CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On any given day you might see a somewhat nondescript man wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt and baseball cap walking down Mint Street toward Bank of America Stadium. He easily could be one of the plethora of people hired to keep the stadium grounds immaculate or just an average Joe out for a morning stroll.
You’d never guess David Tepper was worth $11.6 billion and the owner of the Carolina Panthers.
“He has no detail around him,” Charlotte city councilman James Mitchell said. “No bodyguards. He feels the vibe. He gets it. I call him the action man. He’s all about action.”
Until the sale of the Panthers was finalized a year ago on July 9 — for an NFL-record $2.275 billion — the organization had had one owner, founder Jerry Richardson. There was some apprehension about what to expect from Tepper, a now 61-year-old Pittsburgh native, beginning with whether he would keep the team in Charlotte.
Mitchell was among those who were apprehensive. But it didn’t take long for him to realize Tepper was not only was the right person to take over an organization embroiled in allegations of sexual misconduct by Richardson, but to be an agent of change and progress in North and South Carolina.
“It’s been like a breath of fresh air,” Mitchell said.
Local real estate developer Brian Leary, who last month led a question-and-answer session with Tepper at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance’s inter-city trip in Pittsburgh, agreed.
“David Tepper is a force of nature, while at the same time the most down-to-earth billionaire you’d probably ever meet,” Leary said as he recalled the session at Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper’s alma mater. “Force of nature can come in many forms, whether it’s the wind, the sea or the sun.
“When [Dave] comes into a room, when he shares his idea, you can’t ignore it. It’s just like the weather.”
Tepper has plenty of ideas, and he’s been quick to implement many in his first year at Carolina. He built an indoor practice facility adjacent to the stadium coach Ron Rivera and others have wanted since the Panthers’ first season in 1995.
He struck a deal for a $115 million tax break with South Carolina lawmakers to build the team headquarters, including a state-of-the-art practice facility and other world-class amenities, in nearby Rock Hill by 2022.
He’s made it clear the stadium will be a hub of activity from football, to concerts, to one day hosting an MLS team. He even holding a beerfest there.
Tepper also allowed Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney to sign controversial talent such as safety Eric Reid, the first player to join then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice.
“David identified his priorities early on and that was winning on the field and in the community,” said team president Tom Glick, who prior to being hired by Tepper was the chief operating officer for the English Premier League’s Manchester City Football Club.
“He’s done an outstanding job of doing his homework, listening to fans and making the right adjustments to help our organization find competitive advantages.”
Tepper has been active in the community, from passing out book bags and school supplies to children to funding the West Charlotte High School basketball team’s trip to Raleigh, North Carolina for the state championship.
He’s done most of it quietly, so as not to direct attention to himself. He chose not to be interviewed for this article.
“In the one year David Tepper has owned the Panthers,” Leary said, “I believe [North and South Carolina] have gotten to know him in a way they never knew the previous owner … in a very personal and passionate way about what’s important to him, the community and the organization.”
Last May, the night before being unanimously approved by league owners to purchase the Panthers, Tepper sat in a hotel bar outside of Atlanta and ate a hamburger with reporters swarming the area as they typically do at an owner’s meeting.
This wasn’t trying to stand apart from the mostly buttoned-up owners. Tepper blends in as a regular guy because that’s what he was growing up as the son of an accountant and teacher. He leaves the business suits and fancy attire in his closet except for must-wear situations.
During a May visit to West Charlotte High to be honored for his generosity to the basketball team, Tepper arrived wearing sneakers, jeans, an untucked polo shirt and a Panthers cap.
“He was so unassuming,” said school principal Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones. “I would never have guessed he was who he was. He put on one of our jerseys. A very easy-going guy, very authentic in who he is in an unassuming way. He didn’t want to have the spotlight on him.”
That Tepper without hesitation put on the jersey, which was at least a size to small, showed he was in tune with the moment more than his personal appearance.
He even led a school chant, shouting “Dub C” to which the student body responded quickly, “You know!”
“He nailed it,” Mitchell said. “He just wanted to be able to relate to them, and to say the West Charlotte slogan helped very quickly.'”
