CHARLOTTE — For a moment, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis were teammates again.
But for all the laughs and old stories the retired Panthers linebackers were able to share Thursday, they also knew they were missing a man.
Retired tight end Greg Olsen was supposed to join them on stage for the Charlotte Touchdown Club event at the Sheraton, but couldn't make it for a very good reason. Olsen announced this week that his son TJ was having continued health problems and could need a heart transplant, news that shook his old teammates.
"It's extremely tough," Davis said. "I've sent Greg a few text messages to let him know we're praying for TJ and the entire family. You know how resilient TJ is and how hard he's fought his entire life. You know that he's a fighter, and he's a kid that's going to pull through this. With a ton of prayer and with the good doctors they have at the Levine Children's Hospital, we know they're going to take good care of him. We're just going to continue to pray for Greg and the family."
Kuechly echoed those sentiments, after talking about the impact Olsen had on his career.
"I think the biggest thing for everybody now, I think there's a lot of power in prayer and thinking about people. I think that's the biggest thing we can do for them right now, is think about them. Just think about them a little bit throughout the day. I think that goes a long way.
"TJ is a powerful guy, and Greg and Kara and the whole family are strong, same with TJ. He's going to pull through, but the more we can think about TJ, and that whole Olsen family and have them in our thoughts and prayers is the best thing everybody can do. Something short and sweet and easy, and I think it goes a long way."
Both the Panthers legends also had a chance to talk about the ends of their own long careers.
Kuechly's appearance was his first in a public setting since he resigned from his job as a Panthers pro scout earlier this offseason.
While he mentioned how grateful he was to have the chance to spend a year seeing things from a front office perspective, Kuechly also said there was a life beyond football he wanted to make time for while he could.
"I think a lot of people know I like the outdoors, and I like to hunt and fish, and a lot of that has to do with the fall," Kuechly said, to the laughter of the audience. "It's hard to do both. I feel like while I still have the opportunity, there's a bunch of trips that I've always wanted to go on with some friends and family members, and my dad and brothers, and now I have that opportunity.
"I played football for my whole life, and I love the game and everything about it, and I love the Panthers organization, but there are some things I wanted to cross off, and hopefully I get to do them this year. That's the reason."
Kuechly said he didn't have specific career goals in mind, but Davis has already begun to branch out.
After the Panthers released him following the 2018 season, Davis spent a productive year with the Chargers in 2019, but was a little-used reserve with Washington last year in a reunion with former Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
Davis drew some laughs when he said "Washington gave me all the closure I need," and mentioned some of his own future endeavors.
He's the co-owner of an indoor football team here, and said he has an audition soon for an analyst role with the SEC Network.
Toward that end, Davis and Kuechly spent much of the program breaking down each others games, and reminiscing about some of the classic moments in team history, from the spotlight games to the daily grind of training camp practices against teammates.
Davis joked that he wasn't sure he was going to like Kuechly, since he was drafted at a time when Davis was coming off his third torn ACL.
"In my mind, they just drafted this dude to replace me, so I'm like 'Man, I don't like this dude,'" Davis said. "But when Luke comes into the building, and you instantly meet this guy, he makes it extremely hard not to like him.
"He's one of the best men, best players you'll ever meet. He's a guy, as a father of a daughter, he's a guy you want your daughter to bring home to meet you."
Kuechly recalled his first experiences with Davis, saying he wasn't sure how much the 2005 first-rounder had left in the tank after his string of injuries.
"Everybody's like 'Wait until you see Thomas, he's so fast, and he's so explosive, and he crushes drills, he's the best player ever,'" Kuechly said. "I'm like 'Awesome, sick.' And we go out there the first practice, we're going through drills, and I'm like 'This guy is so slow. He's not very good.'"
Of course, Davis quickly recovered, and they worked together to help lead the 2015 team to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance.
That was one of many memories they were happy to share, while wishing they had another old teammate there to enjoy it with them.
View photos from the Charlotte Touchdown Club's annual luncheon speaker series with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly.