After the kickball exploded off Cam Newton’s Ugg boots, after it cleared the centerfield fence on Field 1 at his second annual charity kickball tournament, and after he rounded the bases spreading his arms out like airplane wings, the NFL MVP approached home plate with teammates surrounding it.
He tagged third and, halfway to home, held out his arms to tell teammates to “dab on 3” just as he crossed the plate.
But…but…didn’t Newton say earlier in the week that he was done with celebratory dabbing? Is the dab not dead?
On Friday at Memorial Stadium, that wasn’t the discussion, though it dominated offseason NFL headlines for a day. Neither was Newton’s post-Super Bowl news conference walkout, which still hasn’t been fully explained.
Friday’s event was about Newton giving back to Charlotte. More than a thousand fans gathered at the stadium and the adjacent field to get more than a glimpse of Newton and the celebrities he invited.
“It’s a great accomplishment to give back to the city you play in, especially they give him a lot of support on the heck of a season he had,” said Washington Wizards guard John Wall. “The most important thing is being with the people, being active, pitching and doing all that.
“It’s an honor. It’s not because he’s forced to, it’s because he wants to. And you can tell.”
Newton’s enthusiasm made the event. How he clowned around with the teams he played on, his charisma on the pitching mound and his trash talk before his kicks all offered fans more entertainment than their $5 was worth.
Several times when his team was up to kick, Newton took a break from cheerleading and turned to the fans behind him to sign autographs.
Kids were perched on top of fences hoping for Newton to sign their memorabilia. There’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to what he signs or for whom, so kids changed their shouts from “Cam” to “Mr. Newton.”
Once, as he switched fields, he was given a red kickball to sign and hand to fans. He made a show of where he was going with the ball, and Newton underestimated the strength of the makeshift fence that was there.
Kids leaned on it until it fell, and there was a moment when it seemed possible kids would flood the field. Newton calmly took a step back and then handed the ball to a boy.
From the field, Newton took the tunnel underneath Charlottetown Avenue and back to Memorial Stadium. There were no makeshift fences or security. He walked with the kids and signed along the way.
“No touching” shouted one man who was unaffiliated with the event but apparently trying to protect Newton. No one listened.
A young woman handing out samples of a fruit smoothie walked toward Newton, and he took a cup off her tray and said thanks. On a 90-degree Charlotte day after playing an hour of kickball, of course Newton was thirsty, but logic had no place in that moment.
Her face had to show she couldn’t believe she had served Newton because her voice wasn’t working.
The stars came out for the event. Nearly 20 Panthers players were there, and former Carolina cornerback Josh Norman came later.
Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who played with Newton for a season at Florida, showed up with former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield. Soon-to-be Basketball Hall of Famer Allen Iverson made an appearance, too.
Seven-year-old Carter Sullivan plays with John Wall on the NBA 2k16 video game, so it had to be surreal for the third-grader to pose for a picture during the event with the actual player.
His father, Desmond Sullivan, played on the American Airlines kickball team. Carter wore a black No. 1 Panthers jersey.
“First and foremost, I’m my son’s role model. But of course he looks up to certain athletes,” Desmond Sullivan said. “When he looks up to an athlete you want it to be a quality individual with good character. And I think Cam has good character.”
After a group photo with Newton, Sullivan asked Newton to sign the blue bill of a youth-sized Panthers hat. Of course Newton acquiesced.
Sullivan then handed the hat to his son, and Carter’s face was so stunned with shock that he didn’t, or couldn’t, blink for at least 10 seconds.