CHARLOTTE – While some Carolina Panthers fans were sitting through a driving rainstorm in last month’s home finale against the New Orleans Saints, Tech Sgt. Neal Harvey also was pulling hard for the home team.
The Air Force veteran just happened to be sitting outside in 19-degree weather in Kandahar, Afghanistan, watching the game on television in the middle of the night.
“The television is in a common area,” said the 35-year-old Harvey, who serves with the 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group. “I was the only one outside watching.”
Harvey passed up some sleep to watch Cam Newton’s last-minute touchdown pass lead the Panthers to a victory against the Saints en route to the NFC South title. Because he likely was the only one awake when Newton hit Domenik Hixon with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds remaining, Harvey’s celebration was very subdued.
“I remember jumping up and down but not screaming because I knew people were sleeping, so I had to improvise,” he said.
Harvey said he went to bed at 2:30 a.m., woke up at 5 and felt just fine.
“I was so hyped up still that I was OK,” he said. “I wasn’t dragging. I wasn’t tired.”
Harvey’s loyalty to the Panthers was also rewarded when he received a package of Carolina paraphernalia as well as a letter from coach Ron Rivera, thanking him for being a fan and for his service to his country.
“I thought I was reading it wrong,” Harvey said of discovering the letter inside the package. “I kind of froze, It was kind of cool.”
Harvey said the letter was just like meeting the third-year head coach in person.
“I see him every Sunday on TV. I go online to see some of his postgame interviews. It felt like I knew him,” Harvey said. “More than anything, it was like he shook my hand. He really didn’t, but that’s what it felt like. It makes a lot of things over here worthwhile, to know that you’re appreciated.”
Rivera said the letter is his own way of showing that appreciation.
“The biggest thing is I always thank them for their service and their commitment to defending our country, and we really appreciate them being a Panther fan,” Rivera said. “And at the end, you always talk about ‘Keep Pounding.’”
“Keep Pounding” is a reference to the team’s season-long rally cry.
Harvey grew up in a home full of Dallas Cowboys fans, but he became a Green Bay Packers follower during the Brett Favre days.
When the Panthers opened for business in 1995, Harvey made the switch.
There’s no mistaking Harvey’s loyalty. “I have enough stuff to hang on everybody’s door on my hallway,” he said. That includes a sizeable contingent of Denver Broncos’ fans, he added before proudly proclaiming, “I’ve got them all beat.”
Harvey has posters of Newton, the TopCats cheerleaders, socks, jerseys and T-shirts, courtesy of the team. Harvey is still waiting on his Luke Kuechly jersey. He said someone also sent some Saints gear before the Charlotte showdown.
“It’s a good fire starter,” he quipped.
Next on Harvey’s list is seeing the Panthers in person.
The Havelock native, who was hoping fellow native and Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter will send him some tickets, has never seen an NFL game live.
As for Sunday’s playoffs game against the San Francisco 49ers, Harvey said he will be decked out in Carolina’s blue and black gear.
“It’s going to be all out,” he said, “no doubt.”