Football frustration can lead to life-changing decisions, literally

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I’m a Carolina Panthers fan living smack-dab in the middle of New Orleans Saints territory. The story behind that fact has less to do with me than it does with the New Orleans Saints and a decision made by two little boys.

What makes my Panther fandom so odd is that after a couple-year fling with the Falcons in my early teens, I became a New Orleans Saints fan. Why not? Growing up in Louisville, Miss. the Saints were the team we saw every Sunday afternoon. There was no Sunday ticket, there weren’t football games on Thursday and not even on Mondays at that point. It was the Saints, followed by a national game later in the afternoon.

My interest in the Saints grew after I became a professional journalist and began to travel to New Orleans a half-dozen times to cover the team each fall.

I vividly remember being gathered around Archie Manning as he sat patiently at his locker following the game (that’s the way it was done back in the day) answering question after question about another disappointing loss. There was the Hank Stram Era, the controversial draft of place-kicker/punter Russell Erxleben in the first round, the great Ricky Jackson at linebacker, and the two “Big-Ben” losses to the Atlanta Falcons. If you don’t remember those, look it up. It was painful.

Each year would bring more expectations for this to be the season. And every once-in-awhile they would land a player that you could really buy into. Morten Andersen was one of those for me.

From 1982-94 the “Great Dane” was a shining light for the Saints. He went to six Pro Bowls and kicked 302 field goals and scored 1,318 points over that span. Then, while still being one of the best kickers in the NFL the Saints cut him due to salary cap considerations.

They didn’t trade him, they cut him.

He was such a good player for the Saints that he was named to the NFL 1980s and 1990s All-Decade teams, and they cut him. He is now in the Saints Ring of Honor and in the Saints Hall of Fame, and they cut him. He would later make the Pro Bowl with his new team, and the Saints cut him.

I had seen too much. I was done.

I went home from work at the Meridian Star newspaper that day and called by 12-year-old son Ryan and 6-year-old son Bradley into the room and told them they could pick any NFL team they wanted to and we would be fans of them.

No more Saints helmets, no more Saints Jerseys, no more Saints garbage cans for their rooms and no more little Saints footballs that we regularly threw around the house like we were in the Superdome.

That’s it, we were done.

After a little soul-searching we made the decision that if we were going to root for a team that was going to struggle, let’s pick one that we knew wouldn’t be good.

That just so-happened to be the year that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers were joining the NFL. So I told the boys to pick one of those two teams and that would be our favorite team.

They mulled it over and all on their own chose the Carolina Panthers for whatever reason.

I quickly looked up the Panthers’ schedule and found out that the first official game they would ever play was going to be on Sept. 3, 1995 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against the Falcons. I talked it over with my wife Barbara and then bought tickets for all four of us.

We witnessed the first touchdown in Carolina history, an 8-yard pass from Frank Reich to tight end Pete Metzelaars

Since Carolina was in the same division with the Saints and Falcons, it was pretty easy for us to attend at least one game each year.

Bradley became such a huge fan that while he was attending the school of veterinary medicine at Mississippi State he took his one-year internship in Charlotte. It just happened to be the 2015 season when the Panthers made it all the way to the Super Bowl, losing to the Denver Broncos.

Before the season began, he went online and bought two season tickets from a fan who had some extras. He was already bit by the bug, but that hooked him for sure.

While in Charlotte he fell in love with the place. After a three-year residency at the University of Florida earning a specialization in internal medicine, he made the decision to accept a job in Charlotte and that’s where he lives today.

It’s amazing how the frustration over a decision made by your favorite football team can lead to something that important and life-changing, but it did.

Now, back to the first game the Panthers ever played.

The Panthers jumped out to a 13-3 lead and Barb, Ryan, Brad, and I were more than just a  little excited. The Falcons tied the game at the half and went ahead 20-13 after three quarters.

Carolina forced overtime thanks to a 44-yard touchdown pass from Reich to Willie Green in the fourth quarter.

It would be nice to say the Panthers won the game, but alas they did not. In fact the Falcons won the game on a 35-yard field goal by their newly acquired kicker. His name was Morten Andersen.

Yep, the Saints got me again.

Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He will be retiring from the journalism business at the conclusion of 2021. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at starsportsboss@yahoo.com.


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