An epic battle of good and evil

The riches to rags and back to riches story here in the Carolinas is still going on with all the drama of a long running Broadway show. What started out as probably the halftime ass-chewing of all ass-chewings in the 3Com Park visitor's locker room just over a month ago has morphed into a bona fide national feel good story.

I am not sure what is more prevalent. The sports writers and announcers coming out of the woodwork calling the Panthers the playoff upset special du jour or the masses flocking back onto the bandwagon. But no matter what spin you put on this streak, it just feels good to win.

The Panthers improbable march towards a 2004 playoff berth is certainly not getting any easier for week 15. This team is taking its 5 game winning spree into the most unholy of houses. History at the Georgia Dome has not been kind to the Panthers. The team is lifetime 1-8 in Atlanta with the only victory coming from a 9-6 street brawl in September of 1997. We all thought last season would be different, especially after the near shutout of the Falcons earlier in the season in our house. However in what was otherwise a blemish free season of Superbowl euphoria, the ESPN Sunday Night with Michael Vick special masqueraded as a football game that aired last December still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. No matter what the Panthers accomplished last season, it is still somewhat tainted by the fact that the Falcons still managed to defeat the Cats in the dome.

Why has Atlanta always been such a thorn in the side of the Panthers? Right now the uneducated may refer to Mike Vick. But our poor performance in the Peach states predates his collegiate career. Perhaps the Panthers are just not successful playing in domes. After a little perusal into the historical archives I have discovered that the official record shows that since the Panthers entry into the NFL they are 15-20 in domes. Not exactly a statistic to get framed, but remove the Falcons roost from the dome list and Carolina goes 14-12 indoors. So the Cats are not really a turf adverse team. Perhaps the answer is a simple one. Just maybe it is the fact that the Dirty Birds are a powerhouse with home field advantage due to the sold out crowds full of rabid fans who keep the decibel level well above 100 4 straight quarters each and every Sunday. Wait, hold on a minute.......Sorry, actually got a cramp in my finger typing that last bull shit filled sentence. I checked and while I am not sure what the Falcons lifetime home field record is at either the Georgia Dome or Fulton County stadium, it is quite obvious to me that it is pathetic enough to be practically omitted from anywhere on the Internet.

So if the problem the Panthers have winning in Atlanta is not related to talent, field conditions or noise what is the problem? The riddle cannot be answered in sports terms I fear. One must look deeper into the problem. Perhaps the answer is a sort of a good versus evil type of thing. I begin to think of the epic poem Beowulf and how it may relate. You know the story, hard working Geatish warrior Beowulf answers call from Danish King to expel a demon named Grendel from his swamps. Young warrior quickly dispatches the monster and they throw a big party. Demon's even more sinister mommy from the swamp crashes party in a murderous way and young warrior chases her down and cuts the hags head off. Young lad gets a big reward and goes back home to become King of his land, but screws up by storing his money in a cave guarded by a poison spewing dragon who kills him. So how does the Carolina vs. Atlanta rivalry relate to an old tragic poem? Simple, Atlanta is the evil swamp that serves as a spawning ground to demons. I can find nothing good to say about the place. We all assume hell is some deep subterranean cave filled with lava and horned beasts. But that was an image conjured up by ancient people in ancient times. If one is to go in search of a 21st century kingdom for Lucifer to reside over, how can Atlanta not be near the top. I am sure many could come up with more sexy choices like Baghdad, Mogadishu or Detroit. But in addition to the violent crime Atlanta shares in common with these places, it has other more devilish qualities. The uncontrolled urban sprawl, deadly roads and Buckhead decadence surely have the signature look and feel of the King of Darkness's handiwork. But I know many people are skeptical of such notions and therefore I can provide absolute proof of Atlanta's affiliation with Satan. The Atlanta Hawks. Because everyone knows that condemned men can't jump.

The problem with the Panthers over the past 10 years is that they have been a piss poor excuse for Beowulf. In truth, Carolina has been more like the braggart drunk Unferth who talks up the fight, but when the bell rings all he has to show for himself is another set of soiled shorts. Beowulf was able to dispatch both of the swamp monsters with relative ease. He fought as a champion and was victorious. Every season us fans think this will be the year that the Cats dispatch the Falcons back to the Georgia bogs. But for the past decade the sweep stats have heavily favored the Dirty Birds 4-1.

This Saturday in front of a national television audience the Panthers get a tenth opportunity to get the Atlanta monkey off their backs. There has never been a more important game in the battle of I-85 than this one because for the Panthers the season hangs in the balance. And not just the season going forward, but the season behind us as well can potentially be harmed with a loss. The Panthers have fought through some incredible odds to be in the position they are currently in. They have found confidence no matter who lines up in a Carolina uniform and have become a very dangerous team in the NFC. But I think for this franchise to truly move to the next level they need to at least get this one more win. It is important for this team to carry on the attitude that overcoming all adversities is possible and beating Atlanta can reinforce that mentality. And more importantly, in order to continue this quest for redemption they have to beat their long time nemesis. It sounds like a insurmountable feat for this team to continue the winning spree and get into the playoffs. But this is the price the Panthers pay for digging the 1-7 hole. I am sure Beowulf himself lost many battles before taking on the job for King Hrothgar. The Panthers have shown they have the ability to learn from their losses. And they have enough of those with Atlanta to write a senior thesis on the subject. The Falcons have been perched on the backs of the Panthers for what seems like ever now. For the Panthers to continue the epic journey they are going to have to knock the feathers off their monkey. After all, that is what Beowulf would do....

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