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Cruisin' with the Panthers 

Don't hate the game, hate the players

Urban Explorer

I am the biggest Panther fan ever. Not the biggest in terms of size but the biggest in the sense that I love my football team. Everybody knows I support the cardiac cats. I'm originally from Charlotte. I was here when we didn't even have a team -- when the skating rink was the joint. So it was no surprise to anyone when I announced that I would be attending the first-ever Panthers Fan Cruise.

Like most of the 300 fans who paid money for the cruise, I'm thinking I'll be able to chill with the players and talk with them on a one-on-one basis. You know, pick their brains. We would laugh, talk, maybe have a few drinks. They would be super cool and I would have great pictures to show all of my broke friends.

I discovered just how green I really am. The rich and famous don't laugh, talk and have a few drinks. They look, stare and watch you drink. Sorry to disappoint any fans who believed the same thing I did. The Panthers in attendance on this cruise were Brad Hoover, Al Wallace, Mike Minter, Mike Rucker and Mr. Entertainment himself, Steve Smith.

I don't want to put all the players on blast, because I did enjoy a couple of the Panthers. Hoover and Wallace can cruise with me any time. They were totally down to earth and completely approachable. What I'm trying to figure out now is if the others needed an attitude adjustment or just a new personality altogether. I'm leaning toward new personality.

What a disappointment. I felt completely let down by the players from day numero uno. The fans had to wear these cute little badges that let all the non-Panthers cruisers know that we were with our team. The badges allowed us to enter all the Panthers scheduled events. The first day I wore my badge I received the most hugs and smiles from the fans. They were people I didn't know but who were just thrilled to be vacationing with a few of their favorite players. They were happy to be amongst others who had their shared fondness for football. These people were the most avid fans I've ever seen. The fact that they paid to cruise with their home team speaks volumes.

The players were another thing altogether. The only thing I felt from them was a cold shoulder. I felt like, You know I'm a fan, I have on the badge -- speak, wave or give me the bird for all I care. Just let me know you care that I spent my dime to come this far for you. But ... nothing. So from that point on, the badge was in my pocket.

As I sat at the bar at one point during the four-day cruise, a lady and her awkwardly quiet friend came up and started to chitchat with me. At first we were talking about shoes, bags and shopping. You know, girl talk. We discovered that both of us were from Charlotte, so my next question was obvious: "Are you on the Panthers Fan Cruise?"

"Yes" she replied, and then from out of nowhere she started asking me more personal questions: "Are you married?" "Where do you live in Charlotte?" "What do you do for a living?"

I'm thinking, OK, she just seems a little nosey. Maybe this is her bad attempt at making conversation.

Then her husband arrived abruptly and swept her away. No, "Hello, how you doing?" No, "Excuse me, we have to go." Maybe she was talking too much. Maybe he didn't like my style. Uh ... Thanks, Mr. Rucker, you leave a great impression.

Later, when he realized I was doing a story for Creative Loafing, his whole persona changed. Maybe my style wasn't so bad, after all. I went from the cold shoulder to a wave. That pissed me off more than him not speaking at all.

Here's a little suggestion for all of you who have a little fame and fortune: If you're a buster, be a buster 24-7. I don't want your representative. I want the real Slim Shady. To be completely honest, I might like him better.

If some of the players turned out to be a little less that fab, the fans were great. I could not have asked for a better time with the people from the QC and surrounding areas. If it weren't for them, I would have had a miserable time. Forget the players, give me my fellow fans. We saved the trip.

But maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the players. I'm sure they run into some crazy groupies from time to time, and that could be enough to make them a little standoffish. But these people should recognize crazy when they see it. I'm far from crazy. Cool, yes. Laid back, absolutely. Maybe a touch of silliness. But definitely not crazy.

For the second annual Panthers Cruise next year, let's hope more than five players show up. Five players among 300 fans for about an hour a day for three days -- that's less than a minute for each fan. We deserve more than that for our dime, fellas.

But I'll be back next year because at the end of the day, when all was (not) said and done, I had the time of my life hanging out with 300 other diehard Panthers fans. As for the players ... pfft! Now that I know their game, I know what to expect.

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