This San Francisco Bar Bleeds Panthers Blue
Carolina Panthers fans will be making their way west to the Bay Area of California this week for Sunday’s Super Bowl. But there are several fans that already live there. And throughout the season, many of them have packed into a little sports bar in San Francisco each week to cheer on their beloved team in unison from nearly 3,000 miles away.
This is no exaggeration. Every square inch of the walls and ceiling of Greens Sports Bar is covered with some kind of memorabilia. Ball caps. Pennants. Framed magazine covers and posters.
“We have five hundred different photos of all different sports,” says Rich Natoli, the manager. “Sports memorabilia pictures. The Joe Montana photo. The Dwight Clark “The Catch” photo. They’re very big photos.”
Rich is originally from New York, and he’s been at Greens since 1999. He’s pretty proud of this place.
“It’s the best sports bar in the country,” he says. “And I’ve been to every major city in the country, and there’s nothing like this place. That’s why I love it. That’s why I’ve been here so long.”
Rich is wearing a faded grey NFL Films cap and a green pullover. He starts pouring the regulars their favorite drinks as soon as they walk in the door. A pint of pilsner. Vodka and ginger beer. A citrus soda on the rocks. And as he sips hot rooibos tea from a Styrofoam cup, he continues describing the other things tacked to the bar’s walls.
“I have some Panther gear upstairs for where it all started for that group.”
“That group” he’s referring to is a cast of about a hundred loyal, local Panthers fans who have transformed Greens into the most popular Panthers bar in San Francisco. And they have Ryan Ridenhour to thank, in part, for their home away from home.
Ryan grew up in Weddington, just south of Charlotte. He went to his first Panthers game in the franchise’s first season in 1995. When he left the Charlotte area three years ago to move out to San Francisco for work, he was disappointed to be so disconnected from his favorite team.
“It was like a shock to me because it’s not on local TV,” says Ryan. “There’s usually like two games on. And it’s never going to be the Panthers. So I was like, I’ve got to find a place to watch the games.”
Greens happened to be a sports bar nearby. The first time he went to watch a game there, he also found two other Panthers fans sitting in the back quietly cheering.
“So we’re like, ‘We need to have a place and get a bigger group of people,’" he says. “So they got the idea, ‘How about we post on Yelp that it’s like a Panthers bar, and we’ll come in and see if anybody sees it?’”
They did. By using that customer review website and old fashioned word of mouth, the grass roots effort by Ryan and the two other guys paid off slowly. The group grew by a few that first year and even more the second. But with this year’s success, the popularity exploded.
“All of a sudden, this season has gone crazy,” says Ryan. “It’s just turned into the entire upstairs is just packed full of Panthers and downstairs. And everybody’s cheering.”
Which brings us to the big game this Sunday. Ryan, not surprisingly, will be at Greens. That is, unless a small miracle occurs and he finds an affordable Super Bowl ticket. He says he’ll be wearing number 59, his lucky Luke Kuechly jersey. And he’s pretty confident in the Panthers’ chances.
“I think our defense is just going to stymie Peyton,” he says. “We’re going to get defensive turnovers. We’re going to score on defense. Extend the lead. So, I would say that’s it’s Carolina 28, Denver 17. And Cam Newton will dab for every single one of those touchdowns.”
Predictions are everywhere. But there will be one sure bet at Greens on Super Bowl Sunday. Rich, the manager, will not be tending the bar. He’ll be in Las Vegas with some of his buddies, like he has been for the previous 19 Super Bowls.
“And I will be putting money on the Carolina Panthers,” says Rich. “So I’m as big a Panther fan as anybody for the next game.”