When the Carolina Hurricanes lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup in June of 2006, they became the first professional sports franchise in North Carolina to win a championship.
This Sunday, the Carolina Panthers could become the next, as they chase the Vince Lombardi Trophy against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
“They’re a team that’s had a great year. I’ve been watching them all season,” Canes captain Eric Staal said. “They seem to be doing it on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. If you have that, you’re going to garner a lot of success, and they have so far. Obviously they want to win the ultimate prize in the end, and they’re giving themselves a great opportunity for that. It’s fun to see.”
Fandom and Firsts
It was when Jeff Skinner arrived in North Carolina nearly six years ago that he realized the NFL’s true breadth.
“I never really had a team growing up. I’ve always been a fan of the NFL, but it’s a little bit more all-consuming down here,” he said. “It’s more relevant, a lot more coverage, we talk a lot more about it in the locker room and we have fantasy teams.”
Similarly, when Eddie Lack played for the Vancouver Canucks, the Seattle Seahawks were his de facto favorite, even though he had never been to an NFL game.
That changed when he was traded to Carolina this summer. On a Sunday away from the rink during preseason, he enjoyed a Panthers game in Charlotte.
“Tailgating and everything, the atmosphere during the game, you know? It’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’m going to try to do every year.”
Skinner’s first NFL game was also in Charlotte when the Panthers hosted the Lions in week 2 of the 2014 season.
“We were on the Panthers’ bench side. Close enough that you could see they were pretty big guys,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive that they’re that big and that athletic.”
Eric Staal has been to a Panthers game too, but it’s been a while – “before kids,” he noted.
“I got to be on the sidelines to watch warm-ups and watch them prepare for the game. You see some of those big men moving their feet, it’s pretty phenomenal,” he said. “Just seeing the stuff that they do to prepare is kind of similar to us in how we prepare, but they’re a lot larger in size. It was cool to see.”
Now all three players are rooting for the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. For Lack, it was going to be one or the other when the Seahawks and Panthers squared off in the divisional round, which coincided with a Canes’ matinee match-up in Pittsburgh.
“It’s probably good I didn’t watch the game because I didn’t really want to pick sides. I was like, ‘Ok. Whoever wins, I’m cheering for them the rest of the way,’” Lack said, adding that he’s “for sure” cheering for Carolina. “Cam Newton has had a fantastic season. He deserves to win the Super Bowl. It will be fun watching.”
For Skinner, his fandom is more casual in nature, but he understands the excitement among die-hard Panthers fans.
“I can sort of relate being a pretty big fan of the Blue Jays for a long time. It’s cool when you follow a team, go through the ups and downs they go through and when they go far, it’s cool for those fans to be able to share that and go on that ride with the team,” he said. “It’s been cool to be around with the buzz in the city; even though we’re not in Charlotte, it’s still close enough that there’s still a buzz. You can see that excitement, and it’s pretty cool to be around that.
“Hopefully we can be a part of that for someone someday.”
Dab on 'Em
One of Newton’s signature dance moves this season, whether it’s in tandem with his first down signal or his Superman celebration after leaping into the endzone, is the dab. It’s a fairly simple dance move in which you tuck your head inside of your elbow, almost as if sneezing or coughing, while extending your other arm in the opposite direction. Newton had been dabbing all season before it caught national traction following the Panthers’ 27-10 win in Tennessee in mid-November.
The dab has been seen all over America since, from video boards at sporting events to “Ellen” to the PGA Tour and more. And ever slow slightly, it has crept into hockey. Perhaps most notably, Team USA’s World Junior squad dabbed after scoring in their contest versus Canada, a direct homage to Newton. In the NHL, Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues and Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets have been spotted dabbing.
But that’s about it. I wondered: would a Hurricanes player dab on the ice? I investigated.
“He doesn’t celebrate much, but I’d put my money on Rasker to dab,” Skinner said. “He’s undercover. I’ve seen him break it down a couple times, too. He’d be my No. 1 suspect, I think.”
Could Skinner pull it off?
“Not in public, no. In private, maybe. By myself,” he laughed. “I don’t think I have the swagger or confidence that Cam has. That’s what Rask has. He’s got the swagger. That’s what he’s got.”
I also asked noted dancer and locker room DJ Kris Versteeg about the dab.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“The dab,” I said, insisting that he would know what I was talking about.
“Oh, this?” he said, tucking his head inside his elbow.
“Yeah.” I knew it. I asked if he’d ever do it on the ice, but he didn’t budge. I mentioned Skinner saying that Rask would be the first in the locker room to do it. Versteeg agreed.
Maybe one day.
Super Bowl Sunday in Montreal
Montreal marks the Canes’ last stop on a weeklong, three-game road swing through Canada, and faceoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. That tilt will serve as a lead-in of sorts for the Super Bowl that follows. And, instead of flying back to Raleigh immediately after the hockey game as is the norm, the Hurricanes will remain in Montreal to take in The Big Game as a team.
“It should be a great Super Bowl and a lot of fun to watch,” Staal said. “It will be fun to watch with the group of guys.”
“It will be a fun team event, and we’ll bond a bit together,” Lack said.
Staal knows what it’s like. He’s been there. As a second-year player in the NHL, he captured hockey’s ultimate prize. Now there is a group of fellow professional athletes based just a couple hours’ drive down the road seeking football’s ultimate prize. Staal is undoubtedly cheering on the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
“Yeah, no question. There are a couple guys from Colorado in here with our group, but for me, definitely rooting for the Panthers,” he said. “I’d like to see them cap off a great season.”
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email