1. Jerry RichardsonWhat can you say about Jerry Richardson that not everybody already knows? The second NFL player to become an owner of an NFL team, Jerry Richardson fought against great adversity to bring football to the Carolinas.
While Jerry Richardson is known in most circles as the owner of the Carolina Panthers, many forget his greatest achievement as an NFL player. Jerry Richardson caught a touchdown pass from the late Johnny Unitas, arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game, in the NFL Championship of 1959. The Baltimore Colts went on to win that game, proving Mr. Richardson knows what winning is about. Jerry Richardson then used his playoff check to start a chain of restaurants, and grew the business and his wealth in the process.
In 1987, Jerry Richardson began his journey toward bringing football to the Carolinas. He, along with his sons and other financial backers, danced through the hoops the NFL presented them, even going so far as to stage an exhibition game to prove that attendance would be high. He fought as hard as he could for the people in the Carolinas, because he knew their love for football, and wanted to be able to help bring a team there.
Six years later, on October 26, 1993, the Carolina Panthers were born. The smile etched on Mr. Richardson's face as he posed for photos holding a Panther jersey is unforgettable. He later held a press conference, looked each fan-to-be directly in the eyes through the camera, and said "Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" The owner of the Carolina Panthers left an indelible mark in the minds of the fans, and they knew this guy was something special.
He also revolutionized the way that stadiums are financed. When the NFL didn't think the Carolinas would support a stadium through taxes, he proposed what many considered a ridiculous idea; let the fans own real estate in the stadium, and not burden the tax payers. Many scoffed at the idea, but the PSL theory worked so well, many teams with newer stadiums copied it. Mr. Richardson made sure the stadium was the finest facility in the league, not only for the fans, but for the players. The Panthers locker room is one of the most spacious and technologically advanced in the league, and the workout and training facilities are built to be more of a "home" atmosphere than a gym.
Richardson is known for only accepting people into the front office of the highest caliber in every category, not just talent or notoriety. This includes John Fox, the whole front office, the players, and even Mr. Richardson himself.
Very few owners take the time to talk with the fans, but Mr. Richardson has been known to give fans merchandise off of his own back just for being a fan. Perhaps the largest testament to his character is the fact that he got tickets to every person that worked for the Panthers to Houston for Super Bowl 38.
Jerry Richardson knows how to play the game of football from his past with the NFL. He knows the types of players needed, the type of staff he needs, and how to accommodate them all. He also knows how to run a business from his past in the food industry. Most importantly, though his love for the team and for people resounds louder than any other owner in the league, and it is the number one reason why the Panthers are the greatest team in football.