In the franchise’s ninth season, the Carolina Panthers make their first appearance in a Super Bowl. They will be facing off against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, which is going to be held in Houston at Reliant Stadium on Feb. 1.The Panthers secured a trip to Houston after a win against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game. Carolina’s offense in the conference title game was led by running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, who contributed 136 of 155 total rushing yards. Foster pushed the Panthers ahead 14-3 with 4:11 left in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown run, gaining a few insurance points and sealing the fate of the Eagles.Davis, who had injured his quadriceps muscle, managed to participate fully in the Panthers’ 55-minute practice session. “He looked just like he’s looked all season,” Head Coach John Fox said in a press conference Monday. “He’s definitely healthy. We rested him all last week and he’s [at] full tilt.” The team is counting on Davis to play a big role in Sunday’s game as he has throughout the season. This year he has amassed eight touchdowns and 1,444 total rushing yards out of the team total of 2,095. Also look out for rookie cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr., who made three interceptions in the NFC title game, including one that lead directly to a Panther’s touchdown. He has the confidence of Fox as well as his teammates. “I think Ricky’s a remarkable young player. He’s just gotten better each week,” Fox said.In the air, Jake Delhomme has averaged 221 yards and one touchdown per game in the playoffs. He will be looking to throw to wide receivers Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammed, who have accounted for 536 of Delhomme’s 664 total passing yards in the postseason. Smith and Muhammed will have to out-hussle and out-smart the Patriot’s stellar secondary, featuring Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. Nevertheless, Smith and Muhammed have performed well against Pro-Bowl calibur cornerbacks, combining for 613 total yards and scoring four touchdown in those games.The real highlight of this Carolina Panthers team is the mercurial transformation from a 1-15 squad to a Super Bowl contender. In 2001, the Panthers lost a record-breaking 15 consecutive games, the last one of the season against none other than the Patriots, who defeated them handily by a score of 38-6. This season’s 14-5 record has given the team confidence, and not to mention motivation to prove that they are the real deal. So can the Panthers complete their Cinderella season, or will the Patriots quash their dreams and walk away with the team’s second Super Bowl victory?Tice can be reached at

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