It’s NFL Rivalry Week at SB Nation, so we over here at Bucs Nation have decided to do a feature on why we hate the other teams in the NFC South. Be sure to check back in later for the Saints and Falcons.
And remember, this is all in good fun!
How it all began...
My hatred for the Panthers actually goes way back before they made life hell as a Bucs fan for almost two decades.
It all began when Kerry Collins and the Panthers beat the Dallas Cowboys back in 1996. Yes, I was your typical 8-year-old aboard the Cowboy bandwagon that postseason since the Bucs didn’t make it.
I still remember when Michael Irvin fractured his shoulder and Sam Mills’ late interception to seal the deal. As Mills came down with the ball, my mom —who was rooting more for her son’s happiness than the Cowboys— let out a frustrated, “Well shit!”, which told me it was Game Over.
The thought at the time was, “Well, at least they aren’t in the Bucs’ division, so I won’t have to see them too often.”
The 2002 division realignment placed the knockoff smurfs in the NFC South with the Bucs. It took them just one year to make my life absolute hell (football-wise) for the next two decades.
The Panthers were one of the nastiest teams during the 2000s and the Bucs were their punching bag.
If you ask me, the Week 2 meeting in 2003 is what set the tone for the disappointing season to come. It’s also what marked the beginning of Carolina’s success against the Bucs. The Panthers beat the absolute crap out of the Bucs, but it was more about how the Bucs lost that game. Even though it was an extremely physical and sloppy contest, the Bucs still had a shot to win after Keenan McCardell caught the game-tying pass from Brad Johnson with no time left on the clock. Martin Gramatica lined up for the game-winning PAT, but the attempt was blocked by Panthers defensive lineman Kris Jenkins —which was the Panthers’ third blocked kick of that game— and the Bucs would go on to lose in overtime, 12-9.
It was the first-ever “missed” PAT in 129 attempts during Gramatica’s career. He would go on to have the worst season of his career at the time and he was never the same. In fact, the Bucs cut him the next season.
That wasn’t all. Two critical injuries occurred when Mike Alstott and Joe Jurevicius collided together during a play that resulted in Jurevicius tearing a ligament in his right knee and Alsott hurting his neck. Jurevicius was out until Week 10, but had to be shelved for the rest of the season after just playing in a couple of more games. Alstott played in three more games until the neck injury became too much. He was placed on injured reserve after the Week 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
They killed Gramatica. They took out Jurevicius and Alstott. Three of the most fondly-remembered players in Bucs’ history were put out to pasture in that game.
That game signaled the end of Tampa Bay’s glory days and the rise of Carolina. On the opposite side, the Panthers’ stars were beginning to shine. Stephen Davis ran all over the Bucs’ defense for 142 yards on 33 carries. Steve Smith had the clutch 52-yard punt return in overtime that set up John Kasay’s game-winner. Jenkins blocked two kicks. Those three guys would be major contributors to the franchise not just in 2003, but for years to come.
The Bucs finished 7-9 on the year and missed the playoffs while the Panthers eventually played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
It was gross. And it was so unexpected because the Bucs were coming off a dominating win against the Eagles and looked like they were ready to defend their 2002 title.
I hated the Panthers from that point on and said hatred only grew as the years passed.
Simeon Rice even fell victim to the Panthers. His name was often left out of the conversation of the top defensive ends in the league due to the presence of Julius Peppers. Rice was shafted time and time again in favor of Peppers. Sometimes it was justified, but sometimes it wasn’t.
I’ll never forget the 2005 season. Rice was third in the NFL with 14 sacks and Peppers tied for 11th with 10.5, yet Peppers got the Pro Bowl nod over Rice. It wasn’t just about the sacks, either. Rice finished tied for 13th with 12 TFLs, while Peppers tied for 10th with 13. Peppers had two forced fumbles and one recovery, Rice had six forced fumbles and no recoveries. Rice even had an interception and Peppers had none. And it’s not like the Bucs sucked that year. They won the damn division!
Make that four of my favorite players screwed over by them.
The Bucs wouldn’t beat Carolina again until December of 2005, but despite ending the five-game win streak, they beat the Panthers just two more times that decade. Even if you include the 2002 games, the Panthers won 11 of 16 contests from 2002-2009.
Cam Newton made things worse than they already were
It finally looked like the Bucs would start to turn the tide with a sweep in 2010, but honestly, that helped the Panthers get in position to draft Cam Newton, which basically restarted the dominance by the jungle cats.
The Bucs sucked again from 2011-2019. They went 6-12 against the Panthers, bringing their overall record to just 11-23 (.324) against their divisional counterpart since 2002. For context’s sake, Tampa Bay is 16-20 (.444) against the Falcons and 14-22 (.389) against the Saints. When it comes to the Panthers, they are 19-18 (.514) against the Saints and 13-23 (.361) against the Falcons since 2002.
With Newton mostly at the helm —he started 14 of 18 games— the Panthers won six straight from 2013-2016. Overall, the average margin of victory was 15 points per game. Three games were decided by one score and eight of the Panthers’ 12 wins were by 14 points or more.
That ain’t good. In fact, it’s downright disturbing. And I blame the Panthers for every bit of it.
I hate their dumb panther growl during games. I hate their “Keep Pounding” motto, even if it’s really easy to make fun of. Their stadium is one of the coolest stadiums in the NFL and the panther statues outside are cool, but I still hate all of it.
And the worst part about all of the hate is the fact that I hate them because they usually represent everything I want my team to be.
Tough. Relentless. Nasty. Physical. Mean. Fearless. Whatever adjective that correlates to football with positive connotation - that was the Panthers over the last 18 years.
But now, things are looking a bit different. The Bucs are the ones who appear to have the upperhand and the NFL realizes it. Maybe things will change.
Hopefully it does. I certainly need it to for my health.
Because I hate the Panthers more than wet socks.
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