I just spotted this poll on fan loyalty and instinctively grabbed my cell phone and called Bill Buchanan.
He was sitting at a lake just south of Charlotte and he’d already heard that the Carolina Panthers fan base was ranked No. 1 among the worst when it comes to fan loyalty. Buchanan was mad and he should be.
For background purposes, read this story I did on Bill and his wife, Cindy, and their garage. It’s a shrine to the Carolina Panthers. I’ve met lots of football fans through the years and I don’t know of any more loyal to a team than Bill and Cindy are to the Panthers.
Let’s just say I strongly disagree with the Panthers being ranked with the least-loyal fan base.
Did the team have some major problems last year? Heck yeah. A 2-14 season in John Fox’s last year was an absolute disaster. The Panthers were as dysfunctional as any team in the league. But you can’t point any fingers at the fans.
They still showed up (and we’re not going to take any shots at Tampa Bay fans because there are a lot of factors beyond loyalty that go into why the Bucs had attendance problems last year).
“Yeah, it’s been a perfect storm of bad things recently,’’ Bill said. “But that doesn’t change my loyalty. It’s my team. It’s my home. It bears my name -- Carolina.’’
Yeah, there was a point last season when Bill got so discouraged that he sent an e-mail to the team’s official website and he was venting. Next thing he knew, his phone was ringing.
“Bill, this is Jerry,’’ the caller said.
It was Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Panthers. It’s not like he and Buchanan are close personal friends. But Richardson spent 20 or 30 minutes talking to Buchanan like they were close personal friends. Bill doesn’t want to reveal the exact nature of the conversation and everything that was discussed, but he said it’s safe to say he came out of it feeling more loyal than ever to the Panthers and firmly believing better times were ahead.
“The No. 1 reason I’ve been loyal to the Panthers since the day they started is Jerry Richardson,’’ Buchanan said. “That is a man of character, integrity and honesty. I love football and the Carolina Panthers have been in my blood since the day they came to town. I think about them 365 days a year.’’
I feel Bill’s pain with this slight on Carolina fans. Bill’s a friend, a guy I met soon after I moved to Charlotte to cover the Panthers in 1999. I spent nine seasons living and working in Charlotte and got to know and observe the fan base pretty closely. There were good seasons and bad seasons for the Panthers during that time.
But one thing that never was a question was fan loyalty. I’m not talking just about Bill here. I’ve used him as an example, but I can assure you there are thousands of others just like him. I've been all around the NFL and very quickly can think of a fair number of fan bases that aren't as loyal as Carolina's. I could list them, but I won't. No sense dragging any other fan base into this swamp.
Yeah, the Panthers have had their ups and downs and there’s no question they’re down right now. But through it all, the loyalty from Carolina fans never has been down.