Flair turns on hometown Panthers for 49ers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Let me tell you a story about a professional wrestler.

It was the summer of 1977. Ric "The Nature Boy" Flair and Ricky Steamboat began a bitter feud that eventually saw Steamboat strip Flair of his NWA heavyweight title.

It became so bitter that in 1978 Flair attacked Steamboat and rubbed his face across the studio floor. A week later, Steamboat attacked Flair and ripped his clothes off.

Then in the spring of 1979, Flair had had a falling out with Paul Jones, who apparently also had betrayed Steamboat. So Flair and Steamboat paired to become the "dream team" in an attempt to defeat Jones and Baron Von Raschke for the tag team title.

So why is this a topic as the Carolina Panthers prepare to host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday for the right to play in the NFC Championship Game?

Because Flair apparently has flip-flopped from supporting his hometown Panthers to the 49ers.

It began earlier this week when a video of the Panthers using Flair's famous "WOOOOOOO" chant in the locker room following a 21-20 victory over Atlanta made its way onto the internet.

Quarterback Cam Newton even tossed in a "and The Nature Boy'' shout at the end.

After talking to cornerback Drayton Florence, who brought the chant to the team, I discovered Florence was trying to get Flair to come to the stadium before this week's game to give a motivational speech.

I also discovered Florence, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell filmed a "WOOOOOOO'' video to put on the stadium Jumbotron to fire up the fans.

Here's what Flair said after learning of all this.

"I'm humbled to have achieved that much respect by my hometown team," he said. "I really believe the Panthers have the weapons to go all the way."

Wait. There's more. On Nov. 18, before the Panthers played New England on Monday night, Flair sent this phone message to the team:

"Hey boys, it's The Nature Boy Ric Flair calling you live from Atlanta, Ga.," he said. "Tonight's the night guys. The New England Patriots are in town. Who cares? It's Carolina Panther time guys.

"Cam Newton, athletic gifts unparalleled. Steve Smith, the baddest man in the NFL. My good buddy Mario, you guys do it tonight. Remember, to be the team, you've got to beat the team. And right now you are the team, and will be all night long."

Now fast-forward to Saturday night at the 49ers' hotel in Green Bay. Flair appeared wearing dark sunglasses and to the music of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

He told the players somebody from the organization contacted the WWE and asked that he show up to give a motivational speech. He said he "couldn't be more honored'' to be among them.

He cracked jokes about them coming to Charlotte this week before they beat Green Bay 23-20.

"That's my hometown,'' he chuckled. "Cam ain't going to like that, either."

He also referenced that the Panthers were "lucky" to beat the 49ers 10-9 earlier this season in San Francisco, and admitted "I didn't know the guys beat you this year."

Then he called the 49ers "Ric Flair's team."

"Ric Flair's heart is with the 49ers, all the way to the end,'' said Flair, who was born in Memphis, Tenn., and became a resident of Charlotte in 1974. "Sleep on that tonight, brothers.''

Then there was a "WOOOOOOO."

Then there was a strut.

So will the Panthers continue to pursue Flair to speak to the team? Will Florence scrap the video and come up with something else?

Or will Flair leave his beloved 49ers and return to the Panthers like he ended his feud with Steamboat to partner with him?

Sounds like a WWE script.

And you're surprised Flair has shown allegiance to two teams why?