The Carolina Panthers took a step toward healing the darkest chapter in the team’s history Sunday, as owner David Tepper met on the field with Saundra and Chancellor Lee Adams.
Saundra Adams called the gesture “huge” by Tepper and said afterward that she and her disabled grandson were having an “awesome afternoon” during Carolina’s 36-21 victory over Baltimore at Bank of America Stadium.
The Adamses are the people who were left behind when Cherica Adams was murdered in 1999.
At the time, Cherica Adams was the pregnant girlfriend of Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth, a former No. 1 draft choice for Carolina. Carruth would later be convicted of conspiring to murder Adams and destroy their unborn child, Chancellor Lee.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Carruth served nearly 19 years in prison for his crimes and was released on Monday.
While Chancellor Lee and Saundra Adams had been to several Carolina games before over the years, this was the first time they were official guests of the Panthers and were allowed onto the field together before the game.
Symbolically, this was big. The Panthers dissociated themselves from Carruth in 1999 once he was arrested in connection with Cherica Adams’ murder, and they had mostly ignored the continuing story of Saundra and Chancellor Lee Adams ever since.
“Chancellor got to take pictures with lots of the players and the owner came over and took a picture with us,” Saundra Adams said. “It was just so exciting. ... The owner introduced himself and I just told him, ‘Thank you. Thank you!’”
Kudos to Tepper and the Panthers staff for doing something for the Adamses that was long overdue and that never was done under the administration of team founder Jerry Richardson, who sold the team to Tepper earlier this year.
And a shout-out also to longtime Panthers fan Jason Underwood, who met the Adamses in 2015 and had bought extra tickets to take them to Sunday’s game months before (the Panthers, though, upgraded those tickets to lower-level seats and also arranged the on-field meet-and-greet).
Among the players who took photos with Chancellor Lee Adams before the game were safety Mike Adams (who made a point of showing them his last name and called the experience “humbling”); safety Eric Reid and center Ryan Kalil (who came by twice, the second time to give a football to Chancellor Lee).
The Adamses also were briefly featured on the large video boards late in the first quarter, drawing loud applause. And throughout the game, fans kept coming by the Adamses’ seats, with most of them wanting a picture with Chancellor Lee.
▪ I thought Christian McCaffrey’s 6-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton in the second quarter, which came off a lucky deflection, was karma four years in the making. Do you remember Steve Smith’s TD for Baltimore in 2014 against Carolina, also coming off a deflected pass that easily could have been intercepted? Same thing.
▪ The Panthers just destroyed the No. 1 Baltimore defense, including touchdown drives of 99 and 85 yards. They were helped a lot by the team’s most recent two first-round draft choices, as wide receiver DJ Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey combined for numerous big plays. Moore led the team with 90 yards receiving and also had 39 rushing, while McCaffrey had 56 total yards and scored twice.
▪ Carolina only fell behind 7-0 this week. Since in the past two weeks the Panthers had fallen behind 17-0 in each game, that felt like a victory in itself, and ultimately turned into one. Also don’t forget how well the Panthers offensive line played Sunday, not allowing a single sack to a Baltimore defense ranked No. 1 in most significant NFL categories.