CHARLOTTE - Wesley Walls usually doesn't answer when an unfamiliar number comes up on his cellphone. But for some reason, during a tough time personally, the legendary tight end decided to pick up.
"I said, 'You know what, I'm going to take this one.' And Mr. Tepper popped up on a FaceTime video," Walls said after recently receiving a call from Panthers owner David Tepper that brightened his day. "He said, 'I've got some exciting news for you. Then he broke the news to me that I was going to be in the Hall of Honor.
"That was a special moment to hear those words."
Walls answered the call from a hospital. He has lived in Charlotte since signing with the Panthers in 1996, but his biggest fan still lives in his native Mississippi. That's who Walls was visiting when Tepper called.
"My mom's not doing well," Walls said.
Betty Walls is fighting cancer and had just undergone a surgical procedure when Tepper called.
"She said, 'What's the Hall of Honor?' And I told her, 'I think I'll have my name next to Sam Mills,'" Walls said. "She knows who Sam Mills is. She said, 'You deserve it.'"
Before Walls, Steve Smith Sr., Jake Delhomme and Jordan Gross learned of their pending induction, Mills was the lone player in the Hall of Honor. Walls played with Mills in New Orleans in 1994 and then with the Panthers in '96 and '97. Those were the first two of Walls' seven standout seasons in Carolina. He was Greg Olsen before Greg Olsen, going to five Pro Bowls as a Panther and matching an NFL record for tight ends in 1999 with 12 receiving touchdowns.
Betty Walls was there every step of the way – from well before the birth of the Panthers to today.
"She was always at every game, and she was a critic, too," said Walls, a quarterback in his youth who played defensive end at the University of Mississippi before moving to tight end. "A lot of times you hear about not wanting to ride home with your dad because he's going to talk about how you played. Well, my mom was that. She'd say, 'What about that pass you threw?'
"She was a critic, but she was always my biggest supporter. My mom gave me everything I needed and most of what I wanted. Most of all, she was there for me."
Now Walls is there for his mom, and he's glad he answered that call.
"When I shared the news with my mom, immediately after I just got emotional," Walls said. "I started thinking about all my years here and all my teammates and people in the organization and also the city and how much this means to me and my family.
"To be honest, I feel like a part of the team again. When you get out of the game, when you transition from being a football player to being a normal person working in the community and living in the community, it's tough. You feel separated from the team, but now all these memories and all those emotions came back.
"I'm still grinning ear-to-ear."
Photos of tight end Wesley Walls throughout his career as a Carolina Panther.