This is a weird time to be alive.
Yes, we’re in the midst of an...I’ll say interesting presidential campaign. We live in a time in which potato photos are selling for more than a million dollars. Social media dominates our lives, blah, blah, blah. Times have changed. But, as far as my inner-sports fan goes, this past 12 months, more so than any other, has been the single most exciting time period that has ever existed.
The Carolina Panthers, my Carolina Panthers, are set to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl 50—a feat that seems fairly amazing considering it’s been 10 years since they made it to a conference championship game and 13 since they made their only Super Bowl appearance.
That was a gut-wrenching experience—I live with a couple Giants fans who have had similar regular-season woes. But they know nothing of what it’s like to see their team, one that nobody else thought would make it, lose in the final seconds of America’s biggest game (after the Janet Jackson incident, which I don’t remember because I was 10 but know we have on tape somewhere around my house) because the most evil quarterback in the league got a short field to work with after one of their favorite players (John Kasay) hooked the kickoff.
Ultimately, though, the loss was just one of many inevitable defeats that regularly ended Carolina’s seasons. It hurt more, sure, but by 2003, two years removed from the forgettable 1-15 campaign, Panthers fans had more than learned that losing was part of life—welcome to the NFL, young’ns!
So, for Carolina fans, even wilder than the Panthers currently being back in the Super Bowl is the fact that they are the favorites. Carolina is supposed to win. The Super Bowl! Never in the history of the Panthers have they been truly favored to capture the title and be one of 50 teams in the history of the league to have their name on the Lombardi Trophy. This year, though—fingers crossed—is the year that that changes.
Now, I get the luxury of being able to kick back and read scores of sports reporters, the same ones that were quick to look down their noses at the Panthers when they drafted All-World everything Cam Newton. Newton was, at the time, considered a character-issue guy and risky gamble—"How will he break down or throw against NFL defenses? They’re so smart! He just played a year in college! Fraud!". Those same writers have now penned thousands of words defending the same quarterback for being a barrier-breaking, league-changing demigod, much to the chagrin of Tennessee mothers. That’s why having opinions, especially wrong ones, is fantastic, and why screenshots of tweets from 2011 onward are now a personal pleasure of mine.
Pair all of this with the fact that just seven months ago, I was in Indianapolis—albeit, in a working fashion—when Duke won the national championship, and I’d say that this year, next Sunday withstanding, has been fantastic. Well, for the most part.
Now we get back to the weird—Duke is, at least according to its standards, subpar this season. Some would call that an understatement. A team predicted to be a top-10 squad by many who had yet to see them function as a unit has more or less fallen on its face through the opening month of conference play. As I’m sure you now probably know, this week’s AP poll marks the first time since 2007 that the Blue Devils have dropped out of the top 25. Gasp!
And look what’s happened this season. Duke has lost some games it should have lost because, again, it is not that great of a team, and some games it should not have because the Blue Devils lost Amile Jefferson, who has played a surprisingly large role in ACC play by simply not being there. Then, we have open letters from alumni calling for the reinvigoration of the Cameron Crazies.
Guys. Deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
Take it from a fan who knows how to lose—let’s not even talk about my childhood N.C. State fandom—that one season of fringe NCAA play will not topple Duke. Next season (yes, it’s probably time to start thinking about it), the Blue Devils are going to be stacked with freshmen and sophomores that will be able to work together and will hopefully have a capable post player somewhere in the mix and will be far from any NIT talk.
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Of course, though I would absolutely prefer that Duke hurry up and make that switch this season before my final semester comes to a close, I try and remind myself of last April when the confetti was falling from Lucas Oil Stadium and remember that Blue Devil fans are pretty spoiled by their consistent success. Although the Panthers haven’t been Browns-level bad in the past few years, it’s been nice to be on the surprising side of success for once. It’s weird, but nice.
But as long as this weird year can crank out one more championship team in five day’s time, I think I’ll be alright.