CHARLOTTE – On a day when two legendary football players signed contracts to retire as football players, the things that brought them to tears often had nothing to do with football.
As Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen said their goodbyes at Bank of America Stadium Thursday, there were numerous pauses for them to dry their eyes, to pause to find the right word, as they tried to sum up a combined 30 years of football.
As Davis finished his speech, he simply stopped and looked up, awash in the enormity of it all, and didn't say a word for a few seconds.
"I want to make this moment last as long as I can," Davis said.
Both players had a number of stop-you-in-your-tracks moments as they looked back over their years with the Panthers (and a few stray stops for each of them). When they got to thanking their families, it got particularly difficult.
"The last time I said I wasn't going to cry was at my wedding," Davis said, laughing at his lack of composure as his wife Kelly looked on. "I won that day because I cut those vows short."
Thursday, they had all the time they needed, and they used it to full advantage.
Thursday was about all the people who touched their lives over the years — and all the people they inspired.
Olsen also struggled to keep it together throughout the day, specifically when he was talking about his family. But the emotion was just as real when he reminisced about "Friday Bo Time," when he'd sit around after practice eating and hanging with employees throughout the building, including Claire Burke (the executive administrator to the GM), Mike Anderson (the assistant director of football operations), and Matt Allen (the director of pro personnel).
"You realize the people are what make this place unique," Olsen said, recounting the many discussions over chicken and biscuits that had nothing to do with the game itself.
One of Davis' many pauses came when he talked about the impact security guard-turned team ambassador John Coleman (who was in the audience), whose smile greeted him daily and kept him upbeat during the dark days when he was going through three years of rehab.
Davis referenced losing his brother at a young age, but said: "I have so many brothers here."
"Every time I walk in this building, I remember all the people who poured into my life," he said. "Days that were hard, days you're struggling, to be able to walk in and see Mr. Coleman's face, . . .
"I don't care how bad you feel, or how down you were, to see that smile made you feel better."
Those stories of connection come at an interesting time for the franchise, as stars of the past leave the stage, and a new cast begins to emerge.
Davis mentioned head coach Matt Rhule by name, telling him: "It's in your hands now, . . . and I know you're gonna give us something to be proud of."
There were a few current players in the crowd who had relationships with the two of them (including long snapper J.J. Jansen and linebacker Shaq Thompson), but linebacker Jeremy Chinn also looked on — a glimpse of what the franchise can only hope becomes the next generation of players with that kind of impact.
After the ceremony, after the lights came down and the microphones were off, the former players and their families gathered in the Gallery suites downstairs. With kids running around on the field, owners David and Nicole Tepper called the Olsen and Davis together for one last presentation.
Giving them the gift of luxury watches — which had Olsen saying “Holy ----” - the Teppers made sure to make it clear they were back.
And not just back, but back in the family.
View photos from Bank of America Stadium as Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen returned to sign one-day contracts and retire as Carolina Panthers.