Jerry Richardson, Carolina Panthers' first owner, dies at 86
The Carolina Panthers' first owner, Jerry Richardson, who brought professional football to Charlotte, has died at age 86, the team said Thursday.
The team posted an announcement shortly before 2 p.m. that said Richardson died Wednesday night.
Richardson's audacious bid to bring an NFL franchise to Charlotte in 1993 transformed the city's image, vaulting the growing town into the big leagues — literally. The Panthers were the second professional sports franchise, after the Charlotte Hornets started playing in 1988.
The Panthers played their first season in 1995 at Clemson University. The team's Charlotte stadium opened uptown a year later, named Ericsson Stadium at the time.
Richardson ultimately sold the Panthers to current owner David Tepper, a hedge fund manager, for just under $2.3 billion in 2018. That was after the NFL opened investigations into Richardson and the Panthers over allegations of a sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace stemming from allegations in a Sports Illustrated article. The NFL ultimately fined Richardson $2.75 million, and the Panthers removed the imposing bronze statue of Richardson flanked by snarling panthers from the front of the stadium.
Richardson was born in Spring Hope, North Carolina in 1936. He grew up in the Fayetteville area and played football for Wofford College, in South Carolina. The Baltimore Colts drafted Richardson, a receiver, in 1959. That year, he scored a touchdown in a the NFL's Championship Game (before the Super Bowl began) from quarterback Johnny Unitas.
Panthers announce the team’s founder—and Wofford College standout—Jerry Richardson has passed away.— John Ellis (@1PantherPlace) March 2, 2023
As a player, Richardson won an NFL Championship in 1959, catching a TD pass in the championship game from Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas.
Richardson was 86 years old. pic.twitter.com/VjXMuXZ9aH
As the 3rd quarter wrapped in the 1959 NFL Championship, Pat Summerall’s trio of FG’s gave the Giants a 9-7 lead over the Colts.— John Ellis (@1PantherPlace) March 2, 2023
Johnny Unitas engineered a pair of TD drives in the 4th, capped off by a 12-yard TD pass to Panthers founder Jerry Richardson.
Colts 31, Giants 16 pic.twitter.com/eF7ArlVKSO
Richardson quit the NFL after two seasons. He moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and opened a Hardee's that would eventually expand into a fast food franchise company with hundreds of locations across the Southeast.
In 1987, Richardson began his quest to bring an NFL franchise to Charlotte, working with other local leaders like NationsBank president Hugh McColl. The effort took six years, and Richardson had to overcome skepticism that a city of Charlotte's size could support an NFL stadium. He sold permanent seat licenses to prospective fans to finance the stadium, and put up half of the $140 million franchise expansion, working with local investors for the rest.
"I never thought about not getting a franchise," Richardson said, expressing his trademark confidence. "The odds against us were huge. People had said it was 150-to-1, 200-to-1. That never deterred me."
Richardson received a heart transplant in 2009. After that, he remained a fixture at Panthers games for years, watching stoically from the owner's box or driving a golf cart on the sidelines.
Under Richardson's ownership, the Panthers made two Super Bowl appearances, in 2003 and 2015, both of which the team lost.
Stephanie & I were saddened to learn of the passing of Jerry Richardson. I will always be grateful to him for the opportunity to coach the Carolina Panthers & for his patient, steadfast leadership during 7 seasons. Condolences to Rosalind, Ashley, & Mark and the Richardson family pic.twitter.com/Zibu5hBtbJ— Ron Rivera (@RiverboatRonHC) March 2, 2023
This is a developing story and we will update it throughout the afternoon.