Have you ever wondered if there is a real animal called the Carolina Panther? Well, yes there is a real Carolina Panther. Much like it’s cousin, the Florida Panther, it is also by definition melanistic (black in color) and most likely a cougar. A panther can be either a leopard, cougar, puma, or mountain lion. If a cat is not completely black in color, then it’s not a panther. If it is completely black, then it is a panther.
The Carolina Panther was once thought to be totally absent from the area due to overkill. However, there have been some exciting recent sightings reported in the mountains of North Carolina as well as other sightings along the eastern Carolinas swamplands. You will only see a panther in North Carolina in the wild, as it is against the law to cage the animal. The caging of panthers is permitted in some states like Tennessee, however the caging of country music stars is not allowed. Go figure? Unlike their relatives the lions and tigers and other wild cats that hunt in packs, the independent Carolina Panther is more reminiscent of a line from a William Sharp poem “But my heart is a lonely hunter”. Like the lonely heart, the Carolina Panther also always hunts alone.
Author Carson McCullers borrowed that line for the title of her famous book. To draw a parallel between her acclaimed great American novel and our current Carolina Panther football team, which also has aspirations of being great, is not as far fetched as you might first imagine. There are many similarities between the two. For instance, Carson with her vision of a new book and Ron Rivera with his vision of a new football scheme, both started laying out their scripts in Charlotte within a mile of each other. Much like Carson McCullers’s great novel “The heart is a lonely hunter”, the new Carolina Panthers are also lonely hunters as well. With the hiring of the franchise’s fourth Head Coach, Ron Rivera, chapter four of the book is now being written on the Panthers. The only things missing from the complete analogy of the two are success and acclamation, which has not as yet become a Carolina Panther reality.
The authors of both the novel and the team were born in other states. Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia, and Ron Rivera at the US Army base at Fort Ord, California. Both eventually made their way to Charlotte using different paths and times in order to make their mark in their chosen professions. Carson created her masterpiece while living in houses on Central Avenue and East Boulevard in Charlotte. Coach Rivera is currently working on his masterpiece at Bank Of America Stadium on South Mint Street, a mere eighteen football field lengths from East Boulevard.
In the often described NFL “Copycat League”, the Carolina Panthers finally have the coaches who dare to stop following the rest and take the lead themselves. They are now trying to write a whole new book of their own. The key characters in the Panther book are too numerous for all to be mentioned here. So I’d like to single out some of the more notable cast members who are themselves rewriting their own scripts and redefining the skill sets for their own positions.
Prior to his first start in the NFL, it seemed as if most pundits considered him to be too much of a physical specimen to be successful in the “thinking man’s” position of quarterback. They soon found out that Cam has abilities to threaten by running or throwing. His very presence on the field presents a whole new set of problems for the opposing defense. In the NFL most quarterbacks are supposed to be pocket passers who occasionally scramble if the pocket collapses. Newton has rewritten the book by doing that and more. Cam is a dangerous runner all on his own. Specific running plays are sometimes called for him to not even look to pass, but to run the ball himself.
On the other side of the ball, Antwan Applewhite is one of the new Hybrid linebacker/defensive end players. Antwan is helping to set a new standard for defensive schemes. At 6’3″ and 260 lbs, Applewhite is much heavier than most linebackers and much lighter than most defensive ends. The niche he is helping to create allows for the defense to immediately shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and vice-versa, without substituting. His speed and height allows for better pass defense, and his bulk and strength allows for a stronger blitz and run defense.
At 6’4″ and 280 lbs, Greg Hardy is a Hybrid defensive end/defensive tackle. He plays the run primarily and shifts to blitz the quarterback or help out the defensive tackles as needed. He leads all Carolina defensive linemen in tackles and is second on the team in quarterback sacks. Being handicapped by starting two rookie defensive tackles, defensive ends Hardy and Johnson are taking up a lot of the slack in defending the opposing teams runs between their offensive tackles.
6’4″ 270 lb Ben Hartsock is a Hybrid tight end/offensive lineman. Although primarily a blocker, Ben shifts to become a ball catching tight end at times. He even lines up at the fullback position in certain plays.
What does all this have to do with Ron Rivera and Carson McCullers? It draws a surprising parallel between two innovative artists from totally different fields, who’s roads in life led them to Charlotte. One an acclaimed writer of novels who did her best work in the East Boulevard area. The other an aspiring creator of pro-football schemes and strategies who will also soon be acclaimed for his own masterpiece one day. You see, Ron Rivera is also doing his best work, although in a different time period, at South Mint Street within a mile of East Boulevard. The master link between the two is that they both are creators of lonely hunters.