Nothing Could Be Finer

ESPN's Scott Van Pelt has a phrase he's fond of using: "everybody's from somewhere." My "somewhere" has always been a bit of a joke between friends. I'm from New York, but grew up in South Carolina and since have traveled all over the country roughly two years at a time from Tennessee to Central New York to Kansas to Texas and finally Washington, D.C.

Home though is South Carolina. I spent nearly all of my childhood in Greenville. It's where I was raised. It's where my parents still live. My childhood home is an hour and a half south of Bank Of America Stadium. Growing up the Panthers were the team that brought us together.

The team was an expansion franchise in 1995, founded just a few years earlier. My family moved from Pennsylvania to Greenville in 1994. The Panthers played their first season even closer, just 45 minutes away at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

We were there for the team's first ever win against the Jets, much to the chagrin of the rest of my family. We watched as the team's gone up and down ever since, with high's in the championship games and Super Bowl appearances, and lows leading to the highest pick in the draft a team can get.

What's made this franchise fun to watch is that they never stay down for long. In 2002, they had the second pick in the draft following a miserable 2001 season (they would have been #1 if not for the expansion Houston Texans) and took Julius Peppers, who might just be the best player in franchise history. In 2003, they made the Super Bowl.

The same story is now being told as the team's most recent high pick has led them to the promised land. Panthers play-by-play voice Mick Mixon told me this story back in November:
The day came that Andrew Luck had decided to come back to Stanford for his last year and study architecture instead of becoming the first pick for the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 draft. And my buddy -- I don't want to say his name but his initials are Steven Drummond -- we were talking and I said 'Bo, relax.'  
He said, "Why?! This is a terrible day. The Panthers were gonna take Andrew..." 
I said, "I know, but there's a guy at Auburn named Cameron Jerrell Newton and he will change all of our lives. The intersection of our lives and his life will be a fascinating place where all of our football dreams could come true."
Here the full story and more:

Now he's on the verge, the sure league MVP and quickly becoming the face of the league. For as good as Newton is, Luke Keuchley is every bit his equal as a player on defense. The middle linebacker plays at a speed, both mentally and physically, matched by few in football.

The results have been spectacular and as a fan, it's been fun to watch. In a way, not being tied to another team as a reporter was incredibly fun yesterday. I could be a fan again, even if for a day. We don't get to do that much in this profession.

In the Carolinas, college sports rule. In North Carolina it's Duke and North Carolina basketball. In South Carolina it's Clemson and South Carolina football. As far as pro teams go, the Hornets moved when I was 12 before returning after I left, and the NHL's Hurricanes exist in Raleigh. That's it. That's all.

As a family with no ties to the area previously, moving in with the Panthers was our way in. Somewhere along the way we bought season tickets, and when we weren't at the stadium we were watching on television.

As surprising as it may be considering my passion for sports and my profession, no one else in my family is a die hard sports fan. The Panthers were the exception. We always watched. It always brought us together.

Last night I heard from my mom, dad and sister as the game came to a close. It's a reminder of what sports can be, and there's no better person to guide that premise than Newton, who seems to have more fun playing than any other athlete in sports.