While 6-year-old George Gring went through chemotherapy treatment, he and his father watched football highlights together in the hospital to pass the time.
George liked watching Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton best.
“He mentioned he liked the Panthers, and we started pushing it, because it was a great distraction,” his father, Clayton Gring, said. “It was something he would watch when he was getting poked with a needle.”
Last year, George was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, an intestinal-based cancer. For five months, he received treatment at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, including five rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and 12 spinal taps.
Then things got better.
In April, doctors gave his family some good news. He was “all clear,” his father said.
A few weeks later, George received a message from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a specially produced video from Make-A-Wish and ESPN.
From the NFL draft podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced, “With the first pick in the NFL Make-A-Wish Draft, the Carolina Panthers select George Gring – Houston, Texas.”
On Tuesday, George got to live out his dream as part of ESPN's Make-A-Wish TV series that will be aired in July, becoming a Panther for a day and sharing the field with his idol, Newton. They walked into practice together wearing matching gold cleats, the only two pairs on the field, and spent time together stretching and tossing the football.
Earlier, George signed a one-day contract with Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman. His bonus: a massive jar of Kit Kat candy bars and Skittles.
At 1 p.m., George walked to the microphone for a press conference, grinning from ear to ear, his face red from all the time spent in the sun. The audience included Panthers employees, who asked the rising first-grader a variety of questions – including, “Who is your role model?”
“Um, I don’t know what that means,” he said with a smile, revealing a gap between his front teeth.
George spent the afternoon watching practice, throwing the ball with players, attending film sessions with coaches, and hanging out with his favorite player – Newton, who has been partially sidelined from practice with an ankle injury.
“Anytime you get a chance to give back and make somebody’s day, I’m all for it,” Newton said.“That’s everybody’s dream. He lightened my day up. With this being a monotonous process with me coming out and pretty much doing nothing, I was excited today because of my man G-squared.”
George will return to Charlotte on Aug. 17, where he will serve as the Panthers’ “Keep Pounding” pregame drummer against Kansas City. As for his day with the Panthers, George will not forget it soon.
“I think the coaches were pretty cool,” he said. “I had a fun time.”
Shoff: 704-358-5928; Twitter: @curryshoff
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