ATLANTA — A North Carolina family got the surprise of a lifetime Sunday while fleeing Hurricane Florence.
The Marlette family are Carolina Panthers fans who live in Newport near Morehead City, which faced the threat of the catastrophic hurricane.
They evacuated but still wanted to celebrate their son’s 11th birthday, so they headed to Atlanta to watch their favorite team play the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Ten-year-old Richie and his family, donning Panthers gear, were in the front row of the end zone, holding a sign which read “From Eastern NC, Florence pounded US. We will keep pounding!! Go Panthers!!”
(PHOTO: Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez, Panthers Team Photographer)
Then a magical moment happened during the second quarter when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw the ball to wide receiver Jarius Wright for a touchdown.
Newton is known for giving away the football to young Panthers fans after scoring.
The star quarterback saw Richie, ran up to him and gave the soon-to-be birthday boy the celebratory game ball.
“When Cam came and gave him the ball, that was awesome,” Richie’s stepfather, Joe, said.
That was not the only memento Newton passed on to Richie.
Newton took off his Lokai bracelet and gave it to the ecstatic fan.
“I turned and looked at my wife during it,” Joe said. “Of course, I had a big smile on my face. I had tears in my eyes too, but she was balling. She was really emotional.”
They now call their prized possession the “Football of Hope.”
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