When I meet people and tell them what I do for a living, inevitably I’m asked what teams I root for. My response usually leads to a second question: “How did that happen?”
See, I’m not your typical New Jersey kid who grew up a fan of the Devils or the New York teams — or the atypical kid who loved the N.J. Nets.
For more than 20 years, I’ve supported the same three teams: in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors; in baseball, the Florida Marlins (not Miami at present, but that’s for another column); and in the NFL, the 2015 NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Go ahead, ask. It’s OK.
“How did that happen?”
In short, my interest in sports didn’t take hold until I was in elementary school in the mid-90s. Expansion was all the rage in the major sports. And, because I was a newly minted sports nut, I latched on to the new kids on the block. The Marlins began play in 1993, followed two years later by the Panthers and Raptors.
The Marlins were good to me during my formative years, winning it all in 1997 and 2003 — sorry (not sorry), Yankee fans. But my other two teams have yet to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
Carolina came excruciatingly close just a few months after the Fish won their second World Series. In one of the 10 best Super Bowls ever — more infamous for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” — the Panthers and Patriots combined for 37 points in the fourth quarter. The Panthers had tied the game at 29 after a touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 to go in regulation.
But John Kasay’s kickoff sailed out of bounds, giving New England the ball on their own 40 to start. Tom Brady’s bunch had little trouble moving the ball 37 yards, allowing kicker Adam Vinatieri to hit the game-winning field goal from 41 yards out.
Look, I’m not going to say the Cardiac Cats — the Panthers’ nickname that season — would have won in overtime. Maybe the Pats would have moved the ball well enough inside of a minute to score regardless, but that kickoff was heartbreaking 12 years ago and still stings upon re-watch. Not that he needed my forgiveness, but I’ve long since gotten over blaming Kasay, the franchise’s leading scorer who won his fair share of games with his leg.
Why am I sharing all of this with you? I decided that you readers deserve to know that, as much as I try to cover sports objectively — and I believe I have during my preview series throughout the week — I’m all about the Panthers this weekend.
At least when I pick the Panthers to emerge victorious from the 50th Super Bowl on Sunday, I’ll be picking the clear betting favorite. I’d feel more awkward predicting the game if, say, the Broncos were favored by a touchdown.
But in the interest of openness, you should know I will be watching the game while wearing a Cam Newton jersey with my wife and son, hoping the boys in black take the Lombardi Trophy to Charlotte, N.C.