Jerry Richardson, the founder of the Carolina Panthers, died Wednesday night, the team announced. He was 86.
Richardson, from Spring Hope, North Carolina, was a standout football player at Wofford College and played for the Baltimore Colts from 1959 to 1960. He caught a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.
He would use his bonus money to purchase the first Hardee’s franchise in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He would co-found Spartan Foods and become the CEO of Flagstar before retiring in 1995.
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He helped bring football to North Carolina in 1993 as the state was awarded the NFL’s 29th franchise. The team would debut in 1995.
“Jerry Richardson's contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic,” current Panthers co-owners David and Nicole Tepper 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.”
Richardson was considered to be one of the more powerful owners in the NFL with the likes Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots.
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In his Panthers obituary, he said he never thought about not getting an NFL franchise and said he was told the odds were long.
“I never thought about not getting a franchise,” he said. “The odds against us were huge. People had said it was 150-to-1, 200-to-1. That never deterred me.
“I didn't pay any attention to it. I was told I couldn't get my company on the New York Stock Exchange before I was 40. I was told, ‘You can't make money selling hamburgers for 15 cents.' I've been told a lot of things.”
Richardson’s teams never won a Super Bowl, though they made two appearances behind quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Cam Newton.
Richardson sold the team in 2018 after anonymous sources in a Sports Illustrated report accused him of making settlements over inappropriate workplace conduct. David Tepper bought the team for $2.2 billion and Richardson would later be fined $2.75 million over the allegations.
In his post-Panthers life, Richardson would donate millions to Wofford College.
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He made a $150 million gift to his alma mater. According to the team, he had donated more than a quarter of a billion dollars to the school.