CHARLOTTE, N.C — Jerry Richardson, the Carolina Panthers founder and for years one of the NFL’s most influential owners until a scandal forced him to sell the team, has died. He was 86.
Richardson died peacefully Wednesday night at his Charlotte home, the team said in a statement.
Richardson became the first former NFL player to own a team since Chicago’s George Halas when he landed the expansion Panthers in 1993.
A former teammate of Johnny Unitas who caught a touchdown pass in the Baltimore Colts’ victory over the New York Giants in the 1959 NFL championship game, Richardson only spent two years in the NFL before venturing into the restaurant business. He used his championship bonus money to open the first Hardee’s in Spartanburg, South Carolina – close to where he had attended Wofford College.
He went on to make his fortune in the restaurant business, becoming chief executive officer of Flagstar, the sixth-largest food service company in the country at the time.
The Spring Hope, North Carolina, native spent years trying to persuade the NFL to put a team in the Carolinas, ultimately succeeding through a relatively original concept of funding a new stadium through the sales of permanent seat licenses.
“Jerry Richardson’s contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic,” current Panthers owner David Tepper and his wife Nicole said in a statement. “With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own. He was incredibly gracious to me when I purchased the team, and for that I am thankful. Nicole and I extend our deepest condolences to Rosalind, the entire Richardson family, and their loved ones. We wish them much peace and comfort.”
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