CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Panthers pride has been growing across Charlotte, and thousands of fans descended Friday on Romare Bearden Park in uptown Charlotte ahead of the city’s big Super Bowl send-off for the team.
The Panthers will be heading for the West Coast between noon and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Gov. Pat McCrory, Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Coach Ron Rivera, Sir Purr, the TopCats, Purrcussion and several players attended the Panthers Pride rally.
“(We) really do appreciate Panthers nation and everything you guys have brought,” Rivera said. "Just one more thing, a week from Sunday, a week from Sunday, make sure we can hear you when we're in Santa Clara. Make sure you're cheering loud for us."
The stage was set for the biggest Panthers rally in more than a decade.
“We want you guys to know that we feed off of your energy. The energy you bring to the stadium is unmatched,” outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. “It isn’t by chance that we came into this stadium and went undefeated. We did that because we had Panthers nation behind us the whole way."
“Panthers Nation,” safety Tre Boston yelled to the 30,000 attendees.
“We told you we were going continue to work hard, we were going keep pounding, and get back to this point, and now we here, and we have unfinished business,” Davis said. “Trust and believe next Sunday, we’re going to give you guys everything that we have to make sure that we bring that championship back to Charlotte."
“I’m very excited about it. I can’t wait,” fan Madeline Reid said.
City leaders expected the entire area to be packed with fans, possibly some even spilling into the street, all trying to get a glimpse at the Panthers before they leave for Santa Clara.
“We really appreciate y'all. That's one thing we want to make sure you understand. All the hard work that we put in, we do it for you guys. We do it so you can enjoy the product on the field,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. “We’re always wanting do one thing. And that's keep fighting. And we’re going to keep pounding. And we know what time it is next Sunday. And we’re going to come out here next Sunday and finish the drill."
Things kicked off at noon and the crowd was pumped.
Star linebacker Luke Keuchly told reporters, “Some guys have some meetings, but I’m sure guys will be there because our fans have been awesome, and it’s cool to do that.”
Streets that are being closed for the rally reopened shortly after the program ended at 1:30 p.m.
Uptown businesses ramp up staff ahead of Panthers rally
The final preps were underway Thursday as crews worked to complete the stage and surrounding grounds at Romare Bearden Park ahead of the Panthers Pride pep rally.
City officials expect thousands of fans to fill the park in uptown, along with player appearances and performances from groups like the Black and Blue Crew and Percussion.
For nearby businesses, the rally was also reason to increase staff and stock up on supplies ahead of the noon event.
“It's awesome for Charlotte," said Angelo Tsepelis, general manager of the French Quarter Restaurant. "We're loving every minute of it."
David Toole, co-owner of French Quarter restaurant Zablong, wasn't sure what to expect from Friday's crowds, having opened the pizza place one day before.
Toole, who was admittedly nervous, said he too prepared to have staff ready to accommodate the expected lunch crowd, and other fans from the rally.
"I think we're going to be very busy," he said.
City officials urged fans to plan ahead, with parking limited around the park, and surrounding streets closed until the rally's end at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
CMS does not plan to excuse students for Panthers' rally
If any Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students attend the Panther pep rally Friday afternoon it probably won’t be with the schools’ blessing.
CMS said there are no plans to excuse students to attend the rally in uptown Charlotte and even field trips are unlikely since they require some educational component and parental permission.
Some parents were disappointed to hear that. Courtney Durn was among more than 100 Panther fans who lined the walkway to the practice field Thursday afternoon.
She had hoped to take her 7-year-old son to the pep rally.
“I want to. I even asked if that would be an educational day, but unfortunately it was not,” Durn said. “He'll be there in spirit."
Some teachers at Elizabeth Traditional School had hoped to attend the rally but the principal there said it never got off the ground because they were not able to find an educational reason to go and they would need to make sure the area would be safe for children.
Thousands are expected at Romare Bearden Park, and she said they just did not have time to go over security plans.
- STORY: #WSOCtoSB50: Channel 9 live truck makes cross-country trip for Super Bowl 50
- STORY: Panthers' Newton lands Sports Illustrated cover ahead of Super Bowl
- STORY: Cam Newton: 'I'm an African-American QB. That may scare a lot of people.’
- STORY: Panthers pride growing 24 hours ahead of Super Bowl send off
- STORY: Jerry Richardson sending all team employees to Super Bowl
- STORY: ‘The Blind Side’ family watched Michael Oher, Panthers clinch NFC
- STORY: Don Shula to attend Super Bowl to root for son, Mike
- STORY: SUPER BOWL BOUND: Newton, Panthers rout Cardinals, 49-15 for NFC title
- STORY: 5 things to know about Super Bowl-bound Panthers
- STORY: What fans can expect to spend heading west for the Super Bowl
- IMAGES: Food industry shows off its Panthers Pride
- IMAGES: Panthers fans line up to greet players at practice Thursday
- IMAGES: Journey to Super Bowl 50: Carl and Sean head to California
- IMAGES: Food industry shows off its Panthers Pride
- IN PHOTOS: Sideline perspective of Panthers vs. Cardinals
- PHOTOS: Fans show off their #PanthersPride
Panthers poll page: