CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Two Panthers fans who drove up from Charleston on New Year's Day got a special treat when they stopped outside Bank of America Stadium: A private tour from The Big Cat himself, team owner Jerry Richardson.
Trey and Julie Muckenfuss had just hoped for a few autographs at the practice field when they drove three hours to Charlotte on only a few hours' sleep.
But as Richardson signed autographs and took photos with a handful of fans who just happened to be in the right place at the right time outside the stadium's Graham Street entrance, Trey and Julie wished him a Happy New Year.
"He asked if we wanted a tour of the stadium," said Julie. "And we said absolutely! And so we jumped on and away we went."
From the back of Richardson's golf cart, the couple saw the inner tunnels and operations centers of the stadium, or, "behind the curtain of Oz," as Trey called it.
Richardson even took them into the players' locker room, where they saw each player's locker up close.
"We came out and he said, 'Did you get a picture?'" said Trey. "And I said, 'no, that's inner sanctum, I'm not going to mess with that.' And he said, 'well, go back in there and get a picture!'"
Trey said he did as the boss ordered without hesitation.
They said Richardson also drove them out onto the field, where former communications director Charlie Dayton took their picture.
It's a keepsake they'll blow up to poster size and hang on their wall at home. It was a completely random, lucky, exciting beginning to the New Year — and well worth the trip.
"Amazing," Julie said. "Still in shock. The best Christmas present ever. And New Year's present. Oh my gosh, it was amazing."
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