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Why you should root for the Carolina Panthers

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Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Carolina Panthers.

What you need to know so you don't sound stupid

The Panthers are a relatively new team, having come to life in the 1990s -- yes, they're younger than the original version of "Full House." And already in that short time, they've become a prominent pro sports franchise. They have two NFC titles to their credit. They have Cam Newton. And their best defensive player is Luke Kuechly, which means you get to shout "Luuuuuuuuuke" every time he does something remotely cool. So, yeah, they check a lot of boxes.

The Panthers hit the ground running in 1995 and reached the NFC title game in just their second year. They fell short of the Super Bowl, though not before knocking off the Cowboys in the Divisional Round, which was amazing, BTW. But they were good immediately, developing much faster than their NFC South rivals did. The Saints didn't have a winning season for the first two decades of their existence. It took 13 years for the Falcons to reach the playoffs for the first time. And the Bucs? Lost their first 26 games. The Panthers are doing pretty great for their initial 22 years, thank you very much.

If the fans of any of the other NFC South teams want to talk some trash, you tell them to zip it -- although Panthers fans are probably too nice to do that.

The nicest fans in the NFL?

The Panthers fans' reputation for friendliness makes sense, because the team is from the South. I've been to many NFL events around the country, and you know what? I'm not going to dispute this. When I hung with some of the fans at Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, I found them to be pretty delightful -- in fact, we chilled with the nicest family at Lefty O'Douls. Seriously, these are awesome people.

The only Panthers fan I've ever met who was kind of a jerk is one of our editors, David Ely. But I would consider him the exception to the rule. (I kid, I kid. He's very nice. And probably editing this, so I have to be cool. I'm kidding! David is a good guy. He's got a dog named Cam and everything.)

Superman

The roots of Cam Newton's status as the most polarizing man in the NFL reach back to his time in college. Some thought the Panthers should stick with Jimmy Clausen rather than take Newton first overall in 2011. I know you're probably thinking, "He must be talking about some other Jimmy Clausen." Nope; it was THAT Jimmy Clausen. Even our own Mike Mayock had Blaine Gabbert as a better pro prospect. (I feel you, Mike; I once thought Cordarrelle Patterson was going to tear up the league.) Shoot, Newton was booed at Radio City Music Hall, because sometimes NFL fans suck.

To this day, Newton still draws a visceral reaction from just about everybody. And I don't get it. I'm in the pro-Newton camp. I've worked with him a few times, and I thought he was pretty cool. (Our running gag typically centers on his speed rating in "Madden." Which, in all honesty, is a little low. We can work on that, EA.)

I do kind of understand that he's going to draw some criticism because of his "Superman" touchdown celebration. But he backs it up by handing the ball off to a kid. So deal with it. I'm a fan.

Cam's sartorial choices

I'm not even mad at what Cam wears, either.

The wardrobe malfunction

Hey, remember the Super Bowl halftime show with the wardrobe malfunction? That was the Panthers vs. Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. I'm going to be shocked if you're reading this, because this seems like the kind of thing that would be edited out. But it is a part of franchise history, and if we're reaching out to people, this might help them remember.

The franchise's best

Sam Mills was the original Panther. Owner Jerry Richardson wanted to bring instant credibility to the franchise, and it would have been hard to make a better pick than Mills, who signed with the team as a free agent in its first year of existence. An undersized linebacker who had been the ultimate underdog during his career with the Saints, Mills made an immediate impact. Like, literally. He intercepted a pass from Jets QB Bubby Brister and took it 36 yards to the house to spark the Panthers' first-ever franchise win in 1995. He was the leader of the 1996 team that made it to the NFC Championship Game, and he made the Pro Bowl that year, too. He played three seasons for the Panthers and then coached for the team before his untimely passing in 2005.

The beat goes on

Keep pounding has become the team's mantra in honor of Mills. He used the phrase to fire up his team prior to a January 2004 playoff game against the Cowboys -- and, of course, the Panthers won.

Now, the Panthers start each game by pounding a giant drum. And they've had a wide variety of people take part, including former NBA MVP and current Warriors star Steph Curry, who is the club's most famous fan.

