As many of you know I attended the first two training camp practices this past weekend with my 9 year old son Jaxon Jr. On Sunday the practice moved from Wofford's Gibbs stadium to the traditional practice fields behind the stadium. It was here I decided I would do what I rarely do and that is seek autographs from the players as I thought my son would enjoy it. So we got their real early and staked out our spot along the fence in the ‘autograph zone' as I heard Panthers.com call it just as many other fans would do. We set up chairs (James & I and Cole from KY), put out our jerseys we hoped to get signed and then made sure someone was there at all times to save our spot.
Now before I go any further let me say I am not mad at any of the players involved, not in the least. I'm actually not really ‘mad' per se, more perturbed than anything. But you'll know who my ire is directed at before this post is over. So again, though I may seem to be calling out certain players, calling them out is not the intent of this post at all. I'm just telling my story of how this went so that others might learn from it if you should try to get autographs at one of these practices.
Only one player signed autographs before practice that being WR Lamont Bryant, which we got. Dude is tall for sure. As you would expect the young guys are always much more eager to do this being new at it. Everyone else walked by without saying anything or said they would catch us after practice (J-Stew being one). Fair enough, I can understand they are in a hurry and need to get started on practice.
Later WR David Gettis then came down the line signing about 20 or 30 minutes before practice ended and we got his signature as well. At this point people really started filing into the autograph zone and I would say it was 3-5 people deep all the way down. There were obviously way too many people there for any one player to meet the demand for autographs so I knew we would be lucky to get the ones we really wanted. For me that was Jon Beason, Steve Smith and of course Cam Newton. My son also said he really wanted Luke Kuechly's; what can I say he has good taste!
So once practice ended things got more intense as we waited to see which players might come and sign our stuff. I don't have the exact list of players we got signatures from in front of me as I type this but here's who I remember: Ben Hartsock, DJ Campbell, Greg Hardy, and Greg Olsen to name a few. There were plenty more who stopped to sign but skipped over our spot such as Kuechly, who we just missed. I thanked each one of them after they signed.
Much to my dismay several guys that I was hoping to get signatures from did not stop to sign at all: Beason, Williams, Johnson and even Stewart (who said he would) to name a few. Hey, I know these guys have signed tons of autographs over the years so I don't blame. They do charity work and give back to the fans and community in so many ways I would be a complete ass to make an issue of it. But that didn't stop a few others in the crowd from being just that: total jackasses.
I'll call him Jackass #1 who was right behind me yelling "Come on Beas...what you now got all that money and you're too good sign for us?" Like I said he was a total jackass. He must have yelled that at two or three players making me wonder why they would sign anything with people like that in the crowd. I yelled back at him to STFU but to no avail.
It was bad enough having people who didn't wait four hours like we did for this opportunity sticking their stuff in front of and over top of us, yelling dumb stuff in our ear and pushing us up against the fence trying to get their stuff signed. But then it got really crazy when Cam Newton finally entered the zone.
At first he acted like he wasn't going to stop but then seemed to relent to the calls and so he came over just to our left. That's when it got crazy for about 60 seconds and I suddenly went from excitement to fearing for the safety of my son. We were getting crushed, people were pushing and yelling, they trampled our chairs and other stuff, and knocked my son in the head (though it wasn't bad). We bailed out at that point. The crowd followed Newton down the line essentially ruining any chance of us getting Newton's autograph. James on the other hand managed to hang in there and get one though I'm not sure how.
It was during the start of this melee I heard jackass #2 say "Come on Scam sign my stuff" to which Greg Hardy, who was also standing close by said "Don't call him Scam!" with a scowl. How can people be such asses to players who they are essentially asking a favor from? I was very embarrassed by some of our so called Panther fans.
I saw in a post this morning (I don't have a link) where Jordan Gross said the Panthers have never had a media star like Cam Newton. I would agree and I'm sure that display Sunday night is part of what lead Gross to make that statement. Panther fans need to get used to this fact and realize that it doesn't give them an excuse for acting like Falcons fans. If you expect Newton to continue to give back to us we need to treat him with at least a little respect.
So here's the take away from my ‘harrowing' experience:
- If you can afford it, paying $150 for Newton's autograph in a peaceful environment where you can even ask a question with getting crushed by those behind you, is a good deal
- If you can't afford it, you might wait until a week or two into TC before trying it when the crowds die down a little. Looking back I see I picked the wrong night to try it; the 1st night on the practice fields
- If you don't get there early don't expect to be able to jump in front of others who have been waiting for a long time
- Don't think just because you put your kid on your shoulders the crowd is suddenly going to part for you and let you up front. Other people have kids there too. Put him down before you drop him on his head (or mine)
- Don't be a jackass to the players. I like to think Panther fans have better manners than that and besides, there are kids around for which you need to set a better example
I'm getting down from my soap box now. Stay classy Panther fans and Peace Out!
PS: Though he was bored at times overall my son said he enjoyed the weekend and was not forever tarnished from the autograph experience. He's a trooper!