Most fans are born into the team they cheer for. Their family cheers for them, or they grow up in a town with an established fan base, and they simply adopt them. They learn the team's history, watch the old games, and talk about the old days like they were as recent as the previous Sunday.
Not so with the Panthers.
I was nine years old when I watched the first Carolina Panthers game in NFL history. It was the Hall of Fame game in Canton, and they played the fellow expansion team Jacksonville Jaguars. I had never really had much interest in football, but the way my father describe them to me as "my" team had a profound effect on me.
Since 1996 I've sat in section 126, row Q, seat three at Panthers stadium. With the exception of some minor surgeries and trips out of the country, I've been to every home game in Panthers history.
I've sat through the good times and the bad. I've seen them go undefeated at home, and I've seen them not win a game. I've watched them win games they had no business winning, and seen them choke in spectacular fashion.
I've seen everything and followed every move they've ever made.
I feel that bond is unique when compared to other NFL fans. I don't have to read about great moments in team history, or watch them on NFL classic. I was there. I experienced them personally. I remember exactly how it felt to watch Kevin Greene dive into the end zone after intercepting a pass in 1996.
I remember seeing Jake Delhomme beat Jacksonville with a last second pass to Ricky Proehl. I can still feel the excitement of watching the Panthers try to beat the Saints by more than the Packers beat the Vikings in 1999, of seeing them beat the Patriots in 2005, of experiencing the first playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1996.
I remember the bad parts as well. The Panthers choking against the Saints in 2004 in a game that would have sent them to the playoffs is still fresh in my mind. I saw Kevin Greene choke a coach on the sidelines in 1998.
I watched George Seifert walk off the field for the last time after being humiliated by the Patriots in 2001. I'll never stop having nightmares about the most recent playoff loss to the Cardinals.
I know them like I know a member of my own family. I've cheered for them and followed them for so long that it's just second nature, like breathing.
During the good times and the bad.