Originally created 01/21/06

Panthers thrive in hostile environments



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Forget about the comforts of home, the Carolina Panthers prefer to take their show on the road.

From the hostile crowd to the overconfident home team to the feeling that an entire city is against them, the Panthers say "Bring it on."

"There is something our team likes about coming out of the tunnel and getting booed," coach John Fox said. "Some people like getting cheered. Our team has kind of a sick little grin on its face getting booed. I think they rally around that."

Heading into the NFC championship game Sunday against Seattle, Carolina has won four consecutive road playoff games dating back to the 2003 season.

Now, they'll try to become the first team in NFL history to stretch their streak to five road playoff wins in a row.

Standing in their way will be the Seahawks and their earsplitting fans at Qwest Field.

"I think its the loudest stadium in the NFL," said Carolina cornerback Ken Lucas, who spent four seasons playing with the Seahawks. "They truly have a 12th man."

If there was any doubt about that, a blue flag flies atop the Space Needle representing the "12th Man" that has given the Seahawks a decided home-field advantage. Seattle is 9-0 there this season, aided in part by their opponents committing 24 false start penalties - most of any NFL stadium.

To combat that, Fox rolled out jumbo speakers this week to pump jet engine noise onto the practice field.

"Crowd noise is definitely a factor, and I think they've had more procedure penalties in that stadium this year than any other stadium," Fox said.

"But I can't think it can be any louder than what we've been practicing in."

But if it is - and the Panthers hope the fans are loud, mean and nasty - they'll be ready.

"A lot of people think its a negative to go on the road," defensive end Mike Rucker said. "We feed off the crowd. The louder it is, the more hyped we get."

It's all part of the makeup of this Carolina team, which follows the lead of Fox. He only wants tough players, both physically and mentally, and he's taught them how to thrive in the underdog mentality. When no one gives them a chance is when they play their best football.

"It pumps you up when you feel like everybody is against you," safety Mike Minter said. "It's something to prove. You want to go in and shut up 70 or 80,000 people.

"You know what - if the odds are against you and shut the crowd up and you win, that's something you're proud of."

Still, history is against the Panthers. Since the playoffs expanded to 10 teams in 1978, the New England Patriots in 1986 are the only team to win three road games to make the Super Bowl.