Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New England Patriots 20 at Carolina Panthers 24 - November 18, 2013

After an entertaining game in Nashville last Thursday and a rather forgettable one in Jacksonville, I drove northeast to Charlotte for what promised to be one of the best games on the trip. For once, expectations were met.

The game had been sold out for a while but of course, there were tickets on the secondary market. Prices on StubHub had been rising but the real fun was on Craigslist, where a variety of season ticket holders believed they were hosting the Super Bowl. One guy advertised his tickets for $750 each, nearly 10 times face. When that happens, you know the market is over saturated, so I found the scalpers corner and talked to a guy with a single ticket in one end zone, where I really like sitting. I got it for less than twice face value (a good deal at that time) and walked in when gates opened. One of the problems on this trip is that I want to experience the entire stadium, so I pay a premium to get in as early as possible. Tickets were likely at face value or below by the time kickoff rolled around.

Bank of America Stadium

The best way to get to the stadium is to take light rail. There are Park and Ride stations just a couple of miles south of downtown and the round-trip ticket is only $4. You can walk from Stonewall station, about 5 minutes or so. Driving downtown before a game just seems like an exercise in frustration as the stadium is on a remarkably small footprint, surrounded by surface streets and highways with few parking lots. This also makes it difficult to get good distance shots as there are buildings blocking most views. The location also limits the pregame experience, as there is no area in which a large number of people can gather. The club makes do with a small area called "Panthers Lair" in a parking lot, and it is really not worth your time. That's a poor picture of the Lair below, with the stadium on the other side of a highway on-ramp.

You should still walk around as much as possible (the west side is blocked off to the public) and see the panther statues at each entrance.

The Panthers have a Hall of Honor on the north side of the stadium, with two statues. Sam Mills played and coached for the club before dying of cancer in 2005 and is the only player in the Hall.

The other inductee is Mike McCormack, who was the team's first president and GM from 1993-97. McCormack died just three days before the game and a moment of silence was held in his honour prior to the game.

Gates opened at 6:30 for the 8:40 kickoff, so it was already dark when I finally entered the seating bowl. I was in row 13 of section 121, a great seat just behind a goalpost, but without the slightly obstructed view I experienced in Minnesota.

I then did the obligatory photo tour. The seating bowl allows you to walk around on both levels, with some interesting food options including Bojangles, a local chicken fast food operation that is denoted by the yellow sign next to the Wendy's below. Another popular option is JJR's BBQ Shack, which offers brisket and pulled pork sandwiches for $8 as well as Red Velvet Whoopie Pie at $4.50, along with other desserts. I tried the pulled pork and the pie and it was more than filling, although fairly average stadium fare in terms of taste.

One thing I liked was having the entire home schedule available, including the colour of the jersey the Panthers would wear for each game. Generally in the NFL, home teams wear dark uniforms, but the Panthers wore white to start the season, switched to blue for two games, and will finish with black for the final four contests.

The seating bowl is like most in the league, divided into three sections, with silver club seats in the middle and noticeable in many of the shots below. The upper deck seats are pushed back a bit, but are still more than acceptable for how much they cost.

Make sure to visit the upper deck on the east side of the stadium as there are some skyline shots. Those are the hospitality tents in the foreground.

Overall, Bank of America Stadium is a fairly average NFL venue. Thankfully the game was anything but.

The Game

I'm not going to recap the game here other than to say it was the best NFL game I have ever seen. Each team had only 7 possessions and sustained drives were the order of the day, with 8 total scores, only 3 punts, and two turnovers (one possession ended at the half). Every play seemed to matter,  Cam Newton showed why he might be the best young QB in the league, and the winning touchdown was scored with less than a minute to go.

Unfortunately, the media focused on the last play of the game, a non-call on a pass play to the end zone. I was sitting over 100 yards away but was using binoculars, so I saw the entire play. When the flag was thrown, I thought it was for pass interference. When the Panthers started cheering, I thought the flag was against New England. Only when I arrived back at my hotel later did I hear the word "controversy", manufactured entirely by the media and still being used nearly 24 72 hours later. After seeing the replay, I believed the referees made the right call by picking up the pass interference flag. If New England had a play from the 1-yard line as a result of Kuechly's actions, it would have been a travesty. Yes, defensive holding should have been called, but it wasn't, just like a leg whip call was missed in the third quarter. There was no controversy here, just the media creating one because they are no longer able to accurately break down a great football game without overreacting. If you want a balanced, thoughtful recap, read Bill Barnwell's thoughts, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Also, here is the NFL's take. Finally, the score, which will remained unchanged until the end of time.

I will still include some pictures though, as I had a great seat and was trying out some new settings on my camera, with mixed results.

Tom Brady in warmups

Man in motion behind Cam Newton

Steve Smith and Aqib Talib...

...got in a scuffle

Rob Gronkowski celebrates his touchdown in the 3rd quarter, which tied the game at 10.

Julian Edelman on a pass route

This was the 4th down play that kept the Patriots final drive alive


The cheerleaders had quite nice uniforms on for the first half (above) despite rapidly falling temperatures, and when they appeared in the second half, they hadn't covered up much. This no doubt inspired the Panthers to win the game, much like the Titans' cheerleaders cost them last Thursday's game by wearing pants in the second half.

I have seen the Patriots 4 times on the trip, they are 1-3. When I am not in attendance, they are 6-0. I will see them in Houston on December 1st.

Before that though, I have games in Atlanta, Kansas City, and Dallas, so check back regularly as the trip is still going strong.



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