Tepper called Mitchell about a week before the playoff trip and told the council member to stop trying to raise money for the tournament and focus on raising money for the city.
“He came at the right time,” Mitchell said of Tepper. “When you talk about what type of vision we need in Charlotte, he has the right vision.”
A fan at heart
Tepper doesn’t just sign checks. He’s heavily involved in team and league decisions. He’s not as heavy-handed and outspoken as Dallas owner Jerry Jones, but when it comes to personnel and other matters that will influence the perception and performance of the organization he has the last say.
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“He likes talking ball,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said with a smile. “He’s just a guy that enjoys the game. … That’s the thing you notice the most. He wants to come in, have fun, but he also wants to win.”
And Tepper is willing to give the football side everything it takes to win, beginning with the indoor practice facility after a 2018 season in which rain and sometimes heat impeded the team’s weekly preparation.
“There’s a lot of things, and you don’t have to look very far, to see progress and transition and his ideas at play,’’ said tight end Greg Olsen, looking at the bubble going up during a June minicamp.
Tepper also played a part in the thought process that led Rivera to take over the defensive playcalling late last season, something that will continue in 2019. In his words: When you have a great defensive mind, take advantage of it.
“David is just getting started,’’ said Mark Hart, the team’s vice president and chief operating officer. “This first year he has done a lot of listening and research so now we have a much better feel for what is really needed.”
On games days, though, you won’t see Tepper hovering on the sideline or interfering with staff. He spends most of his time as a fan. You might see him drinking a cold beer at a random tailgate party.
“He is a snappy dresser,’’ Rivera said jokingly of Tepper’s style. “He can make anything go with jeans.’’
Tepper doesn’t want to draw attention to himself for his lack of style as quarterback Cam Newton does with his flamboyant outfits. He wants to draw attention to the organization for winning titles, as the Pittsburgh Steelers — the team of he rooted for — did when he was a kid.
He understands that’s what he’ll ultimately be judged on as an owner.
“We have the mantra we’re trying to get in the organization,” Tepper told a crowd in Rock Hill during the official signing of the tax bill. “It’s a mantra of excellence and a mantra of winning.”
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After 57 days and one win, Bengals superfan comes down from roof
MILAN, Ind. — Chrissy Lanham stood next to a cardboard cutout of her husband as the final seconds ticked off the clock inside Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.
The flesh-and-bone version of Jeff Lanham was watching roughly 45 miles west in the makeshift tent atop the couple’s restaurant and bar in Milan, Indiana. After two months, he was ready to get off the roof.
An offhand comment about living above the Lanhams’ Hog Rock Cafe until the Cincinnati Bengals won a game turned into a 57-day period that unexpectedly transformed Lanham into his town’s biggest celebrity since the basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.”
When the Bengals finally picked up a win by beating the New York Jets in Week 13 to improve to 1-11, everyone around Chrissy celebrated with “Cardboard Jeff” while the real person was surrounded by screams and flying beer at the bar in southeastern Indiana.
A few drinks, a tree-trimming truck and belief in one of the worst teams in the NFL put Lanham on the roof of his own restaurant. Resolve kept him there.
“I didn’t do it, really, for anything,” said Lanham, 42. “I just made a comment and owned up to a comment and did it.”
Back in 1991, Dennis “Wildman” Walker spent 61 days on a Cincinnati billboard under similar circumstances, a feat that inspired Lanham’s comments.
Cincinnati was 0-4 when Lanham said he would live on the roof until the Bengals won. It was hours before the Bengals hosted the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL’s worst team last season. Jeff and Chrissy watched from the usual spot in the stadium as Arizona won 26-23 on a last-second field goal. Cincinnati started its course toward the NFL cellar, with six consecutive losses to come.
When they drove back to the Hog Rock in their black and orange party bus, Lanham knew where he had to go. A friend grabbed a tent; someone else fetched their tree-trimming truck; and Lanham headed to the roof on a rainy night. Once he woke up the next morning, he realized he might be stuck up there for a while. He moved down a story to the lower portion of the roof so he wouldn’t have to use an extension ladder to climb down to the bathroom and shower.
