Published 12:00 am Monday, January 13, 2014

SALISBURY — It didn’t go the way they wanted. Not at all.
But local Carolina Panthers fans turned out in force to cheer on the home team during Sunday’s NFL playoff game.
As the San Francisco 49ers took, then held the lead on their way to a 23-10 victory over Carolina, black-and-blue-clad bar patrons, restaurant-goers and staffers turned from cheering, to hopeful, to halfhearted.
Sitting at the bar at East Coast Wings & Grill at Innes Street Market, Kevin Britton made a statement during the first half that turned out to be prophetic.
“Never underestimate Cam Newton’s ability to blow it at the end,” Britton said.
Although quarterback Newton’s performance was lacking in his first-ever playoff appearance, there were plenty of fans cheering as the Panthers scored their only touchdown of the game on a Steve Smith reception.
Many were die-hard fans, such as Terri Jones.
“I’ve always been a Panthers fan,” Jones said. “You live in North Carolina, you need to be!”
Unfortunately, the Panthers came up short.
“If you can’t keep (49ers quarterback Colin) Kaepernick from running, it’s going to be a problem,” Jones said. “If you give him an inch, he’s going to take yards.”
In the end, Kaepernick and his offense won the day.
That didn’t keep the Himes family, of Rockwell, from turning out together to watch the game on the big screen.
Todd and Linda Himes and daughter Izabela cheered as the Panthers kicked a field goal to take a 10-6 lead in the first half.
Izabela, 12, said Newton was her favorite Carolina Panther, and she loves his “Superman” routine — where he mimes pulling his shirt open like Clark Kent after a big play.
By game’s end, the “Superman” had turned into a mockery of Carolina, with 49ers players taking every opportunity to rip on Newton’s signature move.
Over at Benchwarmers on East Fisher Street, Carolina fan Gary Thompson shook his head at that.
“I said from the beginning of this year, they (the Panthers) are going to the Super Bowl,” Thomson said as the team trailed by 10 points in the third quarter.
“I still have confidence,” Thompson said, looking on as the minutes slipped away from the Panthers.
The playoff game was good for local businesses, according to staff members at Salisbury restaurants and bars.
None gave specifics as to sales or profits, but the first NFL playoff game for the local franchise in five years was a draw.
Scott Hudson, co-owner of East Coast Wings & Grill, said the crowd was “a little above average” for a football Sunday.
The big business was in the restaurant’s to-go orders. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook,” Hudson said.
Lines of take-out boxes stood behind the bar during the first quarter of the Panthers-49ers game.
Local bars and restaurants were filled with those who couldn’t make it to the game themselves.
Hudson said even his daughter was at the game … wearing 49ers gear.
“I told her, ‘If I’d known you were going to wear that jersey, I wouldn’t have given you the ticket!’” Hudson said, grinning.
At Benchwarmers, bartender Tracie Rendleman said the bar had been “pretty packed.”
All but one of the bar’s TV sets were turned to the game.
A block away, in the upstairs bar at Go Burrito on West Fisher Street, the crowd thinned out a bit after the first half.
Bartender Marcus Hill said there have been “some pretty good crowds” for Panthers games this season.
Fans in Panthers black-and-blue jerseys and T-shirts hoped for the best, but it wasn’t to be.
“They’re not playing like they played in the regular season to get to this point,” Thompson said.
There’s always next year.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.