Recap - Panthers 45, Dolphins 21
I headed out Sunday evening after the Jacksonville game up I-95 in my rental car headed to Hilton Head, SC where I would make camp for the night before heading on to The 'Queen City' the next afternoon. As the sun went down I noticed a lot of folks beeping at me and a few giving me the finger. Figuring it was all part of some odd ‘Southern Hospitality’, I just beeped and gave the finger back.
I pulled off somewhere in the South Carolina low country to gas up and get some ‘Goody’s Headache Powder’. It was then I realized that I was driving the whole time with my lights off. This explained the beeping and fingers I was getting. I pulled out of the filling station, made an illegal left turn over a divider, then jumped back on the highway to finish my trip to Hilton Head.
Once on the island, there were practically no streetlights so the roads were pitch black and GPS was a little spotty – but somehow I found the resort and checked in around 9 PM both tired and hungry. I had a great dinner then sat the bar to watch the Sunday night game. I was joined by two couples from Chattanooga, we got to talking about whiskey and they recommended I try a bourbon called Larceny. The bartender suggested we try a drink made with this bourbon called the ‘Forbidden Sour’. I quickly put back 2, had a slice of pecan pie a la mode with my 3rd and then had one more ‘for the road’ before bar closing time. Being a nice night, I decided to wander outside around the resort grounds down by the ocean. I found a nice hammock by the pool area where I thought would be a nice spot to rest my eyes for 5 minutes. Next thing I know I’m being woken up by a maintenance worker at 7:45 in the morning and have a brain splitting hangover. Later that morning and early afternoon, I set out to explore Hilton Head trying to avoid as much noise and bright light as possible. So much for my plans to golf and go bike riding. Around 2 PM I hit the road to head up I-77 to Charlotte.
Luckily the skies were sunny and the roads were clear. I had plenty of water, I had my music and was making great time. Then, I saw my oasis. The cure for any hangover, in fact, the sure for pretty much anything at all – a Waffle House. After ordering a Triple 'All The Way' hashbrown and some of that vile Waffle House coffee, I felt (almost) like a new person! The rest of the trip into Charlotte was a breeze – well, except for the last 40 minutes which was brutal bumper to bumper rush hour traffic across the North Carolina border.
I got to my Charlotte B&B around 6 PM. I rested up a bit then headed out on foot to Bank of America Stadium (BoA). For some reason I assumed that since this stadium was driving distance from Florida that I’d enjoy the same mild temperatures that I had yesterday, but it was obvious that I wasn’t wearing enough and I’d probably have a tough time dealing with the November North Carolina chill throughout the night. As I got closer to the stadium, the crowd grew larger and larger and there was more activity – street vendors, musicians, sidewalk preachers, etc.
There was a huge crowd of fans on the streets in front of BoA stadium and lots of pre-game ‘tailgate’ activity. Instead of a sea of asphalt parking lots, the area around BoA is very park-like – lots of green fields and trees. Bank of America Stadium is in the Uptown area of Charlotte directly off I-277. This district is the business, sports, entertainment and restaurant hub for the Queen City. It includes the corporate headquarters for Bank of America, Duke Energy and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The stadium was impressive at first sight – especially the enormous bronze Panther statues ‘guarding’ the main gates and the very self-praising statue of owner Jerry Richardson flanked by Panthers like some kind of greek god. In addition there is a statue of Mike McCormack , the GM and architect of the first Panther teams and player / coach Sam Mills.
The Panthers Lair opens two hours before each game in the plaza outside of the stadium and offers a pep rally, appearances and autograph sessions with former Panther players, food trucks, music and lots of giveaways
The Panthers have been at BoA since 1996 and I’ve read that every game here since 2002 has been a sellout. Of the 75,000 seats available – only 1% of them are sold as single game tickets – so pretty much everyone wanting to see a single game – like myself – is forced to get them on the secondary market. With such a supportive fan base, you’d expect a good deal of energy around the stadium on gameday – but there is always a bit more of it on Sunday or Monday night games – and there was a load of it last night. The fan base and game attendees is pretty equally split between North and South Carolina residents, hence the ‘Carolina’ Panthers name. Fans have had a lot to cheer about over the years as the team has been largely successful getting to 4 NFC Championship games and 2 Super Bowls. Most people think of the Carolinas as “basketball country” but the Panthers fans seem as dedicated to their team as any I’ve seen. There's good value in taking in a game here – the average ticket cost for a ticket to a Panthers is $80, ranking among the lowest in the NFL.
