All teams have their strong points. Some have the best run defense, others the best passing game, others the best overall record. But there are other aspects to every franchise that take place both on and off the field. Those things can't always be measured and tabulated.
Every team has fans that love them and I'm willing to bet that each of those fans would say that their team is the best. But overall, I would argue that the best franchise in the NFL is the Carolina Panthers.
Here are a few reasons why....
On October 26, 1993, Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to become a team owner in the NFL. Having played the game means that he’s able to see things from a perspective that most owners can’t. He uses that knowledge to better the organization. It also means that his players give him more respect because they know that he's been there.
Mr. Richardson also commands the respect of his players because he gives them his respect - as well as his time. According to Muhsin Muhammed, "As far as ownership goes, he's one of the most selfless guys I've ever met. He takes the time to go out to lunch with each one of the employees at one point in time or another throughout their time working here. It doesn't matter if it's the gardener or it's the secretary. That says a lot about a man's character. "
Jerry Richardson is also a strong believer that football is a team sport and makes sure that his players know it. Players that act like individuals don’t last long on a Carolina roster – neither do ones that cause problems.
Fullback Brad Hoover had this to say about Richardson, "It's all a reflection of what he wants this organization to be like. He sets the model for us and expects guys to live up to it. That's the way it's been since I've been here, and since the organization has started. Everyone's responsible."
Donte Curry, a relatively new acquisition to the Panthers from the Detroit Lions had this to say about the Panthers:
"The camaraderie, it's just unbelievable. Great character. This is just a great, awesome group. When you've got 50 or 60 guys on the squad, it's hard for a lot of guys to get along; one guy has a problem with another, there's guys calling others out. With this squad, it's almost like a family; a brotherhood. Everybody gets along and everyone works well with each other."
Camaraderie is one of those intagible things that can’t be measured but has an enormous impact on the success of a team. Players can get each other pumped up and shift momentum when things haven’t gone as planned. Players who care about one another will run faster, block harder, and put more effort into helping one another succeed. The extra effort comes from within, not from a the size of a paycheck or a coach’s yelling.
An extension of camaraderie is teamwork. It's one things for guys to be friends off the field but quite another to help one another excel on the field.
Although there’s a lot of talent on the team, hearing a Panther player take all of the credit for a great play, or game, is extremely rare. Running backs credit the line for opening running lanes, the offense credits the defense for saving the game when they’re not able to score effectively, and the defense credits the offense for putting up higher numbers when they can’t stop the other team.
The players on the Carolina Panthers don't compete with each other over plays and statistics. They don't get angry when one player gets them to the goal line but another runs it in for the touchdown. They work as a team and when one person scores, the others celebrate.
There are plenty of players that are quick to throw their fellow teammates under the bus when the game doesn't go as planned. One only needs to read the sports page to see it almost every week. You will not hear this from the Panthers squad, however.
I could go on and on…
Say what you will about the recent conservative play-calling from the Panthers sidelines, but the coaching of John Fox has brought the Carolina Panthers to the elite level.
In 2001, the Carolina Panthers had a disastrous 1-15 season under coach George Seifert. John Fox took over following that season and won his very first game as head coach. After a series of losses, the Panthers improved substatially to 7-9 that year.
Only one season later, the Panthers faced the Patriots in Superbowl XXXVIII and lost only by a last minute field goal to finish the game 32-29. John Fox follows Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells as the only head coaches to take over a team that won only 1 game the previous season and them bring them to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers made it to the NFC Championship game in 2005 but lost to the Seattle Sehawks. The Panthers did not make it into the playoffs for the 2006 or 2007 seasons which drew outrage from some fans.
The primary reason for the Panthers struggling seasons was injuries to key personnel. Through it all though, John Fox still succeded. In 2007 he became the first coach in 10 years to win at least 1 game with four starting quarterbacks.
Despite fickle fans calling for Fox to be fired last season, Jerry Richardson decided to keep him on as head coach. This season ended with the best regular season record in franchise history and is still going strong.
The Carolina Panthers are the only team in the NFL that is the official home team teams in two states – North and South Carolina. With the city of Charlotte bordering South Carolina, the stadium is accessible to residents of both states.
Carolina fans aren’t known to be the most loyal fans in the NFL. They don’t go to games during freezing rain wearing nothing but blue, black and silver body paint. But the Panthers do have a loyal fan base that genuinely cares about the team. A professor of mine in college actually hand-painted a Panthers team logo across the entire hood of his silver pickup truck. It looked perfect and definitely showed his Panther Pride.
There are also strict rules for fan conduct in the stadium. Another team’s fans can watch their team without the fear of getting beaten or otherwise assaulted while attending a game. Southern hospitality maybe? Not to say it’s never happened but Carolina definitely doesn’t have a reputation for bad fan behavior like many other NFL teams.
Although every franchise in the NFL has it's strong points, the Carolina Panthers achieve high marks in just about every aspect of the game.
That's why I believe they are the best overall franchise in the NFL.