CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The English-to-Spanish translation of touchdown happens to be ... touchdown. But that's just on paper. Over the air, in the sports bars, in the barrio and inside a 17-by-17 radio booth at the Carolina Panthers' stadium, the Spanish word for touchdown is a rock song.
While no one was looking, the Panthers have become South America's team. There are families in Argentina who know Cam Newton only as "El Dinosaurio" or Josh Norman only as "El Bandolero." In Puerto Rico, there's a certain Rivera family huddled up by a radio every NFL Sunday. And, in Mexico, there are people who have swapped their Cowboys jerseys for Panteras jerseys -- all because of two men who treat ordinary touchdowns like minor miracles.
Their names are Jaime Moreno and Luis Moreno Jr. -- uncle and nephew -- and they are doing for the NFL what the loudest and proudest soccer announcers did for the World Cup.
If you think hearing a soccer announcer say,"Gooooooooooooooal!" makes your blood flow, you should hear what the Morenos do when Newton crosses -- or, better yet, flips -- into the end zone. It is part Spanglish, part song-and-dance and mostly elongated hysteria. Their Spanish radio calls have gone viral, Panthers players want them translated ASAP and, if nothing else, it proves we all speak the international language of touchdown.
When the Carolina Panthers were invented out of thin air -- in 1993 -- Jaime Moreno's dream was to be the Spanish voice of the team. It took him 16 years to pull it off, but he's more than a voice now -- he's a symphony.
Moreno had a background in American football from his days growing up in Mexico. He says he played offense, defense and special teams for Osos of University of Mexico, which is how he picked up every nuance of the sport. But when he moved to North Carolina in 1986, he met few people like himself.
Charlotte, North Carolina, would go on to have one of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the South, but the sport of choice in the Spanish community was soccer -- certainly not football. When Jaime used to brag about his favorite Panthers players, he would be met with blank stares. He hosted a talk show on an FM Spanish station, and when he would play Monday Morning Quarterback, the other broadcasters ignored him.
"We're talkin' about goin' down there, jumpin' in and helpin' them out, backin' them up like if they were in our part of the neighborhood in Mexico."Broadcaster Luis Moreno
"People thought, 'What are you talking about?'" he says.
He began inviting his brother's son, Luis Jr., to join him on air to talk Panthers, and Luis, who played high school football in Charlotte, was his perfect foil. Jaime would talk about Steve Smith's end zone dance, and Luis would talk about Smith's route running. The duo would've been highly entertaining -- if the audience had cared.
If it weren't for soccer, they'd still probably be in obscurity. But Jaime's son happened to play high school soccer with a kid whose mother was a broadcast coordinator for the Panthers. In 2009, a meeting was arranged. Jaime and Luis explained that the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals had die-hard audiences for their Spanish radio broadcasts and that the burgeoning Hispanic audience in Charlotte might be poised to embrace the NFL. The new team president, Danny Morrison, was willing to see whether it was a pipe dream.
"Now we had our chance," Luis says. "But our audience was Hispanic. ... We had to do something to grasp their attention."
So American football ... met World Cup.
The first few years of the broadcast were more of a crash course in football. Jaime and Luis spent their early Sunday broadcasts explaining offside, pass interference and roughing the passer. The referee was the "la gorra blanca," or the man in the white hat, and when the Panthers moved into the red zone, Jaime would ring bells and sing a song to alert the Spanish audience that Las Panteras were threatening to score.
But scores -- specifically, touchdowns -- would have to be the be-all, end-all. If soccer announcers could make a 1-0 contest feel like the game of the century, the Morenos figured a 30-24 NFL game could feel like Christmas morning. Their intention was to break the sound barrier every Sunday.
"We celebrate the coin toss, OK?" Luis says. "If we win the coin toss, my partner Jaime's celebrating. We celebrate everything. Forced fumbles, incomplete passes. Even if there's a scuffle between players, we're talkin' about goin' down there, jumpin' in and helpin' them out, backin' them up like if they were in our part of the neighborhood in Mexico.
"It's related to our culture in Mexico. It's all about hope. The journey to score. And that's how Mexicans and Latin Americans see soccer. And we transformed that into football."
