The Carolina Panthers played in Clemson the first season while Bank of America Stadium was being constructed.
Courtesy of Carolina Panthers
It's difficult for longtime Charlotte residents to believe, but there is an entire generation of sports fans who don't know this city without its own NFL team. Kids born in Charlotte today are growing up Panthers fans, sporting Muhsin Muhammad jerseys long before they're able to pronounce his name.
"My son [is] four years old and he'll never know this city without the NFL and the Carolina Panthers," says Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Charlotte native who was a student at West Charlotte High School when the brain trust was being formed to recruit the NFL here.
Before the late 1980s that was unthinkable, but after the NBA granted Charlotte a professional basketball franchise in 1987, Jerry Richardson believed he could sell people on his dream of bringing the NFL to Charlotte. The way the politicians and business leaders came together not only led to Charlotte being awarded an NFL franchise in 1993, it put the city on a course to dream big. This city started to grow up.
"I remember a rally on the site where the stadium is now," Foxx says. "It was a great period of time and there was a whole lot of energy behind it. ... It took an unbelievable amount of teamwork to make that happen."
The Panthers hit the field in 1995 with players culled from other teams and through the college draft and free agency. We tracked down the starters from that inaugural season. —Jarvis Holliday
#12 Kerry Collins, Quarterback
The Panthers' first-ever draft pick started at QB for the first three seasons, leading the team to the NFC Championship game in season two. But Collins's time here was marked by poor behavior that he later attributed to alcoholism. The Panthers waived Collins during the 1998 season, and he has gone on to play for four other teams. He also sought treatment for alcoholism. He's a backup with the Tennessee Titans.
#20 Derrick Moore, Running Back
Moore lasted only one season with the Panthers, and by 1998 he was out of the league. He's the team chaplain for Georgia Tech's football team.
#44 Bob Christian, Fullback
After two seasons here, Christian played six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Since 2002, he has coowned an athlete training center in Illinois, and he also serves as an associate coach and player mentor for NFL rookies.
#83 Mark Carrier, Wide Receiver
Carrier was the team's leading receiver during the inaugural year and played three more seasons here before retiring. He lives in Tampa and runs Next Level Group, which operates football and fitness camps and offers personal training.
#84 Eric Guilford, Wide Receiver
Guliford played sparsely during his five-year NFL career. His one season with the Panthers was his most productive. He finished his playing career with three seasons in the CFL.
#86 Willie Green, Wide Receiver
Green played two seasons for the Panthers, which, statistically, were the best of his career. But his two seasons after leaving Carolina, with the Denver Broncos, brought him two Super Bowl rings. Today, he's director of corporate development and community outreach for Advance America, a company that specializes in cash advance services.
#88 Pete Metzelaars, Tight End
He had one of the longest careers of any tight end, sixteen seasons, but he spent only one with the Panthers. From 1998 to 2002 he coached for Charlotte Christian, and since 2004 he's been on the coaching staff for the Indianapolis Colts.
#78 Blake Brockermeyer, Left Tackle
Brockermeyer was one of three players the Panthers selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He played four seasons here, all as a starter, and finished his career in 2003 with the Denver Broncos. He now runs a training program for athletes in Fort Worth, Texas, where he's also an assistant football coach at a private high school.
#65 Frank Garcia, Left Guard
Garcia spent his first six seasons as a starter for the Panthers before finishing his career in 2003 with the Arizona Cardinals. He's co-host of The Frank and Buck Show on WFNZ 610AM and is an assistant football coach for Charlotte Catholic.
#64 Curtis Whitley, Center
A North Carolina native, Whitley played two seasons here. In 1996, the Panthers suspended him for four games for violating the league's drug policy, and after playing the 1997 season with the Oakland Raiders, he was suspended for the entire 1998 season. He never played in the NFL again. In May 2008 he was found dead in his home in Fort Stockton, Texas.
#52 Matt Elliott, Right Guard
Elliott was the last player taken in the 1992 NFL Draft (twelfth round, 336th pick), a distinction dubbed as Mr. Irrelevant. But he went on to play five seasons, the last three with the Panthers. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works as a consultant for a medical company.
