|ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Professional wrestling legend Ric Flair issued a statement Thursday saying he will not attend Sunday's NFC playoff game between the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.
|Ric Flair, a former Charlotte resident, riled Panthers players by accepting an invitation to address the 49ers before San Francisco's playoff opener against Green Bay.|
Panthers officials said they were not aware that Flair, who reportedly has moved from Charlotte to Atlanta, had been invited.
Flair became embroiled in controversy between the teams last weekend by traveling to Wisconsin to give the 49ers a pep talk before their wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers. Flair, who lived in Charlotte from the early 1970s until recently, went so far as to say his "heart is with the 49ers all the way to the end."
This came several days after it became public that the Panthers have been using Flair's famous "WOOOOO" chant as part of their locker-room celebration after wins. Cornerback Drayton Florence, who began the chant with the defensive backs early in the season, said he wanted to invite Flair to speak to the team before Sunday's game.
Florence, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell also taped a video of them shouting "WOOOOO" to play on the stadium JumboTron.
That was before they learned that Flair had gone to Green Bay to meet with the 49ers before the game.
Melinda Morris Zanoni, Flair's agent at Legacy Talent and Entertainment, said WWE asked Flair to fly to Wisconsin to meet with the 49ers. She noted that WWE is hosting WrestleMania XXXI in San Francisco in 2015 and that Flair is friends with players on the 49ers, Packers and Panthers.
Said Flair, "What can I say? I've always been a very good heel."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he's surprised there has been so much talk about Flair.
"Yes, because I'm answering the questions about it," Rivera said. "The truth of the matter is, he's not going to put a helmet on and be on the field. He'll be around Charlotte and we'll see him and say hello, and that's what it is.''Flair once wrestled with former Carolina linebacker Kevin Greene and was a regular at Panthers home games. The team used to put his "WOOOOO" chant on the scoreboard to spark the crowd.
That ended years ago after Flair had several well-publicized legal disputes.
Receiver Steve Smith, who has a Flair robe he bought at a charity auction, told the Charlotte Observer this week he was "real disappointed" in seeing that Flair had spoken to the 49ers.
"I'm not sure if he'll get the invite here," Smith told the newspaper. "That Golden Gate Bridge has been burned."
On his Facebook page Nov. 19, following a Panthers victory over the New England Patriots, Flair posted: "To be the team, you gotta beat the team! Congrats to the Carolina Panthers on their win last night! Steve Smith isn't the man to mess with! WOOOOO!"
"Ric's a good man. I'm excited he's friends with both of us. I'm serious. Ric's a good dude," Rivera said. "I've met him a couple of times and appreciated our conversations. "To me, it's not that big a deal to me. I get it. I understand. The best part is Ric doesn't dress up and get on the field."
Carolina officials did not know whether the player video would be used at the game. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh suggested Wednesday that Flair could cheer for both teams.
"What's the matter with having two favorite teams? Is that a crime?" Harbaugh told reporters in the Bay Area. "My opinion would be that it doesn't make you a bad person to have two favorite football teams."
ESPN.com 49ers reporter Bill Williamson contributed to this report.