Their first few seasons in the booth were mostly under the radar until, in 2013, the Panthers needed a victory against the New Orleans Saints to earn a playoff spot. Late in the game, Newton threw a winning score to Domenik Hixon, and Jaime blew a gasket, saying "touchdown" 20-plus times in a row.
"It helped bring the team together."Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers
Someone that next week happened to show the radio call to a few Panthers players, and the Morenos were thrilled to know the team even knew the broadcasts existed. Little did they know, coach Ron Rivera -- whose mother is Mexican and father is Puerto Rican -- told his dad's family in rural San Juan, Puerto Rico, to tune in to the Morenos on the Internet. "Flattered when we heard that," Luis says. "It's nice to be the intermediary allowing his family to listen in their native language to what their son is doing."
Rivera was also the only Hispanic head coach in the NFL, so the Panthers had been carving out new fans in Latin America for that reason alone. But those fans needed a conduit to the Panthers, and as soon as they heard the Moreno's soccer/American football shtick, word began to travel fast.
The fans didn't know what they liked better -- the touchdown calls or the nicknames Jaime was giving the Panthers players. Luis says it's Latin culture to give your loved ones a pet name -- "My daughter is Peanut," he says -- so that's why almost every key Panther had to have an alias on the broadcasts. It started when Jaime called receiver Steve Smith, "Manos de Angel," which means "hands of an angel." He then called Newton, "El Dinosaurio," or Dinosaur, a moniker that started at Auburn because no quarterback out there was like him. So by this 2015 season, the fan base wanted even more.
It helped that the Panthers were about to become a powerhouse. In Week 2, against the Houston Texans, Newton front-flipped into the end zone, pretty much sticking the landing. Jaime gave it the World Cup treatment, howling Superman and "baile" -- meaning "dance" -- and the Panthers' in-house video department decided to post it on the team website.
"That particular video had over a million views within four or five days," Luis says. "And from then, it just took off."
The next week, they went haywire again over Josh Norman's game-clinching interception off the Saints' Drew Brees. Jaime also threw in a "good, good, good .... very good, very good, very good," for the growing English-speaking audience that was tuning in. It was his version of Spanglish, a bone he was throwing to his new American fans. Before long, sports bars in Charlotte began listening to the Spanish broadcast whenever the team was in the red zone.
Jaime and Luis began to be mini-celebrities. An American woman asked Jaime whether he needed blood-pressure medicine during games. His emails from South America and Mexico were through the roof. A contingent of Mexican fans were flying in for games, and Hector Lerma Gonzalez, who regularly made the trip, said, "I have a lot of friends that, due to their broadcasting style, have ... left more traditional teams like the Cowboys to become Panthers fans."
Rivera continued to get wind of this from his family in Puerto Rico and decided to bring the broadcast to the team. Every Saturday night before a game, starting early in this 2015 season, Rivera began showing one key highlight from the previous week -- from the Morenos. The idea was to get the players frothing at the mouth to earn a Spanish highlight of their own. "I'm telling you," Norman says, "it helped bring the team together."
Every player wanted to hear his nickname. Center Ryan Kalil found out his was "El Sonorense" because his grandmother was from the Mexican state of Sonora. Norman was "El Bandolero," which meant "The Bandit." Running back Jonathan Stewart was "El Terrible." Linebacker Luke Kuechly was "El Confesor" because, in medieval times, a confessor "could get anything out of you." Burly running back Mike Tolbert was "El Tanque" for obvious reasons.
"If what we're doing on a weekly basis ... is helping the team get prepared, we can say we're part of this season," Luis says.
Graham Gano's winning field goal against the New York Giants, which helped the Panthers reach 14-0 this season, was probably the epic call of the season for the America/Spanish Panthers fans. It was part Spanglish, part song-and-dance and made everyone wonder what a Moreno Super Bowl broadcast could possibly sound like.
But that wasn't the highlight of the season for the Morenos. That occurred when Coach Rivera poked his head into the broadcast office one day to say thank you.
For the first time all season, they were speechless.