The Carolina Panthers are a professional American football team based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers compete in the National Football League (NFL), as a member club of the league's National Football Conference (NFC) South division. The Panthers are supported throughout the Carolinas; although the team has played its home games in Charlotte since 1996, it played home games at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina during its first season.
On December 15, 1987, entrepreneur Jerry Richardson announced his bid for an NFL expansion franchise in the Carolinas. A North Carolina native, Richardson was a former wide receiver on the Baltimore Colts who had used his 1959 league championship bonus to co-found the Hardee's restaurant chain, later becoming president and CEO of TW Services. Richardson drew his inspiration to pursue an NFL franchise from George Shinn, who had made a successful bid for an expansion National Basketball Association (NBA) team in Charlotte, the Charlotte Hornets. Richardson founded Richardson Sports, a partnership consisting of himself, his family, and a number of businessmen from North and South Carolina were also recruited to be limited partners. Richardson looked at four potential locations for a stadium, ultimately choosing uptown Charlotte.
The Panthers were announced as the league's 29th franchise in 1993 and began play in 1995 under the original owner and founder Jerry Richardson. The Panthers played well in their first two years, finishing in 1995 (an all-time best for an NFL expansion team's first season) and 12–4 the following year, winning the NFC West before ultimately losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. They did not have another winning season until 2003, when they won the NFC Championship Game and reached Super Bowl XXXVIII, losing 32–29 to the New England Patriots. After losing in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 and the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, the Panthers returned to the Super Bowl in 2015 but lost to the Denver Broncos. The Panthers have reached the playoffs seven times, advancing to four NFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls. They have won six division titles, one in the NFC West and five in the NFC South.
The shape of the Panthers logo was designed to mimic the outline of both North Carolina and South Carolina. The Panthers changed their logo and logotype in 2012, the first such change in team history. According to the team, the changes were designed to give their logo an "aggressive, contemporary look" as well to give it a more three-dimensional feel. The primary tweaks were made in the eye and mouth, where the features, particularly the muscular brow and fangs, are more pronounced, creating a more menacing look. The revised logo has a darker shade of blue over the black logo, compared to the old design, which had teal on top of black.
By the time they had been announced as the 29th NFL team in October 1993, the Panthers' logo and helmet design had already been finalized, but the uniform design was still under creation. After discussion, the Panthers organization decided on jerseys colored white, black, and blue, and pants colored white and silver. The exact tone of blue, which they decided would be "process blue" (a shade lighter than Duke's and darker than North Carolina's), was the most difficult color to choose.
The Panthers played their first season at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, as their facility in uptown Charlotte was still under construction. Ericsson Stadium, called Bank of America Stadium since 2004, opened in the summer of 1996. Bank of America Stadium is owned entirely by the Panthers, making them one of the few teams in the NFL to own the facility they play in. The stadium was specially designed by HOK Sports Facilities Group for football and also serves as the headquarters and administrative offices of the Panthers. On some days the stadium offers public tours for a fee. Private tours for groups are offered for a fee seven days a week, though there are some exceptions, and such tours must be arranged in advance. Two bronze panther statues flank each of the stadium's three main entrances; they are the largest sculptures ever commissioned in the United States. The names of the team's original PSL owners are engraved on the base of each statue. The two people in the Panthers Hall of Honor, team executive Mike McCormack and linebacker Sam Mills, are honored with life-sized bronze statues outside the stadium. Mills, in addition to being the only player in the Hall of Honor, is the only player to have had his jersey number (#51) retired by the Panthers.
The Panthers are supported in both North Carolina and South Carolina; South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley declared July 30, 2012, "Carolina Panthers Day" in her state, saying that "when it comes to professional teams, the Carolina Panthers are the team that South Carolina calls their own". During the 2016 NFC Championship and Super Bowl, the hashtag #OneCarolina was used by college and professional sports teams from North Carolina and South Carolina to show unified support for the Panthers.
Starting with the 2012 season, the Panthers introduced the Keep Pounding Drum, inspired by the aforementioned motivational speech by Sam Mills before the team's 2004 playoff game against the Cowboys. Prior to each home game, an honorary drummer hits the six-foot tall drum four times to signify the four quarters of an American football game. According to the team, the drummers "come from a variety of backgrounds and occupations, but all have overcome a great trial or adversity that has not only made them strong but also pushes them to make others around them stronger". Drummers have included current and former Panthers players, military veterans, Make-A-Wish children, and athletes from other sports, including NBA MVP and Charlotte native Stephen Curry, US women's national soccer team players Whitney Engen and Heather O'Reilly, and 7 time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.