I’m not really a huger writer, but the sun breaking through the clouds on this New Year’s Eve flight home is pretty inspirational. Well that and stupidly not having anything to read, watch or listen to on this four hour flight with no WiFi might actually make me go insane otherwise. 2018 certainly had its ups and downs, as did the Carolina Panthers, but turning the page to the new year always seems to be therapeutic in the final hours every New Year’s Eve. As we take off through the pouring New Orleans rain into perfect sunshine and peace above the clouds, it’s the most cliche and sappy thing to say but it’s true. No matter what the situation in life is, you can always get through the tough times with good people. Football wise, even though the Panthers were a game away from a historic eight game losing skid, the opportunity I was fortunate to have this year contributing to and traveling with The Riot Report / Roaring Riot left me with an even better appreciation of the Panthers fan base and the football business.
As a Panthers fan born, raised and still living in the state that embraces the weather as a football advantage, before this year I had never seen a single football game in a dome. This year I was grateful to have the pleasure of going to some of the most jaw dropping structures around the NFL. It kicked off in April at the NFL Draft in Dallas, TX where we captured both the press box and on field experience of the NFL’s draft weekend through social media for The Riot Report with the other half of the crew at Bank of America Stadium. The weekend welcomed what is arguably the Panthers future in D.J. Moore, Donte Jackson, Ian Thomas and more to the team, and we also got to hang with and interview ex-Panthers punter Jason Baker who opened our eyes to the Special Teams part of football that sometimes goes unnoticed. Keeping our cool pre-interview while NFL Hall of Famers literally ordered drinks over our shoulder in the media hotel was our first test. I’ll also never forget standing on the Cowboys end zone blue turf that I saw on TV every weekend hearing 32 fan bases try to out-chant one another while marveling at how some of the end zone suites at Jerry’s world were nicer than some apartments in Boston. If you can attend a draft some year, I highly recommend it - even just as a casual fan.
You could see it then and it continued and grew through the Summer. Panthers fans had high hopes this year. That was probably the hardest part of the football side of 2018 in the crashing end - knowing the roster is better than 7-9, but always having to answer why to the critics and family and friends at the holiday dinner. Throughout the year, gut wrenching road loss after gut wrenching road loss, one thing was for sure. In Charlotte, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland and Tampa Bay, Panthers fans always showed up, and they always showed up with those same high hopes every weekend which is a tip of the cap to Zack Luttrell who makes going to any Panthers game such a unique experience with a true football family feel. Screen names become real life friends, folks travel from other countries to attend their first NFL game, "nice to meet you", turns into "see you Sunday", and while the Panthers record might have, the fans never slowed down in 2018.
Whether it was through the podcasts, photos, videos, stats, scores, articles, social media or just chatting, connecting with you guys on a daily basis was such an incredible experience. No view, like, retweet or engagement went unnoticed and I can't express the appreciation I have for everyone I was able to meet and learn from along the way. Thanks for following along for the ride and Happy New Year everyone.