part of these immigrants’ lives as anybody.
“I have been with the Panthers since their first game 20 years ago,” said India-born, Rupal Patel, owner of Herlong Express in Rock Hill near Piedmont Medical Center. “They are born in Carolina. I came to Carolina in ’92. I have been a fan since day one. The Panthers are my team. We love the Panthers.”
Being a Panthers fan means inclusion for so many people whose lives started in other countries.
“The Panthers bring everybody together,” said Huy Pham, who owns and operates H & H Mart on Willowbrook Avenue in Rock Hill. Pham was born in Vietnam, and he and his parents came here decades ago, after the Vietnam War. “It kinda shows the world that a small area can be just as big when you bring yourselves together.”
All over Rock Hill, where so many stores are run by immigrants, signs, posters, flags, lights and more are emblazoned with the Carolina Panthers logo. These stores proudly show customers they are part of the same group rooting for the team this weekend.
The success of the Panthers is their success.
Archit Patel, who owns and runs the Horizon Mart on South York Road in Rock Hill, moved here 14 years ago from India. Panthers signs cover three walls in his business. His customers are Panthers fans and he is, too – and he wants everybody to know it.
“Go Panthers!” Patel says, no different than any other super fan.
There are no boundaries for countries when it comes to the Panthers. No politicians – who seem to divide people in the Carolinas with every speech – can do what the Panthers do: Bring people together.
“Every weekend, people do tailgate parties; families, they gather together,” Kaveh said. “It is very good for business, too, these Panthers.”
Yes, that business is beer, but the Panthers bring far more than a cold, frosty one.
“Everybody roots for the same team,” Kaveh said. “We are all together for the Panthers. We all say, ‘Keep pounding!’ ”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065