CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers partners scored a touchdown with a monumental gift for team owner Jerry Richardson and his family on the occasion of his 80th birthday, surprising the Richardsons with a sculpture outside Bank of America Stadium depicting him between two newly created versions of the "Indomitable Spirit" panthers that guard the stadium.
"I'm actually speechless. Just overwhelmed," Richardson said after seeing the sculpture for the first time. "Thank you very much."
The sculpture, created by California artist Todd Andrews and named "The Tribute," was unveiled to Richardson, his family and Panthers employees at a ceremony Monday outside the stadium's North Gate.
"We are honored to present this extraordinary work of art to Jerry on his 80th birthday," Panthers partner Jerry Wordsworth said. "It will always represent a symbol of heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to the Richardson family for everything they have done for us as partners, fans and the community."
Andrews used a portion of the same clay he used to create the six panthers that have been perched outside the stadium's three gates since 1996. He also used the clay for the statues of Hall of Honor inductees Sam Mills and Mike McCormack.
"I feel honored that the partners came to me on the occasion of his 80th birthday," said Andrews, who managed to complete a project that could have taken as long as three years in just six months. "It's a continuation of the original 'Indomitable Spirit' sculptures. What we're trying to depict is that it's as if the panthers have jumped down off their pedestals.
"Each panther represents more than one thing. One represents the offense, the other the defense. And because of what they are and who they're standing next to, they represent North Carolina and South Carolina. And then you take all three of them together, and I think of them as three panthers because Mr. Richardson is definitely a Panther."
An internationally renowned sculptor who has created enduring works of art for nearly 50 years, Andrews came out of retirement to design a piece that will stand tall among 60 sculptures he has been commissioned to create or enlarge.
"This is such an honor. I'm just so proud of this, and the whole Panthers organization has been incredible," said Andrews, who saved the container of candy apple green paint he used on the original panthers' eyes and applied it to his latest creation. "When I first came to Carolina, this was a construction zone with a hole in the ground. Everyone working on it was exuding pride. Everyone was proud to be a part of the Panthers, and I'm proud to be a part of it as well."
The three figures that make up "The Tribute" weigh a total of 4,500 pounds. The Richardson statue stands nearly 13 feet tall and four feet off the ground.
The sculpture is expected to become a favorite photo spot for fans visiting the Panthers' picturesque home.
An inscription at the base of the sculpture reads, "The Indomitable Spirits who guard our stadium were led here by a man who took us beyond where others even imagined. In this place, for this place – his relentless drive inspired a display of unity in the Carolinas worthy of a world's stage. On the occasion of Jerry Richardson's 80th birthday, this sculpture is dedicated and commissioned as a loving gift to him and his family by his partners."
Richardson is a native Carolinian whose dream was to bring NFL football to his home. On October 26, 1993, Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to become an owner when the Carolinas were unanimously awarded the NFL's 29th franchise. The only person to be inducted into both the North and South Carolina Business and Athletic Halls of Fame, Richardson has firmly established the NFL into the Carolina landscape.
A graduate of Wofford College, Richardson was an All-American wide receiver for the Terriers, is a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame and is one of only two football players to have his number retired.
Richardson was selected in the 1958 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts and capped his rookie season with a touchdown reception from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship victory over the New York Giants.
Go behind the scenes as artist Todd Andrews creates "The Tribute," Bank of America Stadium's newest monument.