CHARLOTTE – When the Carolina Panthers score a touchdown, the ball typically finds its way to Cam Newton, who finds a random lucky fan to deliver it to.
But Devin Funchess had a special plan for his touchdown ball Monday night.
“I told Dillon’s mom that I was going to get in the end zone for her,” Funchess said. “That’s what I did. I made sure she got the first touchdown (ball).”
Dillon is Sgt. Dillon Baldridge. He lost his life serving in the Army, and Funchess wore his initials on his helmet Monday night against the Dolphins during Carolina’s “Salute to Service” game.
Funchess and the rest of the team met with the families of the fallen heroes after Sunday’s practice. That’s when Funchess formed a bond with the Baldridge family.
“I’m two months older than (Dillon),” Funchess said. “He was a top-notch shooter. He was a sniper. His mom said he was the most joyful boy you’d ever meet. It was an honor meeting her. Just five months ago he passed away. It was an honor to get in the end zone for her.”
Funchess’ memorable 28-yard touchdown in the third quarter wouldn’t have happened without an alert decision by his quarterback.
After seeing the Dolphins crowd the line of scrimmage, Newton changed the play and called for the quick screen to Funchess on the left side.
“I was prepared for that type of blitz coming along, and I wanted to get us into a better play,” Newton explained. “For it to be executed the way it was – it just worked wonders for us.”
It was the perfect call to counteract Miami’s pressure. And with the help of two key blocks, Funchess sprinted across the goal line without getting touched.
“(Cam) checked that, actually, so I just had to roll with it,” Funchess said. “I saw (left tackle) Matt Kalil kick the dude out, (running back) Christian (McCaffrey) went to go get the other dude, and it was a clear lane for me.”
Funchess celebrated by saluting the crowd and immediately told support staff to make sure the ball found its way to Dillon’s mother.
Funchess didn’t promise two touchdowns, but he added another for good measure in the fourth quarter of Carolina’s dominant victory.
Newton fired a back-shoulder pass to Funchess down the sideline, and it was timed to perfection. Cornerback Xavien Howard had no chance to defend the pass, and before he knew it, Funchess was breaking away for a 32-yard touchdown.
“It was just Fun and me being on the same page and things that we practice constantly,” Newton said. “That’s big time for us.”
This time, Funchess took a page from Newton’s playbook and handed the touchdown ball to a lucky fan.
It was a night full of joy for Funchess and the Panthers. A night made more special by a young wide receiver who honored a fallen hero and a promise.
“I love playing the game. It’s a blessing,” said Funchess, who finished with 92 yards on five catches. “Hearing (Dillon’s) story, you have to be thankful just to be here.”