Aerin It OutColumns

My Return to Panthers Game Day After Too Much Time Off

The return of football in the Queen City. Was I ready?

Back in time, post pandemic social scene, Optimist Hall
Aerin Spruill

After a year and some change of watching sports virtually, I must say I missed the buzz of excitement that runs through the city on Panthers game day. The atmosphere feels warm and tingly like a slight shock of static electricity after you’ve been snuggled up in a new blanket. And that’s saying a lot for someone who leans towards cheering, “Go sports!” while everyone else intently watches a “nail-biting match” of some sort. But I guess a pandemic can convert even the most fair-weather of fans. 

A couple weeks before the start of the Panthers’ regular season and first home game, I received a text message with the image of a flyer inviting me to Lost & Found for a Carolina Panthers tailgate promo video from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I glanced at it and the words “open bar” jumped out — a phrase I hadn’t heard or read in a hot minute!

I responded toot sweet in the affirmative, fully ready to take on Sunday Funday. However, game day reminded me swiftly that she (read: I in *a squirrely Kevin Hart voice*) was, in fact, not ready for the shenanigans of game day. 

My first misstep was going out the night before. One thing I’ve learned as the years of nightlife have continued is that Aerin isn’t the spry chicken she used to be, and back-to-back days of partying are a no-go. I woke up Sunday morning and peeked through eyes crusted over with sleep, eyeliner and mascara. I performed a mental check-in and felt much better off than I thought I would, but still not 100%. I rolled over to check my phone, and it came as no surprise that one of my more spry friends was already well on her way to South End. 

I let out a deep sigh and rolled out of bed thinking, “Are we really going to do this?”

Around noon, which I call fashionably late but still gave me a full hour ‘til game time, a friend and I pulled into a lone parallel parking spot on a stretch of South Church Street. We approached the entrance, and while there was no line and a number of people on the patio, I surmised that the invite wasn’t exclusive, which can be terrifying if you’ve ever experienced Lost & Found on a busy day. 

We approached the bar, and just as my anxiety started to build, my eyes rested on a couple of familiar faces and my tensions were subdued temporarily. But, unfortunately, that’s when I took my next misstep. Instead of accepting defeat and sipping on water for the entirety of my visit, I decided to double fist with ice-cold water and a cocktail mixed with vodka. 

As I mustered up the courage to take the first sip, my lips quivered, my mouth began to water, and my mind started to race as my eyes darted through the crowd of black and blue searching for the long escape route to the bathroom if my swallow didn’t go according to plan. Whew, the first gulp got down. My palms started sweating involuntarily, and I knew that I was a player hating the game, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the open bar or the free brunch. 

At the next bar, I mustered up the courage to order a cider along with bacon cheese fries. I slowly chewed on my favorite snack one fry at a time finding it harder to swallow with each bite. And by the time I was able to get five down, I glanced at my beer. It had begun to sweat and the condensation due to the warm day started to drip between the grates of the table onto my shoe. 

I sighed. Another Panthers game that I missed every minute of. But just when I was in the midst of judging myself, the people watching — my favorite Sunday pastime — dragged me to the patio and lifted my spirits temporarily. 

I heard a huge raucous inside the bar and knew right away the Panthers had scored. An angry New York Jets fan came bursting through the doors, face full of red, cigarette in hand and spit flying with every curse word that tumbled out of his mouth. This was followed by the sound of a car coming to a stop and a thick wet splash appeared on the ground beneath an open back passenger door. I turned just as the young gentleman emerged, the remnants of his mishap on his t-shirt. *chef’s kiss*

I managed a solid chuckle and thought to myself, “I feel you, bud. Damn, I love game day.” Needless to say, many lessons were learned from that first Sunday Panthers home game. The next time, I’ll be ready.

Read more of Aerin It Out here.

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