Panthers bring the state together

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So how ’bout those Panthers ... those 17-1 Panthers ... those Super Bowl-bound Panthers ... those Carolina Panthers.

Pardon us for going a little cheerleader here for a team that plays on the other side of the state, but there are ties to the Twin Counties, too.

Owner Jerry Richardson is from Spring Hope. Former Southern Nash High School standout Julius Peppers was on the team in 2003, when the Panthers went to the Super Bowl for their first and only other appearance. And now the 2015-16 edition is headed to California with the best record in the NFL, the hands-down favorite for Most Valuable Player in quarterback Cam Newton and all the momentum in the world.

Carolina is a triple threat – offense, defense and special teams. The Panthers’ 49-15 win over Arizona Sunday for the NFC title seemed hardly a warm-up.

There will be plenty of people outside of North Carolina pulling for the Denver Broncos in two weeks, particularly as quarterback Peyton Manning prepares for what might be the last game he ever plays.

But sentimentality aside, Carolina has faced doubters and skeptics all season. That’s a shame for a lot of reasons. If a “more storied” franchise like New England or Green Bay were heading for the Super Bowl with a 17-1 record, the pundits would be falling all over themselves to write the chapter on one of the great teams of all time.

But you have to play some pretty great football to get to 17-1, no matter who you are, and that’s what Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, cornerback Josh Norman, tight end Greg Olsen, running back Jonathan Stewart and the rest of the cast have done.

One of the best in history? They’d be happy just to be the better team on Feb. 7.

There’s a euphoria that goes with these guys and a fan base that is still relatively new to the NFL.

In a state where fierce rivalries are spread over a handful of colleges and universities, the Panthers and Carolina teal have been something of a universal touchstone.

So bring on the Broncos and Manning, one of the best to ever play the game. Bring them on and let’s play ball.

Most of us already know how super these Panthers are. The rest of the world is just waking up to it.