Twenty years ago, if the Washington Redskins were to play a game in Charlotte, they would have been considered the home team. Still, today, even with the Panthers franchise in Charlotte, a DirecTV survey indicates that there are more Redskins fans in the Triangle area of North Carolina than any other “out-of-market” team.
But the Redskins poor effort in Charlotte during a 33-20 loss to the Panthers today further erodes support for the old Burgundy and Gold, that in past years featured North Carolinians Sonny Jurgensen, Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, Chris Hanburger and many others.
When the Carolina Panthers played their first game in 1995, most of the fans in North Carolina were Redskins fans. At a preseason game between the Redskins and Panthers in Charlotte that first year, there were as many Redskins fans as Panthers fans and many of the Panthers fans were wearing a Redskins hat and a Panthers shirt or vice versa.
But the NFL made an effort to convert Redskins fans to Panthers fans, in part, by putting the Panthers in the NFC rather than the AFC. In comparison, the Dallas franchise and the Houston franchise were put in different conferences. TV watchers in that market could watch either or both. While Jacksonville was put in the AFC, which also has Miami, fans in Florida could watch either game on local TV (because of market population and media outlets). However, by virtue of the Panthers being put in the NFC, the Redskins were taken off TV in North Carolina, even in the eastern part of the state where fans could get to DC quicker than they could get to Charlotte. TV stations in eastern North Carolina requested Redskins games instead of Panthers games and were denied, again, because they wanted to convert (or as I call it kill out) Redskins fans in North Carolina.
A radio station in Raleigh even had a promotion where Redskins fans could trade in their Skins t-shirts for a Panthers shirt and they were going to have a bonfire to burn the Redskins attire. Not realizing the seriousness of Redskins fans in North Carolina, except for the casual Redskins fan, there was little interest and it just pissed off the Redskins’ fans.
After having watched the Redskins on local TV for more than 30 years and listening on local radio for more than 50 years, Redskins fans were mad as hell. Only hatred of Dallas surpasses that of the Panthers. That makes the 33-20 loss today even more stinging.
In a bit of irony, those seeking to bring a team to Charlotte back in the ’90s urged the NFL to have the Redskins play an exhibition game in Chapel Hill to help prove that “the Carolinas” would support a team. The game was well attended and the boisterous fans helped make the case. Of course it proved that people would come see the Redskins – a Chargers vs. Browns game would not have gotten nearly as many excited fans to the stadium. But the fans were certainly loud and into it.
Back in the ’90s, I spoke with Mike McCormack, one of those initial investors in a Charlotte team, who admitted that the group wanted the Charlotte team to be placed in the NFC. In fact, he wanted the Panthers in the NFC East to compete directly against the Redskins. Of course, again, what that would do (and did indeed do) was to take the Redskins off local TV all over North Carolina.
The fans who did remain loyal to the Redskins felt a sense of satisfaction the first six times the two teams played against each other from 1995 to 2001. The Redskins won all six of them. But since 2003, the Panthers have beaten the Redskins three out of four times. The Panthers won 20-17 in 2003 and in 2009 while losing 17-13 in 2006.
Over an 11-year period starting in 1982, the Redskins went to the playoffs eight times, played in the Super Bowl four times and won three Super Bowls. But considering the Redskins play since the Panthers have been in the league, it’s amazing that there are as many Redskins fans in North Carolina as there are. Since, 1995, the Panthers first year, the Redskins have only been to the playoff three times and have a 2-3 record. Also since 1995, the Redskins regular season record is just 118-143-1. The Panthers aren’t much better with a 121-142 record but they have been to a Super Bowl and gone 6-4 in the playoffs.
The interest in the Panthers from Raleigh to the coast isn’t great, in fact it’s rather poor, but will this game today finally kill off the Redskins fans in North Carolina? It certainly won’t affect the die-hards but some fans have tired of the losing and all the drama that owner Dan Synder has brought. Most media attention is focused on the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton has brought some excitement. Certainly, young kids that don’t remember the Redskins glory days may very well grow up being Panthers fans even if they live in places like Rocky Mount and Wilson that are closer to DC than to Charlotte.
It’s sad for older Redskins fans in North Carolina. It could have all been avoided if the Panthers were put in the AFC. The Redskins could have been a fan’s favorite NFC team and the Panthers could have been that same fan’s favorite AFC team. But money is involved and the plan was to force the Panthers on North Carolinians to make the Panthers viable with more market population. Similarly they used the name “Carolina” instead of “Charlotte” to tell people in North and South Carolina that the Panthers are now your team.
It certainly makes sense to push the Panthers in Charlotte and that area but to expect Redskins fans in eastern North Carolina to follow the Panthers was and is a little much.
“We had a ton of fans here so it is a disappointment,” former Redskins player and TV announcer Rick “Doc” Walker. “It’s tough to deal with but Cam Newton and Steve Smith were just better.”
As for the game itself, rookie Newton was 18 of 23 for 256 yards and a TD run and TD pass. Smith had seven receptions (two or three of which that were sensational) for 143 yards. The Redskins were ripe for the picking. They were starting a new quarterback this week who hasn’t played in four years (John Beck). They were playing without All-Pro tight end Chris Cooley, starting safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (who was the franchise tag player for the Rams two years ago) and two starting offensive linemen who were all injured.
During the Panthers game, the Redskins lost starting runningback Tim Hightower to a knee injury (and he might be gone for the season) as well as All-Pro receiver Santana Moss to a broken hand. Also, linebacker London Fletcher, who has a record 169 straight starts, injured a hamstring and is in doubt of continuing his start streak next Sunday. Others injured during the game included lineman Jamaal Brown, cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Reed Doughty.
The Redskins fall to 3-3 while the Panthers improve to 2-5. With those records, maybe a NFL team in Raleigh is in order. Joking.