Decades earlier, people actually paid to live in the building. Back then, it was called the Railroad Inn, a reference to the train tracks that are less than 100 feet from the entrance. But when he and Chrissy started the restaurant, Milan (pronounced MY-lan) was vastly different.
Phyllis Coe, 72, said she bought the building at a sheriff’s auction after the previous owner let the building rot. She charged the Lanhams $500 rent. Lanham, who hadn’t worked for a year after a leg injury forced him to stop working in a mill, poured all of his money into fixing the place up.
“You can’t discount the kid,” Coe said.
When Lanham received international media attention for his stay on the roof, it was the biggest thing to happen to Milan since the high school’s boys basketball team won the Indiana state title in 1954 against Muncie Central, which inspired the 1986 film “Hoosiers.”
Lanham said he used his growing media exposure to remind people about the ’54 champions. He also used his brief window of stardom to raise money for the medical costs of a friend’s daughter who was born with spina bifida. He came down for roughly 12 hours during a benefit event.
During his time on the roof, he held 50/50 raffles during Bengals games and sold $5 raffle tickets for people to eat in a tent that was donated by a friend’s company. He donated most of the things he received, including a pallet of soup from Campbell’s.
He had heaters and plenty of people to keep him company, but it was still tough.
Jeff and Chrissy watched Netflix simultaneously in different places, calling to start shows at the same time and see whether they liked them. She, along with others, brought laundry and food up to his tent, including meals from Skyline Chili topped with habanero cheese. They put up another tent and had Thanksgiving up there.
After nearly two months, he came home. The Bengals easily trounced the Jets, 22-6 on Sunday, for their first win of the season. People near Chrissy at the stadium gave Jeff’s cardboard cutout high-fives, while the watch party back in Milan erupted when the game ended. By the time Chrissy arrived home, Jeff was celebrating with everyone at Hog Rock. They stayed until 11:30 that night.
“Jeff was ready to come home,” Chrissy said.
After the victory, Bengals running back Joe Mixon said he’d like to give Lanham something for staying up there that long. Lanham said that’s not necessary.
“I can’t say I want something from somebody because I didn’t do it for that,” he said.
When the Hog Rock opened at 4 p.m. Monday, the tent was still up behind the restaurant as a few regulars came in for drinks. Eventually, the tent will be donated to the local Boy Scouts chapter. Lanham plans to go to the Bengals game against the New England Patriots on Thursday. The next week, he might follow the team to Miami and take his wife as a way to say thanks for the past couple of months.
“I’m happy that he’s a loyal fan,” Bengals safety Jessie Bates said. “Hopefully next time he can stay on the roof until we lose or something like that.”
That’s not going to happen, Lanham said. Fifty-six nights was more than enough. He won’t be making any more bold predictions any time soon. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have the same belief that led him to the roof or that he doesn’t hope the franchise will be a winner again someday.
“Maybe it won’t change,” Lanham said. “Maybe it will. But I’ll still be a Cincinnati fan.”
Source — Patriots re-signing veteran kicker Nick Folk
The move, which was first reported by NFL Network, was expected after the Patriots waived Kai Forbath on Monday and were left with no kickers on the roster.
Forbath was signed to replace Folk, who had an appendectomy last week. In Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans, Forbath went 1-for-2 on extra points and made a 23-yarder on his only field goal attempt.
Folk, who was released after having the procedure, still had a locker set up in the Patriots’ facility, and the expectation was that he could return to the team later in the season. The 12th-year player has made 7 of 9 field goals (77.8%) in three games for the Patriots this season and is 3-for-3 on extra point attempts.
Forbath was New England’s fourth kicker of the season. Stephen Gostkowski, who was in his 14th season with the Patriots, was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 2 and had surgery for a left hip injury.
The Patriots first signed Mike Nugent to take Gostkowski’s place, but he was ineffective, missing 3 of 8 field goal attempts and one PAT in four games. Nugent was released Oct. 29, and the Patriots brought in Folk.
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