SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Mason Sims walked up to the practice field fence at Wofford armed with a homemade sign, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and a plan.
The 13-year-old lifelong Carolina fan spent the days leading up to training camp researching all things Christian McCaffrey, his favorite Panther, when he saw an interview where McCaffrey said Cool Ranch Doritos were his favorite.
So Mason ran to his mother, Amanda, with an idea.
"You think maybe if I write something on the poster and take him a bag, he'll trade me for his gloves?" he asked her.
He hoped to add McCaffrey's gloves to a collection of Panthers memorabilia he had started with his father, Greg. The two had a stash with everything from trading cards and towels to jerseys.
As McCaffrey made his way down the fence signing autographs after Thursday's practice, Mason outstretched his arm with the chips. McCaffrey enthusiastically ran over to sign some autographs and claim his gift.
Carolina's star running back didn't have his gloves – he'd have to meet up with Mason again later – but he proposed another trade. If Mason came back with Oreos on Friday, he'd give him a pair of gloves.
"Cool Ranch Doritos are my favorite flavor and one of my cheat meals, so when I saw them, I knew I had to sign his autograph," McCaffrey said. "Turns out he didn't only have great taste, but he was a great kid. It was a true gentleman's trade."
Mason's time with McCaffrey meant more than just a piece of memorabilia. Mason said Panthers events, like training camp in Spartanburg, help him remember his father, who passed away in January after a battle with COVID-19. Greg Sims was 34 years old.
"He was the person to connect me with football," Mason said.
While his mother, Amanda, was at home caring for Mason's infant brother on Thursday, Mason traveled down to Spartanburg with his friend, Jacoby Head, and Jacoby's mother, Nathalie. Mason couldn't wait to get home and tell his mother the news, so he called her on the phone.
She said Mason was "ecstatic."
"It was just awesome for my son," Amanda said. "He didn't have to worry about (anything). He was a kid yesterday."
McCaffrey played a key role in the football connection between Mason and his father.
Mason remembers watching when McCaffrey was drafted by the Panthers in 2017. Mason said McCaffrey gave him a high-five when he attended his first Panthers game with his dad. He and his father were in Bank of America Stadium as McCaffrey became the third NFL player to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season against the Saints in 2019.
Now, Mason wears No. 22 for his middle school football team, a number he chose in honor of McCaffrey.
"(McCaffrey will) never know how much it means, just to see him smile and laugh," Amanda said. "For it to be his favorite player. If he had to pick one, it would be him. It was amazing for him to take time out of his day to come and speak with him, and he'll never know how much that means to not just Mason, but to me as well."
So after making the trade proposal with his favorite player, Mason held up his end of the bargain – returning to Wofford for Friday's practice with Oreos in hand. When McCaffrey walked up, he signed his poster, one of the Oreo packages, and a trading card, among other special items.
And though Mason proposed a trade for gloves, he received a pair of signed cleats – a pretty solid deal for a bag of Doritos and Oreos.
"Turns out he had experienced a lot of trials over the last couple years," McCaffrey said. "It's crazy how the world works that way."
When Mason returned home from camp, Amanda said the two of them laughed, imagining what his father would've said to them after Mason's trade with McCaffrey.
"I bet Dad's thinking, 'All these years we went down there, and we never thought of the chips and the sign,'" he told her.
McCaffrey created a lifetime experience for a young fan and his friend after they traded him their Oreos for autographs and a pair of cleats.