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.
To highlight the demand for professional football in the Carolinas, Richardson Sports held preseason games around the area from 1989 to 1991. The first two games were held at Carter–Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, while the third and final game was held at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. The matchups were between existing NFL teams. In 1991, the group formally filed an application for the open expansion spot, and on October 26, 1993, the 28 NFL owners unanimously named the Carolina Panthers as the 29th member of the NFL.
Jerry Richardson was the founder and first owner of the Carolina Panthers. Richardson and his family owned about 48% of the team, with the remaining 52% owned by a group of 14 limited partners. Richardson and the other investors paid $206 million for the rights to start the team in 1993.
The Panthers were announced as the league's 29th franchise in 1993, and began play in 1995 under original owner and founder Jerry Richardson. The Panthers played well in their first two years, finishing 7–9 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 recording playoff appearances in 2005 and 2008, the team failed to record another playoff appearance until 2013, the first of three consecutive NFC South titles. 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. Since then, the team has appeared in the playoffs only once, in 2017. The team's five NFC South titles since the division's establishment in 2002 rank second only to the New Orleans Saints.
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.
Since they began playing football in 1995, the Panthers have been to four NFC Championship Games; they lost two (1996 and 2005) and won two (2003 and 2015). The Panthers have won six division championships: the NFC West championship in 1996 and the NFC South championship in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2014, and 2015. They have finished as runners-up in their division six times, finishing second-place in the NFC West in 1997 and 1999 and finishing second-place in the NFC South in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. They have qualified for the playoffs 8 times, most recently in 2017.
Mike McCormack, a Hall of Fame lineman for the Cleveland Browns and former coach and executive for the Seattle Seahawks, was the Panthers' first team president, presiding in that role from 1994 until his retirement in 1997; McCormack was inducted as the first person in the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor later that year. Jerry Richardson's son, Mark, was appointed as the team's second president in 1997 and served in that role until he stepped down in 2009. His brother Jon, who had been president of Bank of America Stadium, stepped down at the same time. The resignations of Mark and Jon Richardson were unexpected, as it was thought that the two would eventually take over the team from their father. Mark Richardson was replaced by Danny Morrison, who had previously served as the athletic director of both Texas Christian University and Wofford College, Richardson's alma mater. Morrison resigned in early 2017. The role was vacant until August 2018, when Tom Glick was hired as team president. He had previously served as the COO of Manchester City.
The Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor was established in 1997 to honor individuals for their contributions to the Carolina Panthers organization.
The Panthers first competed in the 1995 NFL season; they were one of two expansion teams to begin play that year, the other being the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Panthers were put in the NFC West to increase the size of that division to five teams; there were already two other southeastern teams in the division, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. Former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was named the first head coach. The team finished its inaugural season 7–9, the best performance ever from a first-year expansion team. They performed even better in their second season, finishing with a 12–4 record and winning the NFC West division, as well as securing a first-round bye. The Panthers beat the defending Super Bowl champions Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round before losing the NFC Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers. The team managed only a 7–9 finish in 1997 and slipped to 4–12 in 1998, leading to Capers' dismissal as head coach.
The Panthers typically pair their white jerseys with white pants, while the black and blue jerseys are paired with silver pants; there have only been a few exceptions to these combinations. The first such instance was in 1998, when the team paired their white jerseys with silver pants in a game against the Indianapolis Colts. The second instance was in 2012 during a game against the Denver Broncos, when they paired their black jerseys with new black pants; this created an all-black uniform, with the exception of blue socks and silver helmets. The decision to wear blue socks was made by team captain Steve Smith, who felt the blue socks gave the uniforms a more distinct appearance compared with other teams that have all-black uniforms. The all-black uniforms won the "Greatest Uniform in NFL History" contest, a fan-voted contest run by NFL.com in July 2013. In July 2013, the team's equipment manager, Jackie Miles, said the Panthers intended to use the all-black uniform more in the future. The Panthers wore the all-black uniform three times the following season, once each in the preseason and regular season, and the third time during the home divisional round playoff game vs the 49ers. During the Panthers' 2015 Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys, they debuted an all-blue uniform as part of Nike's "Color Rush" series.
