CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Though his legacy is complicated, there is no disputing that without Jerry Richardson, there are no Carolina Panthers.

Wofford College Rev. and friend of Panther’s founder reflect on his life

“He is the start of it all,” said the former voice of the Panthers Mick Mixon. ”Just think of all the parties, the tailgating, the corn hole, the celebrations, the big games, and the moments that have helped define our region,

It began in 1987. That’s when the North Carolina native, former NFL player, and fast food restaurant entrepreneur, began the process of bringing pro football to Charlotte. What started as a pipe dream, became reality six years later when at last he was awarded a team.

“It meant a great deal to him,” said Richardson’s spokesperson Jim Gray. “(And it also) meant a great deal for the team to be in Charlotte.”

Two years later, the Panthers played their first-ever game and no one was happier about it than the man who would come to be known as the Big Cat. 

“I went to one Panthers game with him” recalled Gray. “He would sit in that box and he was so focused on that field than the people in his box around him. It was all about what was on the field.”

Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson dies at 86

What Richardson was looking for was a winner. Prior to the team’s first-ever game, Richardson promised Carolina would have a Super Bowl Championship within its first decade. While it didn’t happen, Richardson never kept his eyes off the prize.

“I guess back in that time we had given up a special teams touchdown or two,” remembered Mixon. “He started going off on how we have not been smart enough around here to have back-to-back winning seasons. “If you could have disappeared inside the carpet fiber, you would have.”

But while he demanded excellence, Richardson also had a compassionate side. Former quarterback Jake Delhomme remembers getting a phone call not long after a dreadful playoff effort in 2009.

“He said, ‘Hey it’s me.’ His voice is pretty easily recognizable,” Delhomme said.  “I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Is it sunny at your house?’ I said, ‘Yes sir it is,’’ “(He said) ‘Well it’s sunny at my house also. Get over it. The sun came up. Have a good day.’

Years later, the sun would set on Richardson’s time with the team when allegations of inappropriate behavior emerged. His statue outside the stadium was removed as was Richardson’s name from the day-to-day conversation.

“He moved from the public arena to the private world and enjoyed that,” Gray said.

He stayed around Charlotte until his death on March 1st. While it’s not known if he still followed the team, it’s clear he kept in touch with those he cared about until the day he died. 

“He was a great note writer,” said Mixon. “He always had a sharpie so if you wrote him a note, he would write a note back to you on your note and hand it back to you. And I saved every one of the notes I got from him.”

Ultimately, those moments much like Richardson’s legacy will endure because while names always come and go, his will always come first in Panthers lore.