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Carolina Panthers

Panthers Games a chance to bond — and compete

CHARLOTTE – Christian McCaffrey is a Ping-Pong pro. Brady Christensen is a great golfer. Jaycee Horn's penalty kicks are FIFA-worthy.

In addition to them being good at their day jobs, of course.

The Panthers took a break from the normal routine of OTAs to showcase some hidden talents off the football field in the first annual Panthers Games Thursday.

The event, which featured activities from pickleball to baseball and from basketball to bowling, saw the team scatter to a number of venues around town, including Johnson C. Smith and Truist Field.

Assistant special teams coach Ed Foley, who held the prestigious title of Panthers Games commissioner, helped coordinate the events and keep score.

"We didn't want to make it overly physically challenging because the guys have really been working hard at practice," Foley said. "We wanted it to be fun but also involve a number of different skills."

Eight designated captains started the day by drafting rosters to compete across seven events.

That draft was serious business for McCaffrey. The star running back claimed the win in Ping-Pong, fueled by his draft snub (he went third overall after Shaq Thompson and Andre Roberts).

McCaffrey kept his paddle in his grip during the day's award ceremony as a nod to his championship. Or in case anyone else wanted a game.

Over at the bowling alley, rookie running back John Lovett dominated. Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn, and Marquis Haynes Sr. practiced trick shots after the competitive rounds, and Burns nailed a strike with his eyes closed.

The competition reached its peak on the pickleball courts inside a truck bay in Bank of America Stadium, as duos exchanged friendly banter in intense matchups. And as you might imagine, in a room full of football players, it got a little heated.

"(Pickleball) wasn't for children over there," Foley joked. "That was a men's competition."

The prize for winning the day? An oversized gold trophy – and bragging rights, of course.

Punter Johnny Hekker assembled the Panthers Games' winning team, including Roberts, quarterback Davis Cheek, defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, wide receiver Derek Wright, running back Spencer Brown, safety Myles Hartsfield, cornerback Keith Taylor Jr., running back Darius Bradwell, and Lovett the bowling ringer.

Hekker — whose personnel-evaluating skill in drafting such a team should not go unnoticed — hoisted the trophy to a flurry of jovial, competitive boos and some cheers from his teammates.

"Everybody wanted to win," Hekker said. "It's a coveted trophy."

The Panther Games gave players a chance to get to know each other better off the football field – and have a little fun competition – as the offseason transitions into next week's minicamp.

"These days just build that bond between players," Hekker said. "You'll learn some new names. You see some guys with super-nice jumpers, or a guy that's a mean bowler. . . . When training camp comes, and those days are hard, you think back to days like this."

Check out photos from the Panther Games, where players competed in a series of different sports challenges to see who would take home the trophy and bragging rights.

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