Jerry Richardson, the former N.F.L. player who turned a championship bonus into a restaurant empire,
and then used his fortune to buy an expansion team, the Carolina Panthers, died on Wednesday at his home in Charlotte, N.C. He was 86.
A family spokesman, James Gray, did not specify a cause of death but said that Mr. Richardson had a heart transplant in 2009.
Mr. Richardson was only the second former player to own a team (George Halas of the Chicago Bears was the other),
and he made the most of his two seasons in the league. A wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts,
he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Johnny Unitas in the 1959 N.F.L.
title game and used his bonus of several thousand dollars to pay for the first Hardee’s hamburger restaurant in Spartanburg, S.C.
Mr. Richardson would open hundreds more restaurants in the next 30 years, making him one of the richest men in the Carolinas.
“It was the luckiest thing I ever did,” Mr. Richardson told The New York Times in 2004. “If I hadn’t left the Colts, I never would have made the money to own the Panthers.”
Loyal to the Carolinas and the game of football, Mr. Richardson used his money and connections to lobby the N.F.L. to put an expansion team in Charlotte.
In 1993, the N.F.L. owners voted unanimously to make the Panthers the league’s 29th team. Mr. Richardson and his partners paid $206 million for the club.