During the inaugural season of the Panthers, the team had an official fight song, which the team played before each home game. The song, "Stand and Cheer", remains the team's official fight song, but the team does not typically play it before home games. Due to negative fan reaction "Stand and Cheer" was pulled in 1999. Since 2006, the song has returned. The team plays Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" after home victories. A "keep pounding" chant was introduced during the 2012 season which starts before the opening kickoff of each home game. As prompted by the video boards, one side of the stadium shouts "keep" and the other side replies with "pounding". The chant is similar to ones that take place at college football games.
The Panthers hired former San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert to replace Capers, and he led the team to an 8–8 record in 1999. The team finished 7–9 in 2000 and fell to 1–15 in 2001, winning their first game but losing their last 15. This performance tied the NFL record for most losses in a single season and it broke the record held by the winless 1976 Buccaneers for most consecutive losses in a single season (both records have since been broken by the 2008 Lions), leading the Panthers to fire Seifert.
After the NFL's expansion to 32 teams in 2002, the Panthers were relocated from the NFC West to the newly created NFC South division. The Panthers' rivalries with the Falcons and Saints were maintained, and they would be joined by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox was hired to replace Seifert and led the team to a 7–9 finish in 2002. Although the team's defense gave up very few yards, ranking the second-best in the NFL in yards conceded, they were hindered by an offense that ranked as the second-worst in the league in yards gained. The Panthers improved to 11–5 in the 2003 regular season, winning the NFC South and making it to Super Bowl XXXVIII before losing to the New England Patriots, 32–29, in what was immediately hailed by sportswriter Peter King as the "Greatest Super Bowl of all time". King felt the game "was a wonderful championship battle, full of everything that makes football dramatic, draining, enervating, maddening, fantastic, exciting" and praised, among other things, the unpredictability, coaching, and conclusion. The game is still viewed as one of the best Super Bowls of all time, and in the opinion of Charlotte-based NPR reporter Scott Jagow, the Panthers' Super Bowl appearance represented the arrival of Charlotte onto the national scene.
The Panthers have three main jersey colors: black, white, and blue. Their blue jerseys, designated their alternate uniforms, are the newest and were introduced in 2002. NFL regulations allow the team to use the blue jersey up to two times in any given season. In all other games, the team must wear either their white or black jerseys; in NFL games, the home team decides whether to wear a dark or white jersey, while the away team wears the opposite. Usually the Panthers opt for white or blue when the weather is expected to be hot and for black when the weather is expected to be cold.
The Panthers' rivalry with Tampa Bay has been described as the most intense in the NFC South. The rivalry originated in 2002 with the formation of the NFC South, but became particularly heated before the 2003 season with verbal bouts between players on the two teams. It escalated further when the Panthers went to Tampa Bay and beat them in what ESPN.com writer Pat Yasinskas described as "one of the most physical contests in recent memory". The rivalry has resulted in a number of severe injuries for players on both teams, some of which were caused by foul play. One of these plays, an illegal hit on Tampa Bay punt returner Clifton Smith, sparked a brief melee between the teams in 2009.
Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com observed in 2012 that while there is "a bit of a wine-and-cheese atmosphere at Panthers games ... there is a strong core of die-hard fans who bring energy to Bank of America Stadium. Charlotte lives and dies with the Panthers because there aren't a lot of other options in the sports world". Sports Illustrated graded the Panthers as having the 10th highest "NFL Fan Value Experience" in 2007, attributing much of the fan atmosphere to the team's newness when compared to the established basketball fanbase. They also observed that the stadium has scattered parking lots, each of which has a different tailgating style. Some have fried chicken, pork, or Carolina-style barbecue, while others have live bands and televisions. Pickup football games in the parking lots are common. The Carolina Panthers have sold out all home games since December 2002, and their home attendance has ranked in the NFL's top ten since 2006.
In 2003 the Panthers and Carolinas HealthCare Foundation established the Keep Pounding Fund, a fundraising initiative to support cancer research and patient support programs. The Panthers community has raised more than $1.4 million for the fund through direct donations, charity auctions, blood drives, and an annual 5k stadium run. The Panthers and Levine Children's Hospital coordinate monthly hospital visits and VIP game-day experiences for terminally ill or hospitalized children.
