The Carolina Panthers, the third youngest franchise in NFL history, is coming off one of the best seasons in team and league history. in 2015, the Panthers made their second Super Bowl (XL, XXXVIII) in their 21 year history after having a 15-1 regular season and one of the most dominate postseasons in recent memory (excluding the Super Bowl).
It didn’t take long for this barely legal organization to make history in the League. A 7-9 record in their first season (1995) is the best ever for an expansion franchise, and they followed that up with 12-4 season, winning the NFC West division title before losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers led by Brett Favre.
Overall Carolina has won 2 NFC Championships, 6 division titles, while making the playoffs seven times. Just like my post on other young franchises like the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, When you have a team this young, its difficult to identify and label guys as worth of immortal status. But not with the Panthers. It’s clear who their most important players are in team history. The following are the ones who make the cut for the Panthers Mount Rushmore.
- No owners, unless they were also coaches, and their place on this list is based on their contributions as coach. No General Managers or Personnel executives. Just those who directly affected the games on Sunday. I will make a separate list for those contributors soon.
- Key contributors to the team’s history and success, not just fan favorites or box office draws.
- Can you tell the franchise’s story without them? If no, they’re on the list.
Steve Smith Sr. (2001-2013) is still going at the age of 37, but with the second youngest franchise the Baltimore Raves. However, before his time ended in “The Queen City,” Smith became the Panthers all-time leader in catches (836), receiving yards (12,197), receiving touchdowns (67), punt return yards (1,652), punt return touchdowns (4) and yards from scrimmage (12,584). In total, he has 11 franchise records; his name is littered in the team’s record book. With Carolina, Smith Sr. became a 5-time Pro Bowler, 2-time 1st-team All-Pro, and one-time 2nd-team All-Pro and twice named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-NFL team.
Cam Newton (2011-present) is already the franchise’s 2nd all-time leading passer in yards and touchdowns behind Jake Delhomme (19,258 and 120) with 18,263 yards and 117 touchdowns. He’ll become the franchise leader early in his 6th season. Cam is also already 4th on the Panthers career rushing list with 3,207 yards, and is very likely to move into 3rd place in 2016. Newton is the team’s first NFL MVP Award winner (2015) and won the 2015 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He led them to their second ever Super Bowl appearance after the 2015 season. Newton is a 3-time Pro Bowler and a 2015 1st-team All-Pro.
John Fox (2002-2010) is the team’s leader in wins with 73, and led the team to its first Super Bowl appearance after the 2003 season (SB XXXVIII). Coach Fox is the second coach in NFL history to take over a team that won 1 game the season before he was hired and take them to a NFL Championship Game, the other is the legendary Vince Lombardi.
Julius Peppers (2002-2009) For a majority of the Panthers 21 seasons in existence they’ve been known as a defensive first team. With all due respect to long-time Panther great Thomas Davis and his up-and-coming linebacker running mate Luke Kuechly, Peppers is the symbol for what Carolina fans are accustomed to. Peppers still holds the franchise records for sacks (81) and forced fumbles (30). He’s the 1st player in NFL history with 100+ sacks and 10+ interceptions, majority of which was done as a Panther.
Panthers’ fans I want to hear from you. Did I get it right? Who would you have put on Carolina’s Mount Rushmore?