When Julius Peppers knocked ball from Cam Newton, 'God winked' at Colin Toler

Colin Toler, front, with (from left) Landis Owens and his grandfathers Chris Baker and Bill Toler. They brought Colin to his first NFL game Sunday to fulfill a promise made by his late father. Courtesy of the Toler family

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- God winked.

Colin Toler smiled.

At least that’s how the family of the 6-year-old who got a football from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sees it.

Newton normally runs near the middle of the end zone stands to deliver a football to a young fan after the Panthers score a touchdown.

But because Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers snatched the ball from Newton’s hands after a second-quarter touchdown Sunday -- because he tossed it toward the sideline -- Newton had to chase it down.

That led the two-time Pro Bowler to the section 105 near-corner tunnel exit of Bank of America Stadium. That led him to Toler, whose grandfathers brought him to his first NFL game to fulfill a promise made by Toler’s father.

Benjamin Toler, 32, died of a heart condition on Sept. 30.

"The people in that area said they'd never known Cam to run in that direction to give a football to a child," Toler’s grandmother, Laura, told ESPN.com. “A lot of my friends said it was a God wink. There was a high power with Ben’s presence there that presented the timing that Colin got that football.

"If it weren't for Julius Peppers, Cam would have run the other way and given the ball to another child, and you never would have heard about Colin."

Colin became a social media star when the story of why he was there surfaced.

He told WSET 13 in his hometown of Danville, Virginia, that he didn’t know what to think when he saw Newton running toward him.

"I was like, 'Oh gosh, oh gosh!'" Toler told the television station. "Am I going to be on the big screen or am I going to be on TV?' I was jumping up and down like, 'Yeah!'"

Laura spoke on Tuesday for her grandson and husband, Bill, who wore their son’s No. 1 Newton Jersey to the game. She said both were overwhelmed by all the attention they received on Monday and needed time to soak in everything that happened.

"Ben died six weeks ago tomorrow," Laura said. "It’s been emotional for my husband and everybody. My heart breaks that Ben wasn’t there to participate and see the joy on his son’s face.

"We’ve had happy tears about this, but it’s also a reminder that Ben’s not here."

Newton began giving footballs to young fans after every Carolina touchdown in 2011. He calls it his "Sunday Giveaway" program. He wasn’t aware of how Toler wound up at the game.

Much of the focus after Carolina ran its record to 8-0 with the 37-29 victory was on Peppers keeping the ball away from Newton. It also was on Newton tearing down a Green Bay Packers banner during warm-ups.

Laura said Colin saw none of that.

"Colin, he just knew he got the football, but we’ve talked about it," she said.

The moment also led Laura to share with Colin a story about her dad involving Peppers. This occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, during an NCAA basketball regional.

Peppers, a few years before being the second pick of the 2002 NFL draft by the Panthers, was playing basketball and football at the University of North Carolina.

Ben and his brother, Bruce, were standing near the exit to the court when the then 6-foot-7 forward tossed them his wristbands after a game.

"He’s not as bad of a person as he’s perceived," Laura said of Peppers.

She added Newton isn’t as bad as perceived by some for tearing down the banner.

"Cam got a lot of bad publicity for the banner," Laura said. "Then this pops up. I hope it’s a redeeming factor that he really is a good guy.

"Colin sure thinks so. It really was a magical day for him."