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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Soon after moving to Charlotte (nine years ago this week), I started to hear stories about "Garage Mahal."
Friends kept telling me about a garage on the shore of Lake Wylie that was filled with all sorts of Carolina Panthers' memorabilia. I didn't pay much attention really because you tend to get a little jaded in this business. I figured if I'd seen one garage, I'd seen them all. Aside from the occasional mention of the garage from a friend, I forgot all about it for several years.
Around 2002 or 2003, I met Bill Buchanan, who (with wife Cindy) owns Garage Mahal. Bill kept inviting me over to see the garage and I kept putting him off. Finally, in the spring of 2004, I gave in.
That's when I got one of the biggest shocks of my life. About two seconds after I walked in, I realized this wasn't just a garage. It was a palace, a temple to the Panthers.
Bill spent the next hour walking me around, pointing out each piece of memorabilia and telling me the story behind it. I'll let you read about that in the story that's running on our NFL page today (do yourself a favor and look at all the pictures).
After the tour finished, Bill pulled out the videotape of the Panthers and the Patriots in the Super Bowl from a few months earlier. We sat down and watched from recliners. I think I saw Bill choking back tears as the Patriots kicked the winning field goal. Bill and I became good friends and the memory of that night has stayed with me.
When my boss, John Banks, told me the theme for our NFL preview was going to be "The Best" and asked for ideas, I told him I had "The Best Garage." John's initial reaction was a lot like mine ("a garage is a garage'') and I had to do some selling and tell him to trust me.
Fortunately, John listened. I'm not sure my words or the pictures do Garage Mahal justice. The place truly is spectacular and I've yet to see it on a game day when it's packed wall-to-wall with Panthers fans.
I've often wondered why Bill and Cindy put so much heart, soul and money into their garage. As I was working on this story, I asked Bill what made it all worthwhile.
He said it was a love for the Panthers. Then, he added it was also the look on the face of someone who hasn't seen the garage before when they first step inside.
"Kind of like when you walked in that night and your jaw dropped," Bill said.
I've been back to Garage Mahal a few times since then and my jaw drops every time.