The Carolina Panthers in their joyful run to the Super Bowl are doing something that maybe never has been done - uniting North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Panthers are promoting it on social media using the hashtag #One Carolina, but it really is true. Football, success, and pride, has brought together these people of these long rivals like nothing ever has. Towns and cities, counties and regions, are forgetting the labels that divide them to rally behind this team with the magical names of Cam Newton at quarterback and Luke Kuechly at linebacker and so many more.
“Everyone loves a winner,” said Panthers fan Zach Beach, 18, of Lake Wylie, who is a classic Carolina tweener. He was born and raised in Charlotte, ended up as an older kid across the Buster Boyd Bridge in York County. “We are all searching for heroes - and now we have heroes in the Panthers because they are doing so great. People in Charlotte and here on this side of the state line in South Carolina are all rooting for the Panthers.”
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Linda Walker of Fort Mill is another Panthers fan who crosses borders and shows it can be done. This grandmother lives in Fort Mill, but works in Charlotte and said that in both Carolinas people at home and at work are talking Panthers pride that is bringing people together.
“People really are behind this team and they are together behind the team whether they are from North Carolina or South Carolina,” Walker said.
Many fans from South Carolina for the past 20 years made it a point to tell everybody they knew that the Carolina Panthers is the name - not the Charlotte Panthers or the North Carolina Panthers. Some in South Carolina often felt slighted - even when the Panthers played their first games at Clemson two decades ago before their stadium in Charlotte was built.
“This is a great thing for people of both states,” said James Saddler of Rock Hill.
Melody Holley of Rock Hill said that Panthers pride is such a unifier that at her church, Agape International Ministries, the pastor and other church leaders wear Panthers jersey to Sunday services, and people gather to watch games together. Holley wears her Cam Newton Jersey to church and is proud to do it.
“People are enjoying being part of this - the Carolina Panthers,” Holley said. “The team has brought people together.”
At Robert Harper’s roadside Panthers concession stand at Riverside Plaza on U.S. 21 just south of the Catawba River bridge, the Panthers success is a huge draw for people from both states. Harper, a concessionaire who has sold everything in decades on the road selling merchandise, knows more than a few things about unity.
“The winning of the team, the success of the team, how they play together, people no doubt like that,” Harper said. “People feel good about this. It lifts them up.”
Harper said that he has had requests for merchandise from as far as Charleston.
Chris Stutts of Rock Hill, helping Harperduring this busy week in selling officially licensed Panthers gear on the side of the road, agreed.
“People from both South Carolina and North Carolina want to be a part of the Panthers success,” Stutts said.
As Harper helped other customers, employees from the Town of Fort Mill stopped by to get 10Panthers flags for town display to show that Panthers uniting people extends from people to the towns the people live in. There have been proclamations in counties such as Lancaster where the county council has officially endorsed One Carolinas Panthers Pride. There are Carolina Panthers blue lights and water at Rock Hill’s Fountain Park.
The Panthers reach - giving people a sense of shared purpose and success - appears to have not even crested yet.
“The Panthers win the Super Bowl - Cam Newton will be even bigger, the Panthers will be even bigger,” said Harper.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065