Jerry Richardson, Founder and Former Owner of Carolina Panthers, Dead at 86

Jerry Richardson, the founder and former owner of the Carolina Panthers, died on Wednesday night, the team announced. He was 86 years old. The cause of death has not been announced, but the Panthers said Richardson died peacefully at his home in Charlotte. Richardson became the founder and owner of the Panthers in 1993 and the first former NFL player to own a team since George Halas of the Chicago Bears. 

"Jerry Richardson's contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic," Panthers 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 played for the Baltimore Colts and was a former teammate of NFL legend Johnny Unitas. He was a member of the 1959 Colts team that won a championship and even caught a touchdown pass in the championship game. Richardson only spent two seasons in the NFL before going into the restaurant business. He used his championship bonus money to open the first Hardee's in Spartanburg, South Carolina. From there, Richardson would become the CEO of Flagstar. 

One of the things Richardson wanted to do is bring a pro football team to the Carolina area. He started the journey in 1987 when he met with former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl. He continued to create his plan, including putting in the first permanent seat license concept with the help of sports marketing executive Max Muhleman. It led to the NFL awarding Richardson the NFL's 29th franchise on Oct. 26, 1993. 

"I never thought about not getting a franchise," Richardson 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."

The Panthers became a successful team quickly as they reached the NFC Championship game in its second season, leading to Richardson becoming one of the NFL's most powerful owners. He sold the team to David Tepper in 2018 for a then-NFL record $2.27 billion. Richardson is survived by his wife, Rosalind, son Mark and daughter Ashey Richardson Allen.