Born Jerome G. Richardson on July 18, 1936, in Spring Hope, North Carolina, the first step on a journey that would transform the Carolinas.
After growing up in the Fayetteville area, Richardson attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He excelled at football and laid the foundation for a business empire that would allow him to return to the game he once strayed from.
He still holds the school’s single-game record for receiving yards (241 against Newberry in 1956), as well as the records for touchdown receptions in a season (9) and career (21). This kind of production earned him Associated Press Little All-America honors in 1957 and 1958, and in 1959, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts.
With the Colts, he settled with quarterback Johnny Unitas, and caught a touchdown pass from a Hall of Famer in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.
But after his sophomore season, he walked away from the NFL in a dispute over money, and returned to Spartanburg to begin his professional career. Using his tournament game bonus as seed money, he opened his first Hardee’s restaurant in Spartanburg.
There, he began to focus on customer service that would carry over into his supervision of his football team.
When Richardson owned the team, he often referred to the lessons learned from selling hamburgers. He would go to restaurants from time to time to check, and stick his head in the drive-through to surprise customers and staff alike.
This kind of attention to detail was not unlike his days as Panthers owner, where he approved details of landscaping plans (native plants from each state on the north and south sides of the stadium to represent the two Carolinas) and paint job on the field. On game days, he would cruise the Bank of America course in his golf cart, greet fans, take pictures, and just enjoy the moments.
But before he could ride those games and enjoy the flair of bringing the NFL to Carolina, he had to move it.
Richardson began the process of building a football team in July of 1987, when he met with former Bank of America CEO and Charlotte icon Hugh McCall to discuss his dream of bringing the sport to his home state.
Charlotte had already become a professional sports city with the arrival of the NBA’s Hornets in 1988, but those were the days when the city struggled to build an identity as anything other than a regional outpost, still confused with Charleston, SCO or Charlottesville, VA. , and years of becoming a national banking center.
Along the way, decisions were made that changed the face of the sports business. He recruited sports marketing executive Max Muhleman, and they hatched the concept of a first permanent seat license, where fans paid an upfront fee to access season tickets. The Panthers were the first team to use this concept, and the influx of money was critical to the private financing of what was then known as Carolina Stadium.
But until October 26, 1993—the day Richardson earned his 29th NFL franchise—the whole thing was still a dream for everyone but Richardson.
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