Getting through the security lines didn’t take long and I was quickly inside the open concourse. I had some time to kill before kickoff so I explored the stadium with two objectives – getting food in my belly and getting something warmer to throw on my body over this thin polo short that I thought would be enough. There were several merchandise vendors on the mail level and one really big and well stocked Team store. Since I can care less about the Panthers and doubt I’ll wear whatever I bought after today, I oped for one of the hoodies hanging on the ‘discount rack’ which was actually kind of nice and only cost me $20.
There seems to be an ongoing debate in the Carolinas regarding what kind of BBQ sauce is the better one - Vinegar based or Tomato based. The concession stands all had an ample supply of both. There was plenty of representation from North Carolina staples - Krispy Kreme, and Cheerwine Soda. Overall there were a lot of concession stands and the lines were much shorter and moved faster than at most other stadiums I’ve been to.
The game was close through most of the first half but quickly turned with 41 seconds left in the first half, when Luke Kuechly made a leaping interception along the sideline with Carolina leading 10-7. From there on Carolina had their way with the Dolphins sending them to their third straight loss by a score of 45-21
Jonathan Stewart ran for a season-high 110 yards, and Cam Newton had a 69-yard run on a read option as the Panthers racked up 294 yards on the ground. It was Stewart's first 100-yard game since last December at Washington. Rookie RB Christian McCaffrey scored touchdowns rushing and receiving, and Devin Funchess caught five passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns. The win moved the Panthers to 7-3 on the year.
It was a little challenging for me rooting wise since I had a slim lead in my fantasy matchup and my opponent had Panthers kicker Graham Gano. Luckily for me, Gano ended up with a lot more PATs than FGs and I barely held on for the win.
The game experience is enhanced by a pair of 55 ft. tall by 198 ft. wide HD video boards in each end of the field. The team mascot Sir Purr made the rounds during the game. Before each home game, a huge drum is rolled onto the field marked 'Keep Pounding' with the fans joining into a chant when the drum pounding begins.
Today I spent he day exploring Charlotte starting with a tour which I booked which it turned out that I was the only person who signed up for - so it was a private tour of the city. Charlotte is a progressively growing city with some wonderfully diverse neighborhoods and a thriving cultural and entertainment presence Some of the more interesting neighborhoods are Myers Park, Dilworth and South End. It was also nice cruising around the Eastover neighborhood and checking out all of the multi-million dollar homes. A really cool venue was the AvidXchange Music Factory, located in uptown Charlotte, which is a hub for concerts, events, dining, bars and entertainment. The neighborhood around Davidson university (Alma matter of Steph Curry) also had some great places to eat and shop. I had lunch uptown at Merts one of the best Soul Food restaurants on the planet. The most interesting an vibrant part of uptown Charlotte is the epicenter which is the center of entertainment and nightlife in Charlotte. One more must see is the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I'm not in any way a fan of NASCAR , but this place had so many interesting exhibits including an interactive simulator where you get to try your hand at driving in a NASCAR race. I didn't fare so well, I demolished my car and 6 others.
Tonight I am headed back to airport to drop off my rental car and head back to the Garden State.
I have 3 more stadium visits left this season. I'll need to bundle up and hide my wallet for the next trip – mid December in Detroit and Cleveland
Fans - B - The fans have had a lot to cheer about over the last few years with a good Panther team. Most of the folks that I talked to were friendly and fun.
Features - B - The cool Panthers statues, The Panther's Lair, Sir Purr.
Location - B+ - Great downtown location. Easy walk to lots of bars, restaurants.
Food - B+ - Carolina BBQ and Krispy Kreme!
Game - C - Close at first but turned into a rout. Great for the Panthers fans.
Overall Experience - B - Nice stadium and fun experience. Would have been better if the temperatures hadn't dropped do quickly.