Panthers’ first-ever game in the Carolinas was vs. Denver at Clemson

Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins and head coach Dom Capers beat the Denver Broncos in the Panthers’ first-ever game in the Carolinas, a 1995 preason game played at Clemson. (File/Staff)

Experts believe the Panthers-Broncos matchup in Super Bowl 50 might draw the largest audience for any program on U.S. television.

When the two teams met for the first time, the game was blacked out in Charlotte, Columbia and Greenville.

Charleston was the largest TV market in South Carolina to see a 19-10 victory over Denver in the Panthers’ first-ever game in the Carolinas. The preseason clash was on Aug. 12, 1995, at Death Valley in Clemson, where the Panthers played their entire first season while a new stadium was built in downtown Charlotte.

“We’ve come a long way,” Panthers head coach Dom Capers said after the win, “but yet we still have a long way to go.”

“Good luck Panthers” read the marquee at the Tiger Sports Shop on College Avenue.

Clemson Chamber of Commerce stickers on local restaurants included the Panthers’ inaugural season logo.

The Post and Courier ran four stories on the game.

A crowd of 57,017 showed up. How strange for fans at Death Valley to cheer for a North Carolina team, and against a team wearing orange jerseys.

Grammy winner Stephanie Mills sang the national anthem. Perry Tuttle, a star wide receiver on Clemson’s 1981 national championship team, delivered the game ball to officials at midfield. The Panthers introduced their mascot.

Players complained about the 93-degree heat.

The opening kickoff was returned by a sixth-round draft pick from the University of Georgia trying to make the Broncos’ roster. Running back Terrell Davis would later lead Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

Hall of Famer John Elway started for the Broncos, and completed 5 of 7 passes to lead Denver to a touchdown on the opening possession. But Carolina, which opened with a victory over fellow NFL newcomer Jacksonville in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, before losing an exhibition game at Chicago, bounced back. The Panthers’ first “home” touchdown came on Frank Reich’s 3-yard pass to fullback Bob Christian.

The Panthers used three quarterbacks that night: Reich, Jack Trudeau and rookie Kerry Collins, who would win the starting job during the regular season.

“They out-executed us in every way,” Denver head coach Mike Shanahan said.

Carolina went on to finish a surprisingly good 7-9 in 1995.

Denver stumbled to an 8-8 record.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff