Dec, 19, 2010; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers fans with a sign to team owner Jerry Richardson. The Panthers defeated the Cardinals 19-12 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Panthers In Danger Of Losing Fans

All joking aside, this is getting bad.

Sunday’s 27-21 overtime loss to Tampa Bay was just the latest in a three-year stretch of games that have made Panthers fans want to crawl into bed and never come out.

Now, to be fair, every franchise has to rebuild sometimes, and the Panthers began theirs following the Delhomme debacle against the Cardinals in the 2008 playoffs.  The 2009 season was the clear beginning of the end, while 2010 was completely mishandled by the organization and ended up a total waste.  In 2011, Cam Newton brought some excitement back to the organization and the team instantly turned from pathetic to competitive.

This year was supposed to be the next step.  It was supposed to turn competitive into successful, but it hasn’t.  It’s turned competitive into excruciating, and Panthers fans are getting sick of it.

It hurts even worse because it’s not what the fans are used to.  Say what you want about the Fox era, but since 2002, the ’10-’11 seasons were the first back-to-back losing campaigns this franchise has suffered through.  That’s 10 years without back-to-back failures; now the Cats are struggling through their third-consecutive.  This franchise is used to being resilient and the fans aren’t used to suffering for long periods of time.

A losing culture has crept into this organization, locker room, city, state, and region.  It’s not the fact that they’re losing; it’s the way it’s happening.  Carolina is 2-8, but could very easily be 8-2.  Sure, I know a lot of teams could say something like that. Woulda, coulda, shoulda right?  But this is a little different.  The Panthers have lost three games this season (Falcons, Bears, and this week’s Bucs) that they completely had wrapped up.  It would have taken a total choke-job to lose any of those; yet the Cats lost all three.

Losses like that are the ones that make fans give up, and that’s what I’m seeing this season.  All I have to do is log on to Facebook or Twitter on a Sunday afternoon, and it’s one comment after another from disgruntled Panthers fans about how they’ve had it and are done wasting their time with a franchise that causes so much heartbreak.

While some of that might be frustration, some of it is quite real.  I’ll text friends of mine whom I’ve always been able to talk Panthers with, and they’ll respond with “I’m not watching.”  The thousands of empty seats at Bank of America Stadium Sunday (the place was literally half-full in the fourth quarter) is a telling sign that people are growing tired of this empty feeling.

It’s time for Jerry Richardson to make a statement.  He proved he was willing to spend some money in order to win, handsomely extending Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Charles Johnson.  Now it’s time to spend the money to bring in an A-list head coach, a Jon Gruden or a Bill Cowher, someone who would immediately change the attitude around this franchise.

A losing culture is a tough thing to shake.  The last thing Carolina wants is to turn into Cleveland, Detroit, Arizona or Buffalo.  The Panthers’ administration needs to get this right before it’s too late.

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