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Panthers might seem like reality TV, but what they are is a really good team

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How Broncos and Panthers got here (2:03)

Denver and Carolina both took winding paths to get to Super Bowl 50. (2:03)

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- They dab and dance. They give footballs to kids after touchdowns and rip down banners to defend their home turf. They shoot music videos in the locker room and their quarterback wears sequined shoes and designer pants.

They also have a Superman, Batman and Captain America on the roster.

This sounds like a reality television show.

But in reality, the NFC champion Carolina Panthers are a really good football team, as their NFL-best 17-1 record indicates.

Tonight, against the AFC champion Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, they have a chance to show the parts of the world that haven't been paying close attention, that only know them for the sideshows, what they are all about.

Not that they are all concerned about what the world thinks of them.

"It doesn't really bother us if they want to call us a good football team or not," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "Everybody is entitled to their own idea, their own perceptions, so if you think our dancing and having a good time and smiling and having fun is wrong, then that's your opinion.

"We know what we can do on the field."

Call it the Panthers' Way.

It's different than the way the New England Patriots won four Super Bowls between 2001 and 2014. Just ask Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love, who played for New England in 2011 when the Pats lost to the New York Giants in the title game.

"You actually see a team having fun and doing their job," Love said of the Panthers. "That wasn't the key to success in New England. You have to basically become like a robot, fit in their box, the 'Patriots Way' they preached up there."

The only robot the Panthers know is the dance. Their dabbin' quarterback, Cam Newton, has a Superman obsession and refers to middle linebacker Luke Kuechly as "Captain America." Cornerback Josh Norman chose Batman as his alter-ego.

The NFL hasn't seen a group of characters quite like this in 30 years, since the shuffling Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a second-year linebacker on that team.

The difference between Chicago and Carolina is the Bears were unquestionably the best team in the NFL going into the championship game. There still are those who doubt the Panthers, even though they are favored.

"People get caught up in distractions more than how we play the game," Love said. "How good we are gets lost real easy, and people take stuff out of context, what we say and do.

"A lot of people are talking about Denver's defense being No. 1, but nobody is talking about how we've shut people down, or how we've taken the ball away from people."

The Panthers had seven takeaways in the NFC Championship Game. They had a league-best 24 interceptions during the regular season. They scored a league-best 148 points off of turnovers and gave up only 32 for a league-best plus-116 advantage.

They have Kuechly, arguably the best overall defensive player in the NFL. They have Newton, the league MVP. They have the top-scoring team from the regular season (31.2 points per game) and the playoffs (40 PPG).

They were second in the NFL in rushing during the regular season (142.6 yards per game) and 11th in total yards per game (366.9).

Yet the wide receivers still get questioned, and few people talk about how good the offensive line has been.

This team plays with a chip.

"They haven't taken us seriously since we started, so why worry about what their perception of us is?" backup quarterback Derek Anderson said of the skeptics. "It is who we are. Honestly, we're not worried about how they perceive us."

Not everybody overlooks Carolina's talent, of course. Cris Carter, a Hall of Fame wide receiver and ESPN analyst, has come around since saying the Panthers would be lucky to win seven games after losing No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin during training camp.

"They have a 53-man roster that is built for a championship," Carter said.

The Panthers are built like the Seattle Seahawks team that won the Super Bowl two years ago. They have a solid defense that thrives on turnovers. They have a strong running game built around a dual-threat quarterback.

They are one of the best tackling teams in the league. They don't make big mistakes on special teams.

It's the same formula Super Bowl-winning teams have used for decades.

Rivera wishes more people saw that. He doesn't like it when people call the Panthers brash and cocky.

"Not a lot of people know who we are and so to draw a quick conclusion on that based on a couple of things ... it is disappointing," he said.

The Panthers are a lot like Rivera's '85 Bears. The biggest exception? Newton is better than Jim McMahon, one of the biggest characters on that Chicago team.

"We [have] a lot of confidence in the way we play and handle our business," Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said. "We don't have guys getting in trouble, getting kicked out of places. We score a touchdown and we celebrate and hand the ball to a young kid. That's pretty fun."

The Panthers will do the same thing at Levi's Stadium if things are going well. They won't worry about what people say.

"They're probably never going to give us the respect because of what they think or what they see," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "But we've earned our right to be here."