Panthers fans get thrill of a lifetime

Father, daughter help unveil American flag at pre-game ceremony Sunday
Jan. 14, 2014 @ 08:04 AM

Being at a Carolina Panthers playoff game was special enough -- the team hadn't made the playoffs since 2008.

To be selected to help unfurl the football-field-sized American flag before Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers was a once-in-a-lifetime dream, said Wayne Cox of Happy Valley. Cox, 63, and his daughter, Fallon Barlowe, 31, were among about 100 people chosen from permanent-seat-license owners at Bank of America Stadium to unfurl the 100-feet-by-300-feet flag.

Cox, who has owned a seat license for 15 years, often brings his daughter along to games. Their seats are high above one of the ends zones, over owner Jerry Richardson's suite.

Being on the field in front of 73,000 screaming fans was a totally different experience, Cox said.

"It was unreal," Cox said. "When we came out of that tunnel, it was overwhelming."

The large group of flag holders met at the practice field outside the stadium and were briefed on what to do. They had just one minute to unroll the flag. Cox and Barlowe were holding among 11 people assigned to hold one end of the flag. The group would carry the flag into the tunnel of Bank of America Stadium and wait for their cue. They were told to ignore the players and the noise, and focus on the task at hand.

"They told us, 'You will be awestruck,'" Cox said. "They said, 'The first thing you will want to do is look up.'"

They couldn't help but get caught up in the moment. The pair occasionally glanced at each other and smiled.

Despite the outcome (Carolina lost 23-10), they will always remember seeing the team buses, standing near 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and coming out of the tunnel.

"They might have lost, but to have that experience with my daughter made the game secondary," Cox said.

Barlowe agreed.

"I have always been a daddy's girl," she said. "I've always been a die-hard Panthers fan. We both have. It was so cool to be there with Dad."