CHARLOTTE – It's supposed to be unlucky for a black cat to cross one's path, but usually that cat isn't Sir Purr with 11 rookie Panthers in tow.
Carolina's rookie class made the annual Halloween visit to the Levine Children's Hospital at the Carolinas Medical Center on Tuesday morning. As expected with Halloween just around the corner, everyone was dressed to the nines for the event.
"We've got Jeremy 'Captain America' Cash, Vernon 'Super Toddler' Butler, Keyarris 'Scooby-Doo' Garrett, Devon 'Crayola' Johnson, James Bradberry a.k.a. Spiderman – I know you're a big Spiderman fan – and last, but not least, Jalen 'Scoot' Simmons as Fred Flintstone!" director of community relations Riley Fields announced as players entered the first rooms and surrounded a patient's bed.
Eventually, Fields didn't need to act as emcee. As the rookies became more comfortable with their environment, they took the lead in introducing themselves to their young fans and interacting, taking pictures and handing out signed footballs, hats, banners and, of course, candy. These acts of generosity and kindness transcended health, negative circumstances and even language barriers in some cases.
One of the more precious moments occurred when Bradberry interacted with one of his biggest fans, a young boy wearing clothes similar to the cornerback's. It wasn't a blue No. 24 jersey, though. It was a shirt covered with pictures of his favorite comic book and movie star.
"I'm just Spiderman today, so I get to influence them by being a superhero," Bradberry said. "He didn't really care about who I was as a person, but he wanted me to be Spiderman, so that's who I was."
Other rookies didn't have costumes with quite as many special powers, but they tried their hardest to have others believe otherwise.
"I think the hippo is the ultimate superhero in a lot of minds," joked tackle Jordan Rigsbee of his hippopotamus-ballerina outfit that included hips rivaling only those of Sir Purr.
"Originally, I wanted one that was comfortable, so I decided that this one with the big hula hoop was the one. So I put it on, and it was just magic. I could move the hoop. A lot of the guys are superheroes and stuff like that, but there are girls, so it's nice for someone to be running around in pink in a ballerina costume for them."
Laughs aside, the young Panther was quick to acknowledge the importance of this special hospital visit.
"We heard lots today about kids that haven't smiled in a week who are cracking smiles and having a good time," Rigsbee said. "I think that's what it's really about this time of year when it's the holidays. For most people, it's a happy and fun time, but it's harder for some kids in the hospital. When you're young, you don't necessarily understand what's going on. It's awesome for us to come here and get some laughs and have a good time with them."
View photos of the players' annual trip to Levine Children's Hospital.