CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers raised hopes and broke hearts, all in one day – losing their first playoff game in five years, at Bank of America Stadium.
The game-day atmosphere started early, and fans could tell this was not just any game -- but a big one.
“The Hornets are back, the Panthers are here -- this is the best time to be in Charlotte right now,” said fan Eric Wall, as he and friends stood around tailgating hours before the game began. “This is awesome!”
Nearby grills cooked up delicious-smelling food, fans played cornhole or tossed a football, and others loaded up on team gear.
“We go between the Kuechly jersey and playoff shirts” as best-sellers, said Kimberly Bledsoe, who stayed busy in a mobile vending truck.
The game’s first half was a nail-biter, but in the second half, the team lost momentum – and the fans felt it.
“Very, very, very, very, disappointing,” said Panthers fan Tiffany Washington. “Heartbroken.”
The team’s quarterback felt it too. He couldn’t hide his disappointment during a post-game press conference.
“This was a terrible ending to a great season,” said Cam Newton. “It's hard as a person, it's hard as a man, it's hard as an individual, it's hard as whatever you want to call yourself, when you put so much into it and you don't get the production that you want out of it.”
After the game, fans drowned their sorrows around uptown – letting restaurants, at least, boast success. Dillinger’s Tap Room on Church Street said they had a standing-room-only crowd from 11 a.m. until the game ended, with a line out the door.
Waiter Matt Hale smiled as he said he would have liked one more game like this one.
“We're still panther fans at the end of the day, win lose or draw,” he said.