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Cats Are My Life

Panther fans go the extra mile

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Big screen TVs, two bars, surround sound stereo system, and a plethora of neon beer signs and Panthers memorabilia covering nearly every square inch. Sound like a pretty decent Charlotte sports bar? Not quite. Until recently, it was just an average garage. But then last May -- during the off-season, of course -- Bill and Cindy Buchanan got to work and converted it into their own personal Panthers shrine -- and ideal spot to plant your keister and watch the game. Word about the Buchanans' ode to the Panthers got out and it won the recent Panther/Fox pride contest and the couple scored a trip to the Panthers/St. Louis game via the official Panther Fan Jet.

Bill says he started collecting Panthers' memorabilia back in 1995 when Charlotte first got the team. He estimates he's bought over 500 pieces since then, totaling over $10,000, including a $1,500 Panther sculpture he bought in Italy.

"We've never missed a game at Ericsson Stadium, and have been to about 20 road games," says Buchanan, an insurance agent who moved to Charlotte in 1985. "The St. Louis game was the first road game we've won since San Francisco four or five years ago. So there's been some long road trips back home."

That's all changed now, with the Panthers headed to the Super Bowl, a game that Bill and Cindy will attend. They predict at least a three-point victory.

And what do their friends and neighbors think of the Panther-themed garage? "We had about 50 of them over the weekend of the Philly game, so they like it quite a bit," he says. "It's the place to watch a game among all of our friends."

If you've seen a 1931 A-Model Ford painted Panthers' silver tooling around town belching out fog and bubbles, you better check your dosage again. Just kidding -- your meds are fine. The car belongs to Charlotte native Jack Rosenblatt, who says he bought the classic Ford around 1960 while a student at South Mecklenburg High School. "I paid $75 for it," says Rosenblatt. "But I was only making 90 cents an hour, so that was a lot of money."Although Rosenblatt treated the car with plenty of TLC (it still has the original motor and transmission), he eventually parked it, and it sat for years. "Last year my son said, "Dad, why don't you just sell that old car, you never drive it.'" That's when Rosenblatt decided that rather than get rid of his beloved A-Model, he'd turn it into the Panther Mobile.

Rosenblatt took it to a paint shop, where he had it custom-painted Panthers' silver with black fenders and running boards. He also affixed big Panther logo stickers to the doors. To top it off, he had three bubble machines mounted in the back and a fog machine installed inside the car.

"I can be riding along and press a button and the whole car fills up with fog and pours out the back windows; it's a lot of fun," Rosenblatt says with a slightly deranged cackle. "I had it sitting out at Bourbon Street Station the other day with the fog machine going and this guy comes running across the parking lot and starts screaming "Hey that car's on fire!'"

Although he wasn't able to score tickets to the Super Bowl, Rosenblatt says he does have a plan in the works. "I'm going to let Jerry Richardson see my old Panther Mobile and maybe he'll say we need to take that car to Houston."

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