Fowler: Prime-time Panthers? Sometimes yes, sometimes no

Carolina has had mixed success in night-time games

scott.fowler@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 19, 2012 

Parents have long warned their children that nothing good happens late at night. That also has often been the case for the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers have lost 60 percent of their regular-season games that kicked off after 7 p.m. But they hope Thursday night to tell a better story in the dark when they play a prime-time regular season game at home for the first time since 2009. The Panthers will host the New York Giants at 8:20 p.m. in a game shown nationally on NFL Network and in Charlotte on WSOC-TV.

The Panthers are 10-15 in night games and have lost four of their past five. In their last night game, they lost 27-3 on a miserable night in Pittsburgh in 2010 as the John Fox era lurched toward its bitter end.

On the plus side, Brad Hoover forever became “Hooooov!” in one Monday night home win against Green Bay in 2000, rushing for 117 yards as an undrafted rookie. The Panthers played so well in 2008 against Tampa Bay in another Monday night home victory, rushing for 299 yards, that they went on to win the NFC South and helped get Jon Gruden fired.

On the negative side, the Panthers have lost the No. 1 seed in the NFC at night (to the Giants in 2008). They have lost star players for the rest of the year (Steve Smith, to a broken leg in the 2004 season-opening loss to Green Bay). And they have just lost a lot in general.

The Panthers’ best nighttime performance at home, incidentally, doesn’t count in these statistics. I’m not including preseason or postseason night games in the tally, and after the 2003 season the Panthers pounded Dallas 29-10 in an unforgettable “Saturday Night Live” playoff game on their way to the Super Bowl.

Although this will be head coach Ron Rivera’s second season with the Panthers, this will be his first night game. Rivera is a self-described “creature of habit” who hated Monday night games as a player in Chicago and wanted to play the early game every Sunday. But he understands why the city of Charlotte is pumped.

“This is the national spotlight,” Rivera said. “You want to talk about bright lights and big stage – this is as big as it gets. You’re playing the defending champs. You’re playing them Thursday night. You are the prime-time game.

“For us, we just got done with the Democratic National Convention in our city, this is great for us. It really is. And it’s a great opportunity for our fans to come out and show exactly who we are. Show the country. So I’m excited about the challenge and the opportunity for us as a football team, but more importantly as a city and as a group of fans.”

Rivera will counsel the players to relax before this evening’s game and to not play the game before the game ever starts. Said the coach: “You hope they stay in bed, stay rested, keep their feet up, take plenty of fluids, take a look at their playbooks, maybe watch some cartoons or something and then get ready to get focused.”

To which I thought: Cartoons?!

The game is a rarity for the Panthers, who have averaged a modest 1.4 night games per season in their history. More glamorous clubs, such as Dallas, Green Bay or New England usually have at least three.

The Panthers once played four night games – in 1997 – and have twice played zero (in 2002 and 2011, coming off one- and two-win seasons, respectively). This season they have two. They will also go to Philadelphia for the Monday night game on Nov. 26.

So as parents around the Carolinas debate whether to let their children stay up to watch the entire game tonight, one last word.

About 10 percent of the time you get something really special, and you generally can feel it coming by halftime. There was Matt Moore outplaying Minnesota’s Brett Favre in 2009 (it really did happen) or Hoover becoming a folk hero.

“We thought we had somebody who had multiplicity in his abilities,” then-Panther coach George Seifert said of Hoover after the Panthers won 31-14 in 2000 in one of the most fondly remembered night games in Carolina history.

And yes, Seifert really talked like that.

Scott Fowler:; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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