- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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To borrow a phrase from the person he has to surpass: "To be the man, you gotta beat the man."
Yes, Ric Flair.
When you talk about institutions in the Queen City, the 16-time heavyweight wrestling champion, often described in these parts as the platinum blond deity, remains king.
So it seems only fitting that the Panthers (12-4) have adopted "The Nature Boy's" famous "WOOOOOOO" that he uses to taunt opponents.
Cornerback Drayton Florence actually came up with the idea one day in practice. He suggested that the defensive backs break with two claps and a "WOOOOOOO!"
Next thing you know the linebackers were doing it. Then the entire defense was doing it. Then the offense wanted to get involved.
Eventually, it led to whoever gets the game ball following a victory having to give two claps followed by the entire team going "WOOOOOO!"
Newton somewhere along the line began adding "and the Nature Boy" after a slight pause. Here's a sample from the Panthers.com website.
"It's exciting to hear," Newton said. "It's exciting to say it and exciting to do ... It's a tribute to what he does. It's kind of something of a rejoice when you say it."
And yes, Newton grew up a fan.
"Who didn't grow up watching WWF, WCW and having Ric Flair slap somebody's chest and go, 'WOOOOOOO?'" Newton said.
Flair has yet to give a pregame locker room pep talk, and it's doubtful he will be available for the Jan. 12 playoff game because of a prior engagement.
But Florence is doing his best to arrange something, if not for the 12th then the NFC championship if the second-seeded Panthers win and top-seeded Seattle loses to put the game in Charlotte.
"He's the man," Florence said of Flair. "We want the man to join us."
Flair did send a phone message via Mario Addison, who ran into him at a local Taco Mac, that the defensive end played for the team before the Monday night game against New England.
Legacy Talent and Entertainment, which represents Flair, put the message to music and pictures on the wrestler's Facebook page.
"Hey boys, it's The Nature Boy Ric Flair calling you live from Atlanta, Ga.," Flair said in the message. "Tonight's the night guys. The New England Patriots are in town. Who cares? It's Carolina Panther time guys. And remember, tonight is the night, and to be the team you've got to be the team.
"Cam Newton, athletic gifts unparalleled. Steve Smith, the baddest man in the NFL. My good buddy Mario, you guys do it tonight. Remember, to be the team, you've got to beat the team. And right now you are the team, and will be all night long. Let's do it guys. Let's have two claps and a Ric Flair WOOOOOOO! Go Panthers. WOOOOOOO!"
Flair, who once wrestled in a tag-team match with former Carolina linebacker Kevin Greene, told ESPN.com he is flattered the Panthers have adopted his battle cry.
"It's awesome!" he said. "I'm a champ brother, so I know a thing or two about celebrating victories! I'm humbled to have achieved that much respect by my hometown team. I really believe the Panthers have the weapons to go all the way."
Florence said he didn't realize Flair lived in Charlotte when he came up with the idea that he borrowed from his high school in Florida. He suggested the "WOOOOOOO" break after the Panthers re-signed him following the second game.
Carolina is 12-2 since.
Florence, safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn already have taped a video of them doing the "WOOOOOOO" to play for the crowd on the Jumbotron before the Panthers face Philadelphia, Green Bay or San Francisco a week from Sunday.
"If we get to do it three more times [after games], that means we're in the Super Bowl," Florence said.
It's all part of team bonding that has been key to this season. Carolina coach Ron Rivera gets a kick out of the chant.
"They really seem to get themselves fired up over that," he said. "It's kind of become their trademark. It's fun. It's good for them."
But Rivera hasn't quite gotten the courage to try it with them.
"No," he said. "I'm not quite sure I have enough rhythm to do that."
Said Florence, "We'll coach him up."
But what Florence really wants is Flair in person.
"We need him, man," he said. "He's a Charlotte great. Anything we can do to get us motivated and hyped up to play another team, man, we're all for it."