Special to The Messenger
Many people who do not live in the South or who did not grow up in Alabama may not get the significance of the following story, but so many of us who live, or have lived here, will understand. For many of us, Auburn University and its football team is a way of life. As a child,I grew up watching Auburn establish itself as a football powerhouse with such greats as Bo Jackson. I went on to graduate from Auburn University in 1996 and I continue to bleed Orange and Blue.
Last month I was given the opportunity to get some tickets to see the NFL Carolina Panthers play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The big problem was that it was on Christmas Eve and with so many things going on, I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off. I knew my 10-year old, son, Parker, would love to see the Panthers play because his favorite football player, Cam Newton, is their starting quarterback.
During the 2010 college football season, Parker got to see Auburn do something that I had never gotten the opportunity to see them do – win a national championship. As everyone knows, quarterback Cam Newton played a huge role in winning that championship.
We actually had a choice of where we wanted to sit, so I told Parker he could decide where we would sit. We could sit in the club level on about the 40-yard line and see every play that Cam made. Or, we could sit in section 118 on the fourth row, in the corner of the end zone on the visiting side. I told him he “might” get the chance to see Cam score a touchdown and get an opportunity to “maybe” get a football from Cam.
In my mind, I knew the chances of him getting said football were about a million to one. Obviously, the optimistic mind of a 10-year old prevailed, and Parker chose to sit in the end zone and get the “chance” to see Cam score and get a ball. Even before the game started, he told me several times that he felt like he was dreaming and that he couldn’t believe we were actually going to see Cam play in an NFL game. Parker thanked me on several occasions for his Christmas present as the introductions started the excitement grew.
I have been to hundreds of college football games but this was only my second NFL game. The atmosphere is completely different, but it is a different kind of excitement. It’s hard to explain, but if you have ever been to both NFL and college games, you know what I mean.
On the game’s first drive, Cam broke the NFL rookie passing record held by Peyton Manning. The fun had begun!
As an Auburn fan, I watched last year as the media and other universities tried to destroy Cam’s reputation, both on and off the field. He was accused of everything imaginable as a “cheater” at Auburn and he was labeled as a quarterback who would never succeed at the NFL level. Even this year, people such as Terry Bradshaw said that they would’ve taken every other available quarterback in the draft over Cam, even Blaine Gabbert at Jacksonville.
To see Cam not only be successful but become a star in his own right has been satisfying, to say the least.
During this game, Cam ran for a 49-yard touchdown that reminded me of a similar run he made against LSU last year. To see all of these things in one game was amazing for both Parker and myself. Quite honestly, it was just like watching a game at Auburn last year – pure domination by a superior athlete.
There was a huge downside to all of the fun on the field, though. Each touchdown that the Panthers scored was in the opposite end zone. Ball after ball went to other kids, and I knew in my mind that the odds were getting smaller and smaller for the Panthers to score in our end zone.
The Panthers scored again at the end of the third quarter, giving them a total of 41 points. I told Parker at that time there was really no chance we would see a Panther touchdown on our end. If you watch the NFL like I do, you know that 41 points is a ton of points for one game and many teams won’t score again with that many on the board. Little did I know at the time that I was wrong.
Carolina started the fourth quarter by quickly driving to our end of the field and getting in the red zone. As I had on the previous few occasions that the Panthers had done so, I told Parker to go down to the rail and get ready, “just in case.” It was a bit chilly during the game so Parker wore a hoodie on over his Auburn hat. I told him each and every time to take the hoodie down and let Cam see the Auburn hat. I also told him to yell “War Eagle” as loud as he could because everyone else in the stadium would be yelling Cam’s name if he scored.
The Panthers drove down to the Tampa Bay 8-yard line, and that is when the something amazing happened.
The ball was snapped, and everything seemed to happen in slow motion from that point forward. Cam completed a pass to Jeremy Shockey to the left side. Shockey then broke two tackles and made his way into the end zone, scoring the final touchdown for the Panthers. Shockey threw the ball down, which ended up just past the end zone.
I watched as Cam came in and celebrated the touchdown with Shockey. Cam immediately turned to the side judge and I saw him mouth the words, “Where is the ball?” The referee pointed to the ball, and Cam ran to it and picked it up.
Cam looked straight up at Parker, smiled, and ran straight to him. He then handed Parker the ball and Parker says he said “War Eagle” as he did so. The next few minutes were a blur, but I do remember Parker running straight to me and jumping in my arms, screaming that he got the ball. All of the kids in the section came running to Parker wanting to see the ball and get their pictures made with him. There were even adults that came up and wanted to touch the ball. We were all overwhelmed with excitement.
As things settled down, I noticed that Parker was crying. I asked him if he had gotten hurt during the chaos and he said, “No Dad, I’m just so excited that I can’t quit crying.” One thing comes to mind when I look at the photo that I took at that moment – pure joy!
There really aren’t any words that can be written or said that would capture that moment for Parker or myself. I have tried to convey the story the best that I could in this story, but I know in my heart that it could never match what happened on Christmas Eve.
On the drive home, I lost count of the number of times that Parker thanked me and that it was the best Christmas present that he had ever gotten. I know he is grateful, but I hope he understands the significance of what happened Saturday.
I know in my heart that Cam knows what his actions do to others. Whether he wants to be or not, he understands that he is a role model. What happened with Parker that special day is a lifelong memory he never will forget. I know it was for me, too. For any Auburn fan to get to be a part of that day would have been exciting.
To be the dad who got to experience it with his son, well, I’m not sure if there will ever be another Auburn experience that great for me again. Thank you, Cam, for being such a great Auburn man. We are proud of you, and I know that one 10-year old that will be pulling for you and the Panthers for many years to come. War Eagle!
Editor’s note: A 1991 Gadsden High School graduate, Chris Humphries played quarterback for the Tigers his junior and senior years. He also played on the GHS baseball team and went on to play for two seasons at Gadsden State. A 1996 Auburn University graduate, Humphries was an athletic trainer for two and a half years for the Tiger football program.