Happy 80th Birthday to Jerry Richardson! He’s one of the only NFL player in history to become an NFL team owner – fighting tirelessly for years to bring the first professional football team to the Carolinas – Jerry is now without a doubt one of the most beloved men in the south.
As a tribute to Mr. Richardson, the Panthers have just installed an epic new statue in front of the stadium featuring it’s founder and current owner and two epic looking Panthers on either side of him;
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) July 18, 2016
We found this video from a few years back that pays tribute to the man we now call ‘Big Cat’:
Richardson was originally born in Spring Hope, North Carolina. After completing high school in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he entered Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Richardson considers his greatest honor being elected team captain in 1958. In 1983, he was chosen to Wofford’s All-Time Football team as a receiver.
Drafted in the 13th round by the defending world champion Colts, Richardson played two seasons in the NFL, earning Colt Rookie of the Year honors in 1959. He caught a historic touchdown pass in the 1959 NFL Championship Game from quarterback Johnny Unitas.
Following his NFL career, Richardson embarked on a successful business career. Richardson used his 1959 NFL championship bonus with the help of Charles Bradshaw to open the first Hardee’s franchise in Spartanburg. The two ended up owning the Hardee’s business 50/50. The business expanded rapidly under his hands-on management style. From headquarters in Spartanburg, he co-founded Spartan Foods, which was the first franchisee of Hardee’s. He later was the CEO of Flagstar, which was the sixth largest food service company in the nation, controlling 2,500 restaurants and 100,000 employees, and retired in 1995.
On October 26, 1993, Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to become an owner when the Carolina Panthers were unanimously awarded the NFL’s 29th franchise.
Richardson played a prominent role locking out the NFL players in 2011 and in negotiating a new players agreement. In 2015, he was elected to the South Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
The new UNCC 49ers Football stadium was named after him, and Wofford College is currently bulding the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.
Jerry ‘Big Cat’ Richardson will always be remembered for his contributions to Charlotte and the Carolinas.