CHARLOTTE – They’re giddy down here.
Tom Sorensen, lead columnist for the Charlotte Observer, captured it better than I could in his front page piece, saying, “Games such as this are common in New England . . . But we don’t often get them. So if anybody says, ‘act like you’ve been there,’ we’d have to pretend. The last big football game in Charlotte was in the 2008 playoffs, when Arizona handled the Panthers 33-13.”
Despite the addition of Thursday Night Football and Sunday Night Football, MNF still retains prime-time preeminence. It’s an event, and Charlotte ran onto its front porch to happily wave hankies at the satellite trucks driving into town.
On Sunday, as ESPN set up shop at Bank of America Stadium, Panthers fans in jerseys bearing the names “Kuechly” or “Newton” scuttled around the sidewalks.
A smug satisfaction comes with digesting the rest of the NFL menu, knowing you have all the time in the world before you have to really ramp up your own intensity.
And the city of Charlotte hasn’t been able to do that after the start of the work week since 2008. This is the Panthers' first Monday night home game since then. It's their ninth prime-time game since the start of that season.
The Patriots have played more than 20 prime-time games since the start of 2008 and will play another one next week against Denver -- a game that will dwarf this matchup in terms of hype and anticipation.
Nobody here cares how this game compares to that one, though. They’re just happy to be -- in the words of their head coach Ron Rivera -- “relevant.”
If you’re from New England, you can patronizingly note how cute all the anticipation is for one little Monday night game.
Yeah, well, we got giddier than anybody. Anyone remember September 21, 1981? That was the night the Patriots lost to Dallas. The stadium naming rights were then held by Schaefer Beer (slogan: “The one beer to have when you’re having more than one” ) and the stands that night looked like a prison riot. After hundreds of fights and arrests, MNF was banned by Foxboro selectmen for the next 14 years.
Why such a Draconian response? Well, the Sullivans -- who owned the team then -- promised earlier in ’81 that Schaefer would be like a tea party after a 1980 prime time appearance resulted in nearly 50 arrests and a pedestrian being fatally struck by a car on Route 1.
When Foxboro let the Krafts host a Monday night game against the Bills in September, 1995, the atmosphere was every bit as electric as it feels here in Charlotte today.
“Fair-weather fans in this city,” said Charlotte resident (and Raiders fan) David Gutierrez. “You win, they’ll be there and that’s what’s going on right now. This is what everyone was expecting when they got Cam Newton, so now this is their celebration.”