The Few. The Proud. The Florida Panthers Fans...No, Really, We Exist.

Steph MerrittCorrespondent IApril 11, 2009

It takes a lot of heart to be a Florida Panthers fan.  Every game of the season we go in strong, ready to pump our team up, and to hopefully scream louder than the snowbirds who decided to go to the game because, the Habs are in town and why not? 


We have a tough job. To join us there isn't much to remember, but you need to remember one thing:


Get the numbers straight. To be considered a loyal Panther fan one must be familiar with two years.


1993: I’m sure the rest of the world, mainly Canada, groaned unanimously when the expansion into Florida was announced.


According to the rest of the world, mainly Canada, Florida is the place to go to the beach when your gut is too big and your Speedo too small or the place to go visit Grandma Cloris because she moved from Glen Rock, NJ to a cute nursing home in Boca Raton. Florida doesn’t even have frozen ponds—they can’t play hockey! 


As a native Floridian and survivor of a Manitoba New Year’s Eve (-18 degrees Celsius, plus windchill), I beg to differ. Ask any hockey player what they’d rather be doing instead of hockey and they’ll answer one thing: golf. 


Florida has golf courses a plenty. Therefore, Florida = good golf courses = new hockey town! 


But I digress. 1993 Opening Day at the Miami Arena—the one part of Miami forbidden to be depicted on CSI: Miami. Despite the less than satisfactory location of the only arena in South Florida, fans flocked to the arena.


Ask any true Panther fan what year they became a fan/season ticket holder and they’ll reply ’93. And if they don’t, they’ll be considered lesser of a fan then the ‘93ers. The season was exciting, the players promising, and the fans (all 14,703 who fit into the small arena) loud and rambunctious.


We proved the world, mainly Canada, wrong by having the most successful first season by any NHL team. 


And then, when the season ended, the players got a head start on their golf game.


1996: It started off like any other season...and then Scott Mellanby slapshot a rat (remember, Miami Arena) against the wall of the locker room before a game, killing it.  He then went on to score two goals, John Vanbiesbrouk called it a Rat Trick, and after every goal rats would pour onto the ice like a plague. 


The officials would have to call time, the network would cut to a commercial, and seven high school kids with push brooms would herd the rats into a pile and horde them off the ice.


In 1996 it was harder to find little plastic rats than it was Beanie Babies. Shocking, I know.


This season will always have a special place in the hearts of fans (especially the ‘93ers) because we made it to the playoffs! Holy crap! We played well—Billy Lindsay scored a goal while airborne, the Bruins, Flyers, and Penguins were all upset, games were delayed due to rats. 


With an Eastern Conference Championship under their belt the Panthers went on to lose the Stanley Cup finals. Losing the cup was bittersweet—we played beyond expectations and were proud of ourselves. This thought made the pain of losing a bit more bearable. 


Not bad for a team with no frozen ponds and an extremely fickle fanbase. 


Time went by, as it always does. We’ve now become the team with the longest playoff drought (thank you Columbus). But please remember: We’re still a young team. The Florida Panthers are 16 years old—we’re barely able to drive and still have pimples.  We’re not an Original Six, and we don’t have the history other teams do.


We’re not alone either—I’m sure Cleveland Browns and Texas Rangers fans can relate.  We may not have as many fans as other hockey clubs, but the Panthers may be the only team in South Florida with fans who will stick by the team through the ups and downs, which is a feat in itself. 


I think next year we’ll make the playoffs. Yes, it’s what I said last year, but this time I mean it. I truly do. And until then, I’ll be sitting in my seat with my jersey, skinny jeans, heels, red lipstick, and a beer. You’ll hear me—I’m the blonde chick who just called the ref a douchebag.