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Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson dies at 86

NFL: NOV 26 Panthers at Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 26: Carolina Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson prior to the National Football League game between the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers on November 26, 2017, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Panthers founder Jerry Richardson died at home Wednesday night, the team announced Thursday. He was 86.

“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 two seasons in the NFL after the Colts made him a 13th-round selection in 1958. He played 22 games, totaling 15 receptions for 171 yards and four touchdowns.

Richardson, who roomed with Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, caught a touchdown pass from Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.

He left the NFL in a dispute over money and returned to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to start a business career. He opened his first Hardee’s restaurant in Spartanburg after co-founding Spartan Foods, the first franchisee of the fast food restaurant.

Richardson later served as CEO of Flagstar, which became the sixth-largest food service company in the United States.

On Oct. 26, 1993, Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to own an NFL team. Owners unanimously awarded him the NFL’s 29th franchise.

In his 23 years as owner, the Panthers were 183-184-1 in the regular season and 9-8 in the postseason with two Super Bowl losses.

Richardson gave up control of the team in December 2017 when he was accused of workplace misconduct. The NFL fined him $2.75 million following an investigation that concluded the former owner had engaged in inappropriate behavior.

In July 2019, Richardson sold the team to Tepper for $2.2 billion.

A 13-foot statue of Richardson holding a football and flanked by two panthers was removed from Bank of America Stadium in 2020. It had been a gift from the Panthers LLC minority partners to Richardson for his 80th birthday in 2016.