November 06, 2013

Darius Rucker once said, “There’s two times of year for me: Football season, and waiting for football season.” As a die-hard Carolina Panthers fan, I couldn’t agree more.

Although I’ve tailgated with friends and family for many years, a new tradition began in 2007 when Ryan Martin, Jeremy Callahan, Ken Byrd and I began tailgating together. Two years later, we bought a camper, and in 2011, we expanded again and bought a bus. Today, Joe Sullivan and Brian Hancock have also joined the weekly crew.

To show our pride in the team, our setup includes Panthers’-branded tents, tables and corn hole boards. Our core group does most of the upkeep and upgrades on the bus and camper each season. Along the way though, we’ve had many friends pitch in and help with mechanical work, paint, decals and audio/video elements for the interior of both units.

We’ve been recognized many times for our team spirit. Multiple national media outlets, including ESPN and The NFL Network, have interviewed us. We’ve also been invited to the Carolina Panthers’ Draft Day Party three years in a row. The best 10 tailgates are invited to participate in the competition during the NFL Draft in April to claim the title of “best tailgate in Charlotte” as voted on by Panthers’ players and fans. We finished second in 2010 and 2011 and took home the title in 2012.

However, my favorite memory is the numerous visits from Panthers executives, including team president Danny Morrison, over the years to thank us for supporting the team. I remember a game during the two wins/14 losses season a few years ago when we were tailgating at 8 a.m. in 38 degree weather and sleet. A reporter from The Charlotte Observer came over and asked what we were doing out in the cold supporting a losing team. We told him we would be there rain or shine, winning or losing to support the team we love. The next day, the paper published an article on us called “Fair Weather Fans.” A few hours later, Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson called my home to thank us for being such great fans. It was an incredible yet surreal moment for me.

We’ve had more than 300 guests at some games although we average about 50-60 people each weekend. The best part of the experience is having so many of our JHE colleagues come out and enjoy themselves with their friends and families. We couldn’t do it without them, nor would we want to.

Go Panthers!

– Terry Hodges, @THodges343

Darius Rucker, Carolina Panthers, Terry Hodges, Ryan Martin, Jeremy Callahan, Ken Byrd, Joe Sullivan, Brian Hancock, ESPN, The NFL Network, Danny Morrison, The Charlotte Observer, Jerry Richardson