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You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. And you don’t mess around with Sam, or with the “Keep Pounding” chant.
The Carolina Panthers must return to issuing a prompt every week — from now until forever — to guide their fans into all chanting “Keep” and “Pounding” together. It’s a remarkable scene during every home game, as first one half of Bank of America Stadium yells “Keep” and then waits for the other to respond “Pounding.” The sound rolls back and forth in waves.
The “Keep Pounding” chant is one of the Panthers’ most beloved traditions, and I can’t imagine why the team ever decided to mess with it.
But at the season opener in Charlotte on Sunday against the New York Jets, there was no stadium-wide “Keep Pounding” chant. The Panthers still rolled out the oversized “Keep Pounding” drum and still banged it right before kickoff. Sam Mills’ statue still stood outside the stadium. But there was never a time when fans were publicly asked to scream the most famous two words in Carolina history.
Why not? The Panthers’ reasoning was tepid.
A team spokesperson told The Observer on Wednesday that the chant was never shown with a video-screen prompt because the Panthers have been experimenting with different game-day experiences. The spokesperson added that fans were always welcome to make the chant spring up organically on their own.
“Keep Pounding is the fans’ chant,” the spokesperson said. “The fans own the chant.”
Well, yeah, I suppose so. And in the past 15 years, I have indeed heard the chant organically spring up in lots of places, like at every Roaring Riot fan gathering, and on Mint Street as people dressed in black and blue walk to a big home game, and sometimes in small pockets of happy Panther defiance at road games when Carolina was playing well.
But do you know how hard it would actually be to do a full “Keep Pounding” chant in the stadium without any sort of video guidance?
Panther game = NASCAR race?
I do know, because for the past three Panther home games (one regular season, two preseason) I’ve left the glassed-in press box and walked outside to watch a series or two and sample the game-day experience. And I know I’m getting old, and this is a very old-man thing to say, but good Lord, it’s loud. Often, it’s noise that is as artificial as the turf the Panthers are now unfortunately playing upon.
Between the incessant music — usually, it’s good music, just cranked to 11 — and the PA announcer (absolutely blaring) and the various other pieces of game-day entertainment, I can’t imagine when there would ever be enough silence to get a full stadium “Keep Pounding” chant going without some guidance and, more importantly, some silence.
Whoa wait, y’all weren’t screaming #KeepPounding before kickoff & in game? I know traditions can change & sometimes get replaced but “Keep Pounding” holds A LOT of meaning. With dads cancer, it meant so much to still get the Keep Pounding reminder from panther nation. https://t.co/TSPNmU32F9
— Courtney Rivera (@NFL2Ucla) September 15, 2021
You have to yell to the person two seats away just to be heard over the loudspeakers. I have seen some little kids in earmuffs on my sojourns through the stadium and I always think to myself: “That’s smart. I’m proud of your parents.” The Panther stadium noise level is frequently like going to a NASCAR race.
Now all that noise shouldn’t disguise the fact that the Panthers are indeed trying some new game-day stuff, and they absolutely should keep trying it. Most of it is working.
The Panthers have a cool new mixed-reality Panther now that will appear at every home game, creating great cat videos, as well as two excellent new “hype men” and several male cheerleaders who have also been added to the large contingent of female Top Cat cheerleaders. All of that is laudable. In general, the Panthers’ entertainment division does a good job.
But let’s not pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger, as Jim Croce once sang. And, again, don’t mess around with Sam. In other words, you can try all sorts of new stuff without dropping the old stuff. The Panther fans who noticed the disappearance of the stadium-wide “Keep Pounding” chant were right to be perturbed.
‘Keep Pounding’ chant will be used Sunday
Before we go further, let me make sure you know that the Panthers say they will use the “Keep Pounding” video prompt again for fans Sunday when Carolina hosts New Orleans at 1 p.m. But they haven’t yet committed to doing it at every home game this season. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, their spokesperson said. It sounds squishy.
But believe me, I already know how this one ends. They will use it. For every game. Because on Sunday, when the Panthers prompt the fans to scream “Keep Pounding,” the resulting chant will blow a few windows out uptown, and the Panthers will realize: “Why did we ever think we shouldn’t do that?”
One more analogy: The Rolling Stones are coming to Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 30. I bought tickets and maybe you did, too. And I will not be happy if “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” doesn’t get played, because I love that song and a band should always play its biggest hits.
But you know what? No worries there. The Rolling Stones always play “Satisfaction,” usually as their final encore. Mick Jagger knows where his bread is buttered.
The Sam Mills story
The Panthers should know, too. They have no story better than the story of Sam Mills. And yes, they have shown in dozens of ways that they do still respect the man — and he was a man, and a very funny one, before he became a mythical legend.
The Panthers have retired his number 51. On every May 1 (5-1 on a numerical calendar), they do a day of community service around the Carolinas. They sew the words “Keep Pounding” into the collars of their uniforms.
Mills was the first player named to the Panthers’ Hall of Honor. He’s the only former player with his own statue. They painted portions of his story and the “Keep Pounding” speech on the team’s weight room wall for inspiration.
For those who don’t know Mills’ story: He starred at Division III Montclair (N.J.) State but wasn’t drafted, in large part because he was 5-foot-9. He found his way into the NFL through the USFL. He starred for the New Orleans Saints and then signed with the Panthers on their expansion team in 1995, not playing his first game for the team until he was 36.
His interception return keyed Carolina’s first-ever win in 1995. He directed Carolina’s defense during the surprise 1996 playoff season. He retired after the 1997 season and became a Carolina Panthers assistant coach. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in August 2003 but kept coaching through his chemotherapy treatments as Carolina made its first Super Bowl run.
Mills gave the “Keep Pounding” speech in a team meeting Jan. 2, 2004, before the Panthers hosted Dallas in a playoff game during the Panthers’ 2003 Super Bowl run.
“When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do — quit or keep pounding,” Mills told the team at one point during the speech. “I’m a fighter. I kept pounding. You’re fighters, too. Keep pounding!”
‘Only for Carolina’
Mills died in 2005. And one day, maybe in just a few months, he will finally make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year, I asked Sam Mills III — now an assistant coach at Washington under Ron Rivera but previously a longtime assistant at Carolina — if he had been tempted to bring a version of the “Keep Pounding” speech his father gave to that Washington Football Team. Maybe to use it for motivation somehow?
“Oh no, no, no,” Mills III said. “The phrase ‘Keep Pounding’ is only for Carolina. It stays there, forever.”
Exactly. It stays here, forever.
And it will be screamed very loudly, at every game. Do that on Sunday, Panther fans, and make sure it never disappears again.