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North Carolina Sports Teams Hat Trick

Charlotte, North Carolina and Toronto, Ontario, North Carolina - Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Last night I just finished watching the third of North Carolina Sports Teams in a six day span and in two different countries. Here’s how and why I did it.

My daughter Lenore lives in Toronto and every year we try to get to a Maple Leafs game, so in December I bought a couple of tickets for the January 21, 2016 game against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. It could have been any team that was playing in Toronto around that time.

Then, after the NFL season ended Brian MacLellan and I decided we would go to a playoff game and by coincidence the easiest home game to get to was the Carolina Panthers, although when we bought the tickets we didn’t know who the opponent would be. As it turns out it was the Seattle Seahawks who had just eliminated my Minnesota Vikings in heartbreaking fashion and I felt exactly like these Viking fans. Seattle had not won, Minnesota had lost. Brian MacLellan has always been an ardent Russell Wilson hater, not for any particular reason I can figure out, but now I wanted to see these lucky bastards destroyed.

So long story short, Brian and I arrived in Charlotte where the Carolina Panthers play, the day before the game. A friend who lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina, just across the border, had two tickets for the Charlotte Hornets that night against the Milwaukee Bucks and offered one to us. I bought another one on line and violà suddenly I’m lined up to see all three Carolina teams in less than a week without any deliberate planning on my part. So, to the games.

I knew so little about the Charlotte NBA team that I thought they were still  called the Bobcats. As it turns out the Hornets had absolutely no sting this night and were easily trounced by the Bucks. But we had great seats, almost at courtside. Mercifully I forgot my regular camera so there are no pictures of the debacle.

North Carolina Sports Teams
At the Hornets Game

Carolina vs. Seattle 2016 Playoffs

The next day our friend, who was not going to the Carolina Panthers game, drove us in to the city and dropped us off outside where we wandered through the tailgaters to the entrance.

North Carolina Sports Teams
Ready for the Panthers vs. Seahawks

Up close the panther is quite scary looking. I hope the Carolina Panthers are just as crazed.

North Carolina Sports Teams
The Carolina Panther – mean looking sucker

The prices for NFL post season games are stratospheric, especially in Canadian dollars, but in my experience being high up is less important than being close to mid-field where you can see all the action. So we have nosebleeds seats that are in the second to last row, but right at mid-field. It’s so high up we pass the FOX cameraman on the way.

North Carolina Sports Teams
Fox Cameraman well below us.

At least there’s a great view of Charlotte from up here.

North Carolina Sports Teams
View of Charlotte from the Nosebleed Seats

The Carolina Panthers come out on fire; almost literally,as they pass through huge jets of flaming gas on each side of the entryway.

North Carolina Sports Teams
Here come the Panthers

Actually they do start on fire. On the first play from scrimmage Jonathan Stewart rips it for 59 yards and three plays later he scores a TD. On Seattle’s first possession Russell Wilson throws a pick six to Luke Keuchly and its 14-0 in just over two minutes. Russell gives up another INT later in the quarter and by half time its 31-0. Instead of needing to yell “Kill Russell Wilson!”, instead he and the rest of the vaunted Seahawks are doing it to themselves. Game over right?

North Carolina Sports Teams
Get Russell Wilson

With Seattle, Yogi Berra’s famed “It ain’t over till it’s over”, is always apropos. They are like a plague of zombies that you can’t keep from coming back at you no matter how many you kill. Unfortunately it’s the Carolina Panthers who play like zombies in the second half. I call these uniform-switch games. One team dominates the first half and then almost as if the good players in the first half switched uniforms with the guys who were so pathetic, the other team dominates the second half. Seattle manages to claw it’s way to 24 points while completely shutting down the Panthers who have played so much not to lose in this half that they have put the game in jeopardy. Shades of the Buffalo Bills erasing a 32 point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in 1993. You can tell that it’s on the mind of every fan in the stadium and the players. The clench of butts is palpable.

Seattle lines up for a last minute on side kick. Brian and 65,000 other fans are silently thinking, “The f***ers are going to do it.”

North Carolina Sports Teams
The failed onside kick

But then they don’t. Carolina recovers. Game over and the collective sigh of relief is combined with nervous shock. What started out as a laugher for the home team almost turned into a nightmare that could haunt this franchise for years. It also would have added to the Seahawks’ and Russell Wilson’s aura of near invincibility. Thank goodness it didn’t.

So after a few days off to golf, which I’ll write about in another post, Brian heads back to Nova Scotia and I fly to Toronto for the Leafs game.

I have an unenviable record when watching my favourite teams in person. They almost always lose. I think with the Blue Jays it’s about 1-12, 0-2 with the Vikings (one a change uniform game in Foxboro where they blew a huge lead over the pre-Brady Pats) 0-2 with the Raptors and about 3-15 with the Leafs. These guys should pay me not to go to the games.

At the Air Canada Centre

On the way into Air Canada Centre Lenore and I pause for pictures with the very neat Leaf player statues that have been erected recently. That’s me with Johnny Bower and George ‘The Chief’ Armstrong.

Leaf Statues outside Air Canada Centre
With Johnny Bower and The Chief, George Armstrong

And Lenore with Mats Sundin.

Mats Sundin statue, Air Canada Centre
Lenore with Mats Sundin

The seats are exactly at centre ice, 14 rows up. We are facing directly at the two team benches. About as good as you can buy.

Centre Ice Seats at Air Canada Centre
Perfect Centre Ice Seats

We also have a great view of these really entertaining bobble head dancers across the way.

Bobblehead Dancers, Air Canada Centre
Entertainment by Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin and Wendel Clark

So bring on the game! We’re psyched.

Carolina at Toronto fans
At the Carolina/Leafs game

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Unfortunately the game was not a great one, unless you really like sloppy play and the occasional great save. Both goalies, Reimer for the Leafs and Läck for the Hurricanes are in good form – so good in fact that both teams are shut out at the end of regulation. Although the Leafs did mount a last minute effort that fell short.

North Carolina Sports Teams
Leafs final assault

Under the new rules overtime is now three on three skaters which is very exciting. Here they are lining up.

North Carolina Sports Teams
Three on three in overtime

The Leafs get a breakaway which is stopped and of course the inevitable happens when I’m at a Leafs home game – Carolina scores with just over two minutes left. Unlike Stompin’ Tom Connors’, The Hockey Song, which they play at every Leafs game, the hometown doesn’t win, at least since 1967.

So that’s the story of seeing all the North Carolina Sports Teams in a week, almost by accident. Got any stories of your own about tri-sport trips?


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