Even as a young franchise, the Carolina Panthers are no strangers to the NFC Championship game.
With this 2015-16 season included, the team has made it to the NFC title game four times in its 21-year history but has only come away with one win in the previous three appearances; a feat they’ll attempt to duplicate this Sunday in Charlotte.
The difference that this title game carries is that it marks the first time that Carolina has hosted the game as the top seed in the conference and will be the first time they’ve made it since 2005.
Each of these three Panther teams of the past have a unique story and was led by a cast of some of the best players in Carolina franchise history and have given Panther fans quite a bit to cheer for in the short time that they’ve been around.
1996: Carolina @ Green Bay
Result: L, 30-13
In just their second year in existence, the Panthers burst onto the scene winning their last seven games of the season to get to 12-4 and securing the NFC West crown as well as a first round bye.
After beating the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round, Carolina travelled to Lambeau Field to take on Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
The Panthers were led by Kerry Collins at the time with the legendary Sam Mills leading the defense. The game started out close with Carolina scoring 10-points off of two Favre turnovers, including an interception by Mills, but soon got away from the Panthers.
Favre led a 71-yard scoring drive that gave Green Bay the lead and they wouldn’t give it up for the rest of the game as Carolina scored just once in the second half on a field goal from John Kasay.
The Panthers couldn’t do anything on offense as they managed just 251-total yards with Collins throwing two interceptions and the defense gave up a combined 187-yards rushing and two scores to Packers’ running backs Dorsey Levens and Edgar Bennett.
2003: Carolina @ Philadelphia
Result: W, 14-3
After six years of mediocrity and sub-.500 play, the Panthers won the NFC South at 11-5 and made it back to the postseason. After winning in the Wild Card Round and a double overtime nail-biter in the Divisional Round, Carolina was headed back to the championship game, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was a spectacular showing for the Carolina defense led by Julius Peppers, Dan Morgan and Mike Minter as they gave up just three points and allowed Donovan McNabb to throw for just 100-yards and forced three picks that all went to defensive back Ricky Manning Jr.
The Panthers offense, manned by Jake Delhomme, didn’t need to do a whole lot in this one but got 136-combined yards rushing from running backs Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster including a one-yard score from the latter.
Wide Receiver Mushin Muhammad caught the only other touchdown in the game and led the receiving corps with two catches for 39-yards and helped give Carolina its first ever Super Bowl berth.
2005: Carolina @ Seattle
Result: L, 34-14
It wasn’t long before the Panthers returned to the NFC title game. Being just two seasons removed from their Super Bowl loss, Carolina found themselves back in the playoffs at 11-5 as a Wild Card team eventually facing Seattle in the championship game.
However, the Panthers did not fare well at all in this one as they were dominated from start to finish. On offense, Delhomme and company managed just 212-total yards and one garbage time touchdown while the game was already well out of reach. The Panthers quarterback threw three interceptions and had just 196-passing yards while Steve Smith scored the only other touchdown of the game on a punt return in the second quarter.
The defense was helpless against Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander who rushed for 132-yards and two scores to go with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's 219-yards and two scores as the two drove at will against Carolina.
All statistics from ProFootballReference.com