Many people plan vacations to the beaches or mountains, maybe some exotic location or theme park that gives them an escape from their real world. Kenneth Redd chose to bring his family to Charlotte, N.C., for a glimpse of the Carolina Panthers participating in organized team activities (OTAs).
And when I say glimpse, I mean glimpse because the workouts are closed to the public. The most one can expect to see is players walking to and from the stadium to the practice fields. But thanks to quarterback Cam Newton, it was a vacation Redd and his family will never forget.
First, let's look at how this story began.
Newton began giving out footballs after touchdowns in 2011. He gave one to Redd, a Carolina fan from Orlando, after throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds left in a 20-16 victory at Miami on Nov. 24. It capped Carolina's seventh-straight victory in which Newton kept the winning drive alive with an improbable 19-yard completion to Steve Smith on fourth-and-10 from the Carolina 20.
Redd at the time of that play was sitting in the stands 80 yards away near the corner where Newton ultimately connected with Olsen before giving the ball away. His brother recorded the game-winning moment on his cell phone and posted it on Facebook.
As you can see, Redd was beyond ecstatic. He got another thrill on Monday standing outside the Carolina practice fields as Newton arrived. Holding the ball and picture of him cheering after Newton gave him the ball, Newton stopped to sign both.
"Is that you?" Newton asked according to Redd. "I replied, 'Yessir, and War Eagle!"
First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, who caught the game-winning touchdown in Florida State's victory over Newton's beloved Auburn team in this past season's BCS title game, replied, "What?" Newton, who led Auburn to the 2010 national championship, replied, "Hey, man, don't make me stomp on all this FSU stuff!"
Redd sent me an email in May asking about attending OTAs with his son to get the ball autographed. I told him they were closed, but he might have a shot at the autograph if he positioned himself near the entrance to the practice fields. I also suggested he might have more fun at the Whitewater Center on a typical hot, muggy day in Charlotte.
Was I wrong.
The experience of meeting Newton for the autograph was nearly as exciting for Redd as the experience of getting the ball. Here's what he told me about the first moment:
"It was an awesome experience and something that I will never forget. I was sitting in the end zone when Cam (threw) the game-winning TD pass to Greg Olsen! After that play is when my 15 seconds of fame started. I can remember it like it was yesterday!
"I noticed Cam grabbing the ball from the ref and heading in my direction; it felt like something from the movies because it seemed like an hour but it was only a few seconds. I knew this was a national televised game so the first thing to come to my mind was, 'You have to stay cool, millions of people are watching.' Cam gives me the ball and a high-five while I screamed out, 'War Eagle!' I'm an Auburn alum (which Cam will be soon).
"I get back to Orlando and see the highlights on ESPN and there I am! Not only ESPN, but Fox Sports, CBS, NFL Network and 'Monday Night Football' used the same clip and I was on all of them! I was getting the star treatment from all my friends back home in Montgomery, Alabama. My 2-year-old son (whose name is Cam!) was watching the ESPN highlights and he pointed to the TV screen and starts yelling 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!' It was truly an experience of a lifetime and something that I will cherish for the rest of my life!"
He'll cherish Monday's experience, too. Apparently, you don't have to go to the beaches or mountains to escape the real world.