#74 Mark Dennis, Right Tackle
Dennis spent the last two seasons of his ten-year career with the Panthers. He's a financial adviser in Chicago for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
#93 Mike Fox, Defensive End
Fox played four seasons here. While he was still with the team, he began purchasing land. For the past decade he's been a real estate developer. He built three subdivisions on Lake Norman, and he also owns Fox Tops All, a company specializing in countertops.
#71 Greg Kragen, Nose Tackle
Kragen concluded his thirteen-year NFL career by playing three seasons with the Panthers. A year after retiring, he worked three years in the team's sponsorship marketing department. He's an account executive for a payroll and business services company in San Francisco.
#98 Gerald Williams, Defensive End
After retiring in 1997, Williams made the Charlotte area his home and spent five years as a teacher, including three at First Assembly Christian Schools in Concord, where he was also head football coach. From 2005 to 2009 he worked as a college and pro scout for the Panthers. He's now beginning his first season as tight ends coach for Catawba College in Salisbury.
#57 Lamar Lathon, Linebacker
Lathon was a strong defensive presence during the first two of his four seasons in Charlotte, highlighted by a Pro Bowl selection in 1996. He was charged with assault near Houston in 2008, but after that our trail ran cold.
#51 Sam Mills, Linebacker
Mills was a four-time Pro Bowler by the time the Panthers signed him from the expansion draft. He was a defensive leader in the locker room and started every game during his three seasons with the team. After retiring, he became the team's linebackers coach. In 2003 Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, though he continued to coach and even launched the Keep Pounding Fund to support cancer research. He died in April 2005, and at the start of that season the Panthers retired his jersey number 51. The team also erected a statue of him outside of Bank of America Stadium, and his college, Montclair State University, named its stadium after him.
#54 Carlton Bailey, Linebacker
Bailey spent the last three seasons of his ten-year career with the Panthers. The Charlotte resident is involved with several charitable foundations. He's marketing director for Davis Capital Group.
#56 Darion Conner, Linebacker
Conner played eight seasons in the NFL, including one for the Panthers, and seven seasons in the Arena Football League. His long playing career has been overshadowed by the DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide conviction he received in 2005 after he struck and killed a bicyclist after a late night of drinking in 2004 in a small town near Tampa. He's serving a fifteen-year prison sentence.
#38 Tyrone Poole, Cornerback
Poole was drafted by the Panthers with the second of the team's three firstround picks in the 1995 draft. He was a three-year starter before being traded to the Indianapolis Colts. He won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, beating the Panthers in 2004 for his first. He played his last NFL season in 2008 with the Tennessee Titans, and earlier this year he was named secondary coach for Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia.
#22 Tim McKyer, Cornerback
A journeyman who played for seven teams over twelve seasons, McKyer spent just one season with the Panthers, and started all sixteen games. He still lives here, and after a tumultuous divorce from his wife in 2001 and a years-long custody battle for his kids, McKyer has become a fathers' rights advocate.
#39 Brett Maxie, Strong Safety
Maxie was a ten-year veteran when he came to the Panthers, and he played two seasons here. He's an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
#40 Pat Terrell, Free Safety
Terrell spent three of his nine NFL seasons with the Panthers, but he's perhaps most known by football fans for his years at Notre Dame. He owns a construction company in Chicago.
#4 John Kasay, Kicker
Not only are there not many players from the original 1995 Panthers still playing in the league, but Kasay is the only one still with the team. Now age forty, it's hard to imagine that he actually played four years with the Seattle Seahawks before signing with Carolina as a free agent. He holds many Panthers records, and it's not likely that anyone will ever surpass his points total. He's expected to be the starter again this season.
#6 Tommy Barnhardt, Punter
The Salisbury native had already been playing in the NFL for eight years when he got to return "home" for one season to play for the Panthers. He retired after his 2000 season with the Washington Redskins. Now a Matthews resident, he recently launched a line of healthful desserts called Guiltless Pleasure Desserts.
Dom Capers, Head Coach
Having built a reputation as a strong defensive coach from his years as an assistant, Capers landed his first head coaching job with the Panthers. After leading the team to a respectable record during the inaugural season, then to the NFC Championship game the following year, he was one of the most beloved people in the city. But Capers was fired after a 4-12 season in 1998. He's gone on to land several more coaching gigs, including four seasons leading the Houston Texans. Currently, he's defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers.