Belated happy birthday, Carolina

CHARLOTTE N.C. -- I'm not the best in the world at remembering names and dates without writing them down, so forgive me for missing this one.

Happy belated birthday, Carolina Panthers.

On Oct. 26, 1993, as I was reminded in a recent article on the team's official website, the NFL awarded Jerry Richardson the league's 29th franchise at the O'Hare Hyatt in Chicago.

It was a day that would change the landscape of North and South Carolina as Richardson pledged to make this a team for both Carolinas even though the two states didn't always see eye to eye when it came to sports.

I was much younger then, covering the University of South Carolina for The State Newspaper in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks were the newspaper's premier beat, but when offered the opportunity to move to the Charlotte area and cover this upstart NFL team in 1995, there was no hesitation.

So for the team's first 11 years I was there almost every step of the way. I'm sure Richardson's memories of the early years are different, but here's a few that came to mind:

• Inaugural coach Dom Capers remembering the names of a dozen reporters an hour after meeting them for the first time.

• Practices in the basketball gym at Winthrop University and 2½-hour drives to Clemson University for home games.

• Linebacker Sam Mills, still the classiest athlete I've ever met, returning an interception 36-yards against the New York Jets to clinch the team's first-ever victory after an 0-5 start.

• Cornerback Tim McKyer returning an interception 96 yards for a touchdown against San Francisco to help the Panthers become the first expansion team to beat the defending Super Bowl champion.

• McKyer a year later, after being replaced by former 49ers star Eric Davis, saying, "I'm not going to be a backup to a bunch of backups."

• Then general manager Bill Polian, so frustrated with agents Carl and Kevin Poston, that he came to the media room during training camp at Wofford College and showed reporters the contract he'd offered 1996 first-round holdout Tshimanga Biakabutuka.

• Having to wear three pairs of socks for the 1996 NFC Championship Game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, pretty drastic for a Southern kid used to wearing loafers with no socks.

• Offensive lineman Nate Newton in 1999 describing each member of his family as a part of his Thanksgiving meal as he prepared for his holiday lunch. Still the funniest interview I've ever heard.

• My youngest son telling then-coach George Seifert he should start the third-string quarterback who spoke to his middle school class as the team wrapped up a 1-15 2001 season.

• The class that kicker John Kasay showed after his kickoff sailed out of bounds, helping the New England Patriots rally for a 32-29 last-second victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

• The 2005 funeral for Mills, who died of intestinal cancer two years after being told he had only a few months to live.

There are more, but for some reason these stood out. Funny how you remember these things and completely forget a birthday.