Ice up, son

Listen, the Panthers don't have a Super Bowl trophy (don't judge), but perhaps the greatest moment in club history happened after the Panthers' win over the Patriots on "Thursday Night Football" in 2013, when Carolina receiver Steve Smith and New England cornerback Aqib Talib squared off. Like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, these guys don't like each other -- but instead of diss tracks, Smith and Talib traded shoves and scrums.

After the game, Smith was asked what was going on with Talib, and you knew it was going to be gold. Because when it comes to trash talking, Smith is like the NFL's version of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. And he unloaded on Talib, who had missed some time that season with a hip injury.

"Go ask him, because he didn't finish the game. Ice up, son. Ice up," Smith said. And a legendary meme was born.

Walk-off touchdown

All right, now for a serious Steve Smith moment. The Panthers went to St. Louis for a Divisional Round matchup in the 2003 playoffs and dominated the Rams for most of the contest -- until the Rams scored 11 points in the final 2:39 to force overtime. (Thanks to then-Rams coach Mike Martz for playing for the tie and not trying to win. It was not the only time Martz would greatly benefit the Panthers franchise.)

The game went into double overtime, and then Jake Delhomme hit Smith, who got past Jason Sehorn and raced 69 yards for the touchdown. The Panthers would go to Philadelphia the following week and knock off the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl.

OK, so how else did Martz help the Panthers?

The Chicago Bears selected Greg Olsen in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and he was a pretty good tight end. But in 2010, Martz became the Bears' offensive coordinator, and apparently he felt he couldn't utilize a player like Olsen, which is stupid. Because if you have a player with that kind of talent, you make it work. Instead, the Panthers ended up with a pretty amazing tight end who has been among the top three at his position for the last five years at least.

Broken arm

I don't want to turn this into a Steve Smith Sr. love-fest, but the dude caught a pass from Derek Anderson Matt Moore, broke his damn arm, and then waltzed into the end zone.

So, is Smith a Hall of Famer?

He is. Next question.

Hipster jersey

Brad Hoover, No. 45. Fullback jerseys are always fun. Hoover was one of the best. He helped three different running backs rush for more than 1,000 yards during their career. Hell, he helped Nick Goings rush for 821 yards in 2004. NICK GOINGS! So grab a Hoover jersey and start a Hoover for the HOF campaign. I'm serious. Fullbacks should be measured against each other, and it's hard to find a fullback better than Hoover.

Not enough credit

Michael Bates was an Olympic sprinter who won a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1992 Olympics. Bates had moves. He wasn't one of those sprinter-turned-footballers who just ran fast. Dude had some serious wiggle. And he made 60 career special-teams tackles. I'm not sure Deion Sanders made that many tackles in his NFL career as a starter on defense, but Bates was in there, mixing it up. And yet, ask somebody to select the top five-ish kick returners of all-time, and I bet they won't name Bates. Go ahead and ask somebody, I'll wait.

They didn't say Bates, did they? I told you, man. I TOLD YOU!

Way overrated

Ricky Manning had three interceptions in the 2003 NFC Championship Game, and then the Bears gave him a ton of money with little return. And yes, I'm basing this because he ruined my Bears. Don't at me.

Closing fun fact

Panthers blue is supposed to be a blend of UNC blue and the blue of the Duke Blue Devils. I could have done without the latter.

Final snap

Did you know Richardson took his entire staff to Super Bowl 50? That's a pretty cool perk. And probably wouldn't be the reason why you should root for them, so let me break this down for you.

For starters ... Cam. By now you know I'm a fan. My feeling is that he's going to have something to prove this year after a somewhat disastrous 2016. (I know, super-scientific.) I'm giddy over the selection of Christian McCaffrey, who is going to be the top offensive rookie this season. Trust me, I've seen enough Stanford games over the past few years to know this guy is going to translate. And adding Curtis Samuel to the mix made it obvious the Panthers want to play an exciting brand of football. Perhaps they are inspired by Steph Curry and want to be the Warriors of the NFL. And then there is coach Ron Rivera, whose "Riverboat Ron" persona is pretty much a 180 of the conservative play calling of former coach John Fox. Then you add good defense and the nicest fans (sans Ely), and I'd be good supporting this squad.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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