The great thing about sports is you can root for any team you want, no matter where you live. There are no rules saying you have to pull for the local favorites. And yes, I have rooted for the Razorbacks all my life, but it was much more fun when I was living in Texas. That same “wild frontier” with no laws also means you can “hate” whoever you want. For me, a baseball lover, it’s an easy choice: the New York Yankees. They’ve won more than anyone else, and with the enactment of free agency and the free-spending ways of owner George Steinbrenner, it was a natural choice to root against the Yankees. It has nothing to do with the people of New York, though Yankees fans are known for being quite nasty when visiting fans try to deal with them at Yankee Stadium. It has more to do with rooting against the favorites, the perennial winners.
Old-time comedian Joe E. Lewis once said, “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.” Granted, the modern-day stock equivalent might make it something about rooting for Microsoft, but you get the idea. In baseball, I’ve always been a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When I was about 5, my uncle, Bob Moore, said, “We root for the Cardinals and we like Elvis and Rick Nelson.” That was good enough for me — at least then. We since have parted ways on politics, but back then, what he said was law. When it came to the National Football League, I also pulled for the St. Louis Cardinals, an original league franchise that moved to Missouri from Chicago in 1960. They were the team that we received in this TV market, at least before the Dallas Cowboys became the flavor of the month in the 1970s. In fact, Channel 11 starting to show Dallas instead of St. Louis was the reason I never liked the Cowboys. But even though they were no longer the featured team on TV in Little Rock, I stayed with the “Big Red,” or the “football Cardinals,” as they were known in St. Louis (probably because “the Cardinals” always had meant the baseball team).
But in the 1980s, Bill Bidwill, the cheapskate owner of the football Cardinals, started making noises about moving the team from St. Louis and eventually did so in time for the 1988 season. Some Cardinals fans continued to pull for them, but I refused to “move with them.” I couldn’t — I resented the owner too much. The first year after the Cardinals moved, I was in mourning, I guess. I didn’t pay much attention to the NFL. For a couple of years, I tried rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs, but it just didn’t feel right. For the next three years, I wandered in the football desert. The NFL was scheduled to expand for the 1995 season, with the new cities to be announced in late 1993. Rumors abounded that St. Louis was going to be one of the expansion markets. But eventually Charlotte and Jacksonville were named as NFL cities.
Having been without a team long enough, I chose to follow the Charlotte expansion franchise, headed by former Baltimore Colts receiver Jerry Richardson. I became a Carolina Panthers fan and have been since they started play in 1995. The team made it to the NFC championship game in 1996, its second year, but lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay. The Panthers reached the Super Bowl after the 2003 season, but fell to the New England Patriots, 32-29, on a last second field goal. They again made the NFC championship game in 2005, but fell to Seattle, 34-14.
In between those highlights has been a lot of bad football. But the Panthers are on the rise again this season, having started 14-0 and standing 16-1 entering this weekend. The irony of the 2015 NFC championship game that just started on Fox TV is that it has the Panthers hosting the successor to my St. Louis NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, with the winner facing the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. I don’t know who will win the game being played now in Charlotte, but when it’s over, I’ll still be a fan of the Carolina Panthers.