Carolina's 'Big Cat' on the prowl for first Super Bowl

Wed Feb 3, 2016 8:37pm EST
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By Greg Lacour

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Jerry Richardson's nickname is "Big Cat" but no one associated with the Carolina Panthers, the team he founded and owns, would dare to call him anything but "Mr. Richardson".

Mick Mixon, the Panthers' play-by-play radio announcer, was warned about that on his very first day of work.

"I think even (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell calls him 'Mr. Richardson'," Mixon said.

His Panthers are favored to win their first Super Bowl in their 21st season but Richardson, a 79-year-old North Carolina native, rarely speaks or appears in public. He has declined interview requests, including one from Reuters.

Yet no one doubts that his vision and persistence - and deep pockets - are why the Carolinas, where stock-car racing and college basketball once reigned, have embraced professional football.

"He brought football to this area with the purpose of making this area relevant and helping to revitalize it, and that's what it's done," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said while preparing his team to take on the Broncos in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Richardson has endured health issues and public criticism in recent years.

He had a heart transplant in 2009 and two years later he led NFL owners in heated negotiations during a 135-day player lockout, reportedly questioning players' toughness and intelligence.   Continued...

Carolina Panthers team owner Jerry Richardson watches his team warm up in Charlotte, September 2011. REUTERS/Chris Keane