It’s the ultimate ladies’ night — including wine, a fashion show and cute boys to ooooh and ahhh over – and it all takes place smack dab in the middle of the biggest boys club. It’s Football 101 — and it’s the most fun way a girl can learn about this all-American sport.
Last week, hundreds of Charlotte women packed the Panthers den at Bank of America stadium for Football 101, an annual program put on by the Panthers and designed to get women excited about football. “It’s amazing! I’ll watch the game completely different now that I know what’s going on,” says Sonja Marcham, who attended the event. She has been a Panthers fan for years, but she says she just didn’t know much about the actual game. “I had an idea I knew the basics — that you need to get the ball and make a touchdown,” she says. “Other than that, I didn’t know what everybody else was doing, so I thought, I want to know what’s going on out there.”
And she couldn’t have asked for better teachers.
Football 101 is run by Stephanie Rivera, who is Panthers Coach Ron Rivera’s wife, along with Eugene Robinson, a lively former NFL player who’s currently the Panthers’ play-by-play voice and a Charlotte television personality. Part fundraiser, part fashion show, part learning the game, the night even includes a chance to hang with some of the star Panthers players and tour the locker room.
Eugene, who has helped host the event for 13 years, says, “It’s a very fun night because you get to talk football to a different audience. I’m used to talking to players and fans, but this is targeted for women, and you’d be surprised how well-versed they are.”
But first things first. The night kicks off with a fashion show put on by Belk, the Southern department store that’s headquartered right here in Charlotte. And it’s not just any fashion show. The women strutting the catwalk are all players’ wives or Topcats cheerleaders, all wearing Panthers-themed clothes.
Joann Darby is a PSL (Permanent Seat License) holder who’s been coming to the games for decades. She says, “I thought it was really cool how they had the players’ wives — it was really cool to get to see them. It makes them seem more real.”
Joann admits she probably knows more than most of the women in the room as far as the actual game of football. “I go to every game, so I know a lot, but I love coming to this because I pick up little things that I didn’t know, and I love watching the other women going ‘Ohhhhh, that’s what that means!’”
Stephanie says, “Some people don’t know anything about football so they learn a lot and some want just a little more insight, and we offer that too. It’s fun! I love to share my knowledge of the game. I think you enjoy the game more when you know what’s going on.”
And she says after every game, she tends to have some questions for the guy in charge. “I’ll ask my husband, ‘What happened there? What exactly was the call, what was the breakdown there?’ I want to know the details of it — I really want to know what happened!”
Eugene says his favorite part about Football 101 is that the women come away feeling like they know the players on a more intimate level. This year’s team captain and all-around good guy Thomas Davis spent some time on the stage answering questions, and his wife and daughter helped with the fashion show. But Eugene says the real insight into who these players are and what they’re really like comes from the tour of the locker room and weight rooms, where the guests get a true peek into their personal lives. They can see the family photos players have taped up – and they can see their, ummmm, shoe collections.
Eugene says every year that seems to catch the women off guard. “They don’t know guys have as many shoes as they do – when they look in the lockers, guys have 20 pairs of shoes, and the women are always surprised by that.”
Stephanie says for her, the whole night is one she looks forward to every season.
“It’s a fun night! There’s lots of wine, the money goes to charity, at the end of the evening they learned a little bit, they had a good time and we hope this makes them even stronger Panthers fans.”
While this year’s Football 101 has come and gone, you can see more photos, some videos and learn more about previous years’ events at panthers.com. And keep your eyes peeled for next year’s event — it’s never too late to learn something new!
Thanks to Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Carolina Panthers for the fabulous photos.
Keep up with all of the amazing things going on in Charlotte and beyond — subscribe to StyleBlueprint!