Panthers make George's wish come true

CHARLOTTE – Six-year-old George Gring couldn't have stepped out of the car any faster.

When the black SUV pulled up to Bank of America Stadium Tuesday morning, the little Panthers fan from Houston was welcomed by screaming fans seeking his autograph, TopCats cheerleaders and his favorite mascot – Sir Purr.

Team president Danny Morrison then introduced himself and led George into the stadium for the start of an unforgettable day.

Last November, Clayton Gring was playing with his son when he felt something strange near his son's abdomen. They saw a doctor, and the Grings' world changed instantly.

"He had a tumor the size of a grapefruit," Clayton said.

George was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma – a rapidly growing cancer – and treatment began as soon as possible.

"He was never down. He was never really upset," Clayton said. "His attitude was wonderful."

Two surgeries. Five rounds of chemotherapy. Twelve spinal taps.

"We spent a lot of time in the hospital," Clayton said. "And I got to tell you – he basically just rolled with it.

"Football became a really big distraction for him, and he would watch football highlights. He latched onto the Panthers and as he started watching, he gravitated toward Cam Newton. It became a full-on obsession. It was amazing how in-tune he became with the team."

After the fourth round of chemotherapy, Clayton said the tumor had shrunk to the size of a pebble. In April, doctors informed the family that George's cancer was in remission.

"He's getting to the point where the doctors are getting more comfortable," Clayton said. "We are three months in right now. If he can get past six months with no recurrence, we can feel really good that it won't come back."

Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, George became the Panthers' No. 1 Make-A-Wish draft choice, and the team's newest player had to make his arrival official.

George sat down with general manager Dave Gettleman in his office to iron out the details of his honorary one-day contract. George's younger brother and acting agent, Wade, negotiated a sweet deal that included a giant bowl of candy.

"We're very excited about this," Gettleman told George. "Now you can't eat all the candy today. This is Halloween come early. That's your compensation.

"We expect you to express yourself publicly and privately to the satisfaction of the head coach, Ron Rivera."

Next, George walked down the hall to Rivera's office, where the coach prepared his new quarterback for his first practice.

"Your number is going to be two. We've already got a quarterback with No. 1," Rivera said. "We need to get you some gear and then we've got a team meeting at 9:30."

With that, George was off to equipment manager Jackie Miles' office.

George was fitted for a helmet and shoulder pads before Miles' escorted George to his locker placed in between Cam Newton and Derek Anderson.

Newton made sure George received the necessary swag.

"You know as a quarterback we always got to stay swagged up," Newton said.

The star quarterback called Under Armour to ensure that a pair of matching gold cleats would arrive on time. Newton made sure they fit right. Then, he got a proper towel for George's shorts and tape for his wrists.

Rivera delivered a message at the start of the pre-practice team meeting.

A slide appeared on the screen that read: "He who is average will be forgotten. But, he who impacts the life of a child will have been relevant."

George was introduced to the team, and the room erupted in applause.

Now, it was time for practice.

George and Cam walked side by side to the practice field. Big smiles on both faces. The same golden cleats on all four feet.

His mother Katherine watched in pure joy and disbelief.

"I've cried like three times. When I got here... I can't even hold it together," Katherine said. "We never expected all of this."

"Walking up to practice with Cam and seeing them side by side – that was something I will never forget," she added. "How amazing is that? That image will never escape me."

George stretched with the players and played catch. Then he watched the Panthers get to work for their first minicamp practice.

When practice ended, the players raised George into the air, and he broke the team down with the franchise's famous motto: keep pounding.

Later, he filled the media room with laughter while answering questions during a post-practice press conference. He met with linebacker Thomas Davis to practice hitting the Keep Pounding drum, which he'll do prior to the Panthers' preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on August 17.

"He doesn't even understand how cool this is, and I don't think he will until he gets much older," Katherine said. "It will be funny when he's older and people are like, 'Why are you a Panthers fan?'"

George will have quite a story to tell.

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