CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers were greeted by about 3,000 fans at Ericsson Stadium early Monday when they returned home after advancing to the Super Bowl.
Coach John Fox spoke to the crowd, as did several players, including Brentson Buckner, Stephen Davis, Kevin Donnalley, Jake Delhomme and DeShaun Foster.
They thanked the fans for their support during a 1-15 season two years ago, then promised to meet them again after winning the NFL title Feb. 1 in Houston.
The Panthers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 14-3 Sunday night to win the NFC crown. They will next play the New England Patriots, who downed Indianapolis 24-14 for the AFC championship.
Cars began to jam streets in downtown Charlotte's bar district shortly after the NFC game ended Sunday night. Hundreds gathered to sing "We Are The Champions," forcing police to close the streets. Strangers hopped from cars to hug each other.
"I've been here for 38 years and never seen anything like this," said Jeff Ward, who brought his wife and two children downtown.
Fans filtered toward the nearby stadium when they heard the team would appear after its charter flight from Philadelphia. One group brought instruments and played swing music; others tried to strip but were stopped by police. Firefighters flew a 30-foot Panthers flag to welcome the team.
Players and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who also made the trip to Philadelphia, shook hands and signed autographs after the rally. McCrory said he was doused with beer by Eagles fans after the game.
"I was called more names in four hours in Philadelphia than I've been called in eight years as mayor of Charlotte," he said. "I learned some new language, but the Philadelphia police did a great job of escorting us and protecting us in the fourth quarter. About 20 percent of the fans were thugs, but the rest were nice."