The Carolina Panthers have been the model of inconsistency in their brief history as a franchise. In their 14 years of existence, the Cats have yet to string together back-to-back winning seasons.
The Panthers shocked the world in 1996 by winning the NFC West (they switched to the NFC South in 2002) in only their second year and reaching the NFC Championship game. Their 12-4 regular season mark seemed to be the start of a new NFL super-power.
What has transpired since that magical year is a roller coaster of emotions for Panthers nation. Surprising success one year. Frustrating failure the next. Good one year, bad the next, and downright ugly at times.
The 12-4 mark in 1996 was followed by a disappointing 7-9 in 1997.
A Super Bowl appearance in 2003 was followed by a losing record in 2004.
A 11-5 regular season mark and a Conference championship appearance in 2005 was followed by a mediocre 8-8 record in 2006.
With the Panthers coming off an impressive 12-4 regular season record in 2008, what can loyal fans expect in 2009?
All signs point to history repeating itself.
Even though the Panthers return 21 out of 22 starters (this could change depending on what Julius Peppers decides to do), there is concern around the Queen City that 2009 will be another disappointment.
The Panthers lost quality depth on their offensive line and failed to make a splash in free agency. They had no first round pick in this year’s draft (they traded their 2009 1st rounder to move up to select Jeff Otah in the 2008 draft) and had an average draft at best.
The Cats’ coaching staff has undergone some turnover, most significantly the loss of defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac. Although new defensive head Ron Meeks is highly regarded, there is usually an adjustment period when a new offensive or defensive coordinator enters the fold.
Then there’s the quarterback situation. Will Jake Delhomme’s memorable meltdown in the playoffs against Arizona affect his play in 2009? Does Jake still have the confidence of players and management?
What about Peppers? Will the man who has stated categorically that he wants out of Charlotte and has yet to sign a contract that would pay him over $1 million per game really suit up in the silver and blue this year?
John Fox is what he is, to use a familiar phrase of his. He is predictable, frustratingly conservative, and stubbornly old-school. Is Fox the man to take the Cats to the top of the NFL heap?
For the Panthers in 2009, questions abound. The biggest one is this: Will history repeat itself?