Following a 1–7 start in 2004, the Panthers rebounded to win six of their last seven games despite losing 14 players for the season due to injury. They lost their last game to New Orleans, finishing the 2004 season at 7–9. Had they won the game, the Panthers would have made the playoffs. The team improved to 11–5 in 2005, finishing second in the division behind Tampa Bay and clinching a playoff berth as a wild-card. In the first round of the playoffs, the Panthers went on the road to face the New York Giants, beating them 23–0 for the NFL's first playoff shutout against a home team since 1980. The following week, they beat Chicago 29–21 on the road, but lost key players Julius Peppers, a defensive end, and DeShaun Foster, a running back, who were both injured during the game. The Panthers were then defeated 34–14 by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, ending their season. Although the Panthers went into the 2006 season as favorites to win the NFC South, they finished with a disappointing 8–8 record. The team finished the 2007 season with a 7–9 record after losing quarterback Jake Delhomme early in the season due to an elbow injury. In 2008, the Panthers rebounded with a 12–4 regular season record, winning the NFC South and securing a first-round bye. They were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs, losing 33–13 to the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals after Delhomme turned the ball over six times. Delhomme's struggles carried over into the 2009 season, where he threw 18 interceptions in the first 11 games before breaking a finger in his throwing hand. The Panthers were at a 4–7 record before Delhomme's season-ending injury, and his backup, Matt Moore, led the team to a 4–1 finish to the season for an 8–8 overall record.
The team's uniform did not change significantly after Nike became the NFL's jersey supplier in 2012, but the collar was altered to honor former Panthers player and coach Sam Mills by featuring the phrase "Keep Pounding". Nike had conceived the idea, and the team supported the concept as a way to expose newer fans to the legacy of Mills, who died of cancer in 2005. Mills had introduced the phrase, which has since become a team slogan, in a speech that he gave to the players and coaches prior to their 2003 playoff game against Dallas; in the speech, Mills compared his fight against cancer with the team's on-field battle, saying "When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do – quit or keep pounding. I'm a fighter. I kept pounding. You're fighters, too. Keep pounding!"
In 2010, after releasing Delhomme in the offseason, the Panthers finished with a league-worst (2–14) record; their offense was the worst in the league. John Fox's contract expired after the season ended, and the team did not retain him or his staff.
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 a shade similar to teal on top of black.
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.
All preseason games and team specials are televised by the Carolina Panthers Television Network on flagship station WSOC-TV in Charlotte and fourteen affiliate stations throughout the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee. WSOC took over as the Panthers' television partner for the 2019 season, replacing longtime television partner WCCB, which had retained this role after losing the Fox affiliation to WJZY in 2013. As of 2021, the preseason television broadcasting team consists of play-by-play commentator Taylor Zarzour, color analyst and former Panthers player Steve Smith, and sideline reporter Kristen Balboni. The network also hosts The Panthers Huddle, a weekly show focusing on the Panthers' upcoming opponent.
The team hired Ron Rivera to replace Fox as head coach and drafted Auburn's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Panthers opened the 2011 season 2–6, but finished with a 6–10 record, and Newton was awarded the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award after setting the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns from a quarterback (14) in a single season and becoming the first rookie NFL quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards in a single season. He also was the first rookie quarterback to rush for over 500 yards in a single season. After strengthening the defense with future all-pro Luke Kuechly in the 2012 draft, the Panthers again opened the 2012 season poorly, losing five out of their first six games, leading longtime general manager Marty Hurney to be fired in response. The team slid to a 2–8 record before winning five of their last six games, resulting in a 7–9 record. This strong finish helped save Rivera's job. The Panthers had a winning season the following year, finishing with a 12–4 record and winning their third NFC South title and another playoff bye, but they were beaten by the 49ers in the Divisional Round. In 2014, the Panthers opened the season with two wins, but after 12 games sat at 3–8–1 due in part to a seven-game winless streak. A four-game winning streak to end the season secured the team their second consecutive NFC South championship and playoff berth, despite a losing record of 7–8–1. The Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27–16, in the wild card round to advance to the divisional playoffs, where they lost to eventual NFC champion Seattle, 31–17. The 2015 season saw the Panthers start the season 14–0 and finish the season 15–1, which tied for the best regular-season record in NFC history. The Panthers also secured their third consecutive NFC South championship, as well as their first overall top-seeded playoff berth. In the 2015–16 playoffs, the Panthers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional playoffs, 31–24, after shutting them out in the first half, 31–0, and the Arizona Cardinals, 49–15, in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl 50, their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2003 season. The Panthers lost a defensive struggle to the AFC champion Denver Broncos, 24–10.
In the 2016 season, the Panthers regressed on their 15–1 record from 2015, posting a 6–10 record and a last-place finish in the NFC South, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and losing the division title to the second-seeded Falcons, who went on to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI. In 2017, the Panthers finished with an 11–5 record and a #5 seed. However, they lost to the New Orleans Saints 31–26 in the Wild Card Round, their first loss in that round in franchise history.
On May 16, 2018, David Tepper, formerly a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, finalized an agreement to purchase the Panthers. The sale price was nearly $2.3 billion, a record. The agreement was approved by the league owners on May 22, 2018. The sale officially closed on July 9, 2018. After starting 6–2, the Panthers finished the 2018 season 7–9. They began the 2019 season 5–3, but lost the last eight games to finish 5-11; late in the season, Tepper fired Rivera as head coach. Perry Fewell finished out the season as interim coach, going 0–4. On January 7, 2020, the Panthers hired Baylor head coach Matt Rhule as head coach. On January 15, 2020, Luke Kuechly announced his retirement from the league. On March 17, 2020, The Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year $63 million contract. On March 24, the Carolina Panthers released their 2011 1st overall pick and 2015 MVP quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers had a difficult 2020 season, losing several close games. They would finish 5-11 for the second straight year.
On May 16, 2018, David Tepper, formerly a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, finalized an agreement to purchase the Carolina Panthers, for nearly $2.3 billion, a record at the time. The agreement was approved by the league owners on May 22, 2018. According to Forbes, the Panthers are worth approximately $2.3 billion as of 2018 . They ranked the Carolina Panthers as the 21st-most valuable NFL team and the 36th-most valuable sports team in the world.
As of 2021, the Carolina Panthers remain the newest club in the NFC. The franchise is legally registered as Panther Football, LLC. and are controlled by David Tepper, whose purchase of the team from founder Jerry Richardson was unanimously approved by league owners on May 22, 2018. The club is worth approximately US$2.3 billion, according to Forbes.
In 2019, the Panthers unveiled new uniforms. The new uniforms are Nike's "Vapor Untouchable" and have only minor differences: the tapered strips on the pants are replaced by stripes that extend down to the socks, the reflective shoulder cloth was replaced and the hip logos were also removed. The uniforms keep the same basic look, colors, and numbers as the originals. As the 2019 season was the team's 25th, the Panthers sported a 25th-anniversary patch on their uniforms. In the 2019 season, the Panthers continued to use the new pant-jersey color combinations from 2018, while bringing back the silver pants with their black jerseys.
The Panthers are building a $1 billion team headquarters and training facility on a 240-acre (0.97 km ) in Rock Hill, South Carolina, nicknamed "The Rock". After six months of discussions and state approval of $115 million in incentives, the formal announcement of the team's plan for a new practice facility came on June 5, 2019. Rock Hill mayor John Gettys described the project at that time as the biggest in the city's history. Groundbreaking took place in July 2019 and it is expected to be completed by summer 2023.
The Carolina Panthers have had six head coaches. Dom Capers was the head coach from 1995 to 1998 and led the team to one playoff appearance. Counting playoff games, he finished with a record of 31–35 (.470). George Seifert coached the team from 1999 to 2001, recording 16 wins and 32 losses (.333). John Fox, the team's longest-tenured head coach, led the team from 2002 to 2010 and coached the team to three playoff appearances including Super Bowl XXXVIII which the Panthers lost. Including playoff games, Fox ended his tenure with a 78–74 (.513) record, making him the first Panthers coach to finish his tenure with the team with a winning record. Ron Rivera held the position from 2011 to 2019 and led the team to four playoff appearances including Super Bowl 50. Counting playoff games, he has a career record of 79–67–1 (.541). Statistically, Rivera holds the highest winning percentage of any Panthers head coach. On December 3, 2019, following a home loss against the Washington Redskins that sent the team's record to 5–7, Rivera was fired by David Tepper. Perry Fewell, then the defensive backs coach for the team, was named interim head coach the same day. On January 7, 2020, Matt Rhule was hired to be the Panthers head coach.
Roster updated October 23, 2021