Jan 26, 2016 - Things to Do

Here’s how my first Panthers press experience went

panthers stadium header

KL panthers stadium header

Last week we were sitting around at our standard Monday morning meeting when it came time to decide whose name we’d be putting on our next Panthers media credential request. Andrew had just covered the Seahawks game and although we don’t touch official sports coverage on our site, we cover Charlotte and there is no bigger story in the city right now than this team and its unstoppable winning streak. We had to be there and for reasons unknown the name on the credential request would be mine.

As you know, we won and it was incredible and I’ll never forget it but in case Sunday’s crushing defeat of the Cardinals (and subsequent ticket to the Super Bowl) was my first and last NFL media experience, here’s how it went…

katie levans panthers tweet

I got there two hours early to give me time to creep around the stadium and find my way to the press box. Although Andrew had pointed out exactly where the media check-in was a few days earlier, I still went to the wrong side and had to walk all the way around.

The media security check point feeds you into the visitors tunnel and straight onto the field. That is, of course, if you have credentials that grant you access to the field, which I didn’t. So I hovered for a second, considered my options, decided against making a break for it and getting tackled by security and asked the guard for directions to the press box instead. (I would be forcibly removed from the field later. It was an honest mistake, I swear.)

inside panthers stadium

You access the press box by way of an elevator operated by a jubilant guy named Ray who’s manned the lift for the last six years. “It’s my fun post retirement thing,” he said. On one packed ride down, he told me not to get my hair stuck in the door. On another he teased me for trying to hold the door for someone else, saying that it’s a good way to lose a hand.

The press box itself consists of rows of seats overlooking the field, some cafeteria-style seating for meal time, about a dozen televisions, a buffet and unlimited fountain drinks and coffee. Of course, this is not where I’d be seated because somewhere between Andrew’s credential application and mine, we were demoted from Press Box to Auxiliary Press Box. Strike one, Katie.

panthers press box

The auxiliary press box is downstairs alongside the Silver Club concession area and I found it to be a more than adequate accommodation for viewing the game. I stocked up on Diet Pepsi from the real press box, set up my gear (a laptop with three tabs open: Tweetdeck, Facebook and Giphy because I’m a professional) and went back downstairs to explore.

There’s very little guidance to where you can and can’t go until you’re already there and it’s too late so I tried to just follow people who had badges that looked like mine. This would get me in trouble later but pre-game it landed me in prime location to see the Panthers take the field.

panthers coach rivera

On my way to the Panthers tunnel, I stopped in the hall where some photographers with badges that looked like mine (and cameras that looked slightly nicer than my iPhone 5s) were standing because I thought that was where I should be. A cop came over pretty immediately to tell me I was in the wrong place, of course.

But as soon as he said it, Charles Tillman (who I’ve met three times now for Agenda-related coverage) walked out of the locker room door and greeted me. Sweet redemption! I got to walk down the hall to the tunnel with Tillman and it was literally the only time I felt cool all day.

charles tillman panthers

The game itself, I don’t have to tell you, was electric. I was superstitious enough to believe that my very presence there would lose the game for us and was pleased to find that voodoo magic has no power over raw talent. The Panthers didn’t get to the Super Bowl by way of luck.

There’s no cheering in the press box so I kept my reactions to whispered curses and context-less tweets but more than once I felt my hands shoot up into the air like some kind of involuntary victory reflex. Strike 2, Katie.

panthers super bowl

With 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter and enough confidence that we were Super Bowl bound, I packed up and ran to the elevator, which I was told would close with 3 minutes on the clock, to get downstairs for the post-game locker room action.

panthers locker room sign

I was corralled into a tight line with reporters and cameramen who had badges that looked enough like mine to give me confidence I was in line for the locker room. Except I wasn’t. I was in a line – an inescapable line – onto the field where, if you’ll recall, I was definitely not allowed to go.

I ran through some justifications in my head as the crowd of people and equipment lurched towards the field. “These badges look just like mine. Maybe the rules are different after the game. Maybe no one will notice me.”

katie levans panthers tweet

I met the guard with a look of “I know I’m not supposed to be here but CRAP here I am so what now?” and he met me with a stern order to get off the field. Immediately. It should be noted that I am a strict rule follower and hate getting in trouble so I already felt bad and looked stupid, but where exactly should I go at this point? A camera guy on a power trip grabbed me and moved me out of line (chill, sir) and I made the walk of shame out the other side. Strike 3, Katie. You’re out.

Back where I started, I found the locker room line I was searching (and actually cleared) for and settled in to wait for the cue to enter. I couldn’t help but notice I was the first woman in line and one of what looked like only three total standing there. Hm.

panthers locker room

At the risk of sounding creepy, the locker room was the best part of the night, not because it’s a locker room full of men (grow up) but because it was one big intoxicating celebration. The guys jumped around like kids, played music and pulled out cigars. But under the electric buzz of that joy of winning was the reality that the biggest game of all still lies ahead.

Cam came through last and most calmly, greeting a boy in a wheelchair and then quietly suiting up in a slick ensemble for his post-game interviews.

katie levans cam tweet

I’ll be the first to say I don’t have a future in sports reporting but we submitted a request for Super Bowl credentials anyway. I will absolutely not go onto the field.

If you don’t follow us on Instagram or Snapchat, head on over there to check out all the videos and photos from the game. Username for both is: charlotteagenda.

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