The Carolina Panthers are going to the Super Bowl.
Football fans from all over the country are suddenly jumping on the Panther bandwagon. YouTube videos are popping up of elderly grandmas mimicking Cam Newton from their rocking chairs.
I especially loved the meme with a photo of Peyton Manning and his young son, with a caption, “Dad, do you think Cam will give me a football?”
Football isn’t the only professional sport in the Queen City, but you wouldn’t know it based off the wide difference in media coverage.
Heard much about the Bobcats, err Hornets this season?
I just imagine Kemba Walker stomping around the practice court whining, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
Everybody knows Riverboat Ron — who has done TV commercials for USAA, Lowe’s Home Improvement and CPI Security — but how many can even name the basketball coach?
Since most readers are probably out of touch with the Other Charlotte team, let me say that the Hornets have greatly exceeded expectations so far this season.
Many NBA analysts had the Hornets struggling at the bottom of the standings all year, possibly even tanking late in the season to try for a high draft pick.
When small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a serious injury, many preseason predictions changed drastically.
The Hornets went 7-1 in the preseason, but many called it fool’s gold.
From ESPN: “We’re frankly struggling to give it much weight after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a suspected season-ending shoulder injury, since we all know MKG is such a barometer for this team’s success.” ESPN ranked Charlotte 22nd in the preseason power rankings.
CBS Sports had four analysts predict the Hornets’ season win total. The four responses average to 26.75 wins for the entire 82-game season.
So how are they doing so far? Through 45 games, the Hornets are just one game below .500 at 22-23.
The Hornets could go 6-31 the rest of the way and still exceed the win total predicted by CBS — and echoed in other sports outlets.
On Monday night I watched an incredible game between the Hornets and Kings. With Charlotte’s front court decimated with injuries, Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins went off for 56 points.
Still, the Hornets hit seven straight shots from long range in the third quarter to claw their way back in. The team finally won the game in double overtime.
All of this despite missing three starters and a top reserve to injuries, then three more players fouled out trying to guard Cousins.
Center Al Jefferson has missed more than half the games this season. Power forward Cody Zeller is out for a week with a shoulder strain. Starter Nicholas Batum (second in scoring, first in assists and rebounds) and sharpshooter Jeremy Lamb are day-to-day with toe injuries.
How are the Hornets one spot from making the playoffs when they are supposed to stink?
Free agency worked out well for the team this year.
A year ago, the story was how badly Lance Stephenson was playing after signing a massive $9 million-a-year contract over the summer.
The Hornets ditched Stephenson and his contract for PF Spencer Hawes, who can really stroke the long jumper.
The big signing last summer was Batum, and you can see how well that’s worked out with the small forward leading the team in several categories. He even bounced back in three-point shooting (35.0 percent) after struggling with a wrist injury for much of last season.
The team also signed the Jeremy’s, point guard Lin and shooting guard Lamb.
Lin has allowed Walker to spend more time at the off-guard spot, and Lamb’s shooting off the bench (especially the first month of the season) opened more driving lanes for both guards.
Walker is averaging new career highs for scoring, shooting, three-point shooting and foul shooting.
A diamond in the rough has been Troy Daniels.
During summer league action, the Hornets were looking to develop rookie Frank Kaminsky and sophomore P.J. Hairston, but the one who stood out a lot was a 24-year-0ld from VCU who played for three teams in his first two seasons.
From the start of the season until New Year’s Day, Daniels played in less than half the games, and when he did get on the floor he played double-digit minutes only once.
Lamb started the season hot, but has cooled off considerably, shooting 26 percent from deep since Dec. 1.
In comes Daniels, and he is stroking the ball just as well as Lamb did to start the season.
Daniels is at 52.4 percent from distance (including 8-11 to beat the Kings).
And don’t look now, but Hairston is finally starting to come around. The former UNC stud looked like a dud last season and shot just 25 percent from deep in October and November. Since then, however, Hairston is hitting his shots and has pulled that season percentage up to a more respectable 31.1 percent.
When Jefferson, Batum, Zeller and Lamb are back in the lineup, this is a team that not only could make the playoffs, the Hornets are only three wins out of fourth place and a chance to host an opening-round series.
Of course, the Panthers are favored by 3.5 points to win the Super Bowl. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.