By Jeff Shearer
John Wesley Rogers, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Auburn Junior High School, knows one thing for sure: Cam Newton is still true to his school.
After Cam sailed into the end zone to give the Carolina Panthers a 24-7 lead on their way to a 49-15 victory in the NFC Championship, Newton headed