CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was Sept. 1 and Carolina Panthers left guard Chris Reed had received confirmation from a second test that he had COVID-19. He was exhausted from overnight worry that he might have given his pregnant wife the virus, and what that meant for her and their unborn child.
He also was worried the time away from the team might cost him his first legitimate chance to be a full-time starter in the NFL. Or maybe his chance of earning a roster spot at all.
Then he saw his wife, Anna, standing at the back of his house as he stopped by to pick up a few things before heading to the hotel to quarantine.
“I can’t, like, hug her, can’t do anything like that,” Chris said. “That was probably the hardest part for me is not being able to comfort her, because I know both of us were stressed out at the time and we just didn’t know what was gonna happen.”
What happened was all good news. Anna didn’t get the virus, and she and their baby girl, scheduled to be born in January, were not infected.
Chris, 28, came back to earn the starting job he has dreamed about since entering the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015 as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State.
“We know a lot of people have it so much worse," Anna said. “And so we feel very fortunate ... just because we know everybody is not that lucky."
But in those initial moments, the couple experienced anger, fear, isolation -- everything that comes from dealing with a disease that has taken the lives of more than 215,000 people in the United States and more than a million people around the world.
“I was a little mad, just because we felt like we did everything right," Anna said. “I realized we were just scared because we didn't know what to expect. And we knew we really didn't have any control over where it went."
The couple got the news of the initial positive test at 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 31, the night before Chris was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
“We're on our way to bed and we got the call," Anna recalled. “So we're pretty shocked. And then the next day we're hoping for a false positive."
After the call, Chris went to another room and isolated until he could return to Bank of America Stadium the next morning for a second test. When that came back positive, he headed home to pack.
“I came back with my mask on," Chris said. “I had wipes in my hands; I was wiping down everything I touched. ... I just didn't want any, any type of exposure to happen."
Anna had just moved to Charlotte from Jacksonville two days earlier, after the couple spent six weeks apart while Chris was in training camp.
“It was hard being alone," Chris said. “I was excited to see her, spend time with her."
Said Anna, “It’s not that we couldn't spend this time away from each other, but it's that we couldn't comfort each other knowing that it's a stressful situation for both of us. We both tried to be calm and collected for each other even though both of us were a little terrified and sad about what could happen."
While Chris was stuck in a small room watching television and looking out the window at other people working out, Anna took walks with their two dogs to relieve stress.
“The toughest part during the quarantine was we didn't know what to expect from each other the next day," Anna said. “I was basically hoping he wasn’t getting worse symptoms. ... He was hoping I wasn’t feeling any symptoms because it did take a week for me to get my second negative test."
FaceTime and Words With Friends became their escape, particularly FaceTime, which also provided comic relief.
“I would just answer and have crazy hair and answer like I was just going crazy in my hotel room," Chris said with a laugh.
Hair actually was the reason this wasn’t a love-at-first-sight experience for the couple when they met during Anna’s freshman year at Minnesota State.
“I’m not a fan of the long hair," Anna said. “It was like, long. I’m talking about locks, curls."
They were introduced by friends. They didn’t realize that they both were throwers on the track and field team until Anna surprisingly saw Chris at practice one day.
Their first official date didn’t come until Dec. 31 that year, after Chris had a haircut. In 2016, after Chris’ first NFL season, they were married.
“We were good friends first for a few months," Anna said. “Then he won me over."
Now they are preparing for their first child. They announced with flares on Instagram almost as soon as Chris left quarantine. They are having a girl.
“We had to do something fun," Anna said. “I actually had an appointment during COVID [quarantine]. So we had to move that back a week."
On the field, the Panthers weren’t having much fun when Chris returned. They were 0-2 and coming off a loss to Tampa Bay that was marred by mistakes.
However, Chris had done such a good job of staying connected through virtual team meetings and nightly calls from offensive line coach Pat Meyer and others that he picked up where he left off.
He started and played all 51 offensive snaps in a 21-16 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, getting a solid 62.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. He played all 76 offensive snaps in a 31-21 victory over Arizona and all 65 in the Panthers' 23-16 victory at Atlanta on Sunday. The Panthers haven't allowed any sacks in the past two weeks.
“It’s not an easy thing he had to go through," Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady said. “He still was mentally staying ready, so when his time came he wasn’t behind. You see a guy on the football field that is just loving being able to be with the guys and play football again.
“You see his physicality. He’s playing great."
You also see a player who is thankful he had a healthy wife and career to come back to.
“Just being patient and taking it day by day was kind of the thing that helped me," Chris said. “So when I got back, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t take football for granted, I wouldn’t take my wife for granted, and take every day as every day."