Exuberance to dejection in the space of 3 hours for Panther fans

abell@charlotteobserver.com cwootson@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Turns out that black was a fitting color after all at the Panthers’ game Sunday.

Thousands of dejected fans quietly streamed out of Bank of America Stadium before the final seconds ticked off in the Panthers’ 23-10 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Panthers wore their popular all-black uniforms, and had encouraged fans to “black out” the stadium as well, for the first home playoff game since the 2008 season. But after the game, Stonewall Street took on a funeral air as fans walked to their cars and bemoaned an abrupt end to the season.

“They had a good year,” said Lee Smith of Lexington, who wore a black Carolina Panthers windbreaker. “I don’t think anyone can really leave here disappointed, although a lot of people will.”

Most fans kept their disappointment in perspective, however. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, who had beefed up their presence uptown, reported no significant incidents in the center city during or after the game.

Fans recounted the changing energy in the stadium during the game.

“At first, it was jumping, it was like a revival,” said Andre Hawkins, of Charlotte. “But right at the end of the first half, (the 49ers) scored. And then they scored again the next time they got the ball.”

Hawkins took off after a late fourth-quarter interception left no doubt about the outcome.

The mood had been decidedly different three hours earlier.

On Sunday morning, Brenda Scott smiled as she got a bright blue and black Panther spray-painted onto her cheek before she attended her first NFL game.

“Woo-hoo. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 20,” the Durham resident said.

Carson Latta waited half his life to see the Panthers make another playoff game. He is 10.

His mom, Jen Latta, said they were both excited.

“It’s great to see the city come together,” the Charlotte resident said. “You take a city full of transients, and they make the team their own.”

Right in front of the stadium, fans flocked to take a picture with Tyler Nelson of Fayetteville.

That might have had something to do with what he wore: A head-to-toe Darth Vader costume, complete with respirator breathing noises, and carrying a sign, “Luuuke protect this house!” referring to popular linebacker Luke Kuechly.

It’s the playoffs, Nelson said. The team needs a win and he felt inspired, so he dressed up.

There was a small but healthy mix of 49ers fans at the stadium as well, including Weston Smith and his fiancee, Jennifer Ostroski, of Brick, N.J. On their first date, Ostroski said she loved the 49ers. “I thought she was kidding,” said Smith, smiling.

Jim and Lori Henry came from Atlantic City, N.J., to watch their 49ers – Lori had surprised her husband with the tickets.

The couple had been engaged for seven years before they finally got married.

“I married her for a reason,” said Jim Henry. “If I had known this (playoff ticket) was the reason, I would’ve caved much, much sooner.”

Across the street from the stadium, a Hare Krishna family sat cross-legged on the ground, banging a drum and chanting God’s name, as they usually do before and after Panthers games.

They weren’t going inside the stadium, however, said Devaprastha Dasa. “We don’t really watch football but we’re from Charlotte, so I guess we’ll support the Panthers today.”

After the loss, the parts of uptown closest to the stadium were mostly quiet. A few San Francisco fans gathered near Romare Bearden Park, dancing to celebrate their team’s victory as smoke wafted from a large grill. Children in football jerseys tossed a football back and forth.

And a man stood just a block away from Bank of America, trying the unload the last few “Go Panthers” towels, which sold for $10 before the game. They were $2, he told passersby, “the cheapest price you’ll find until next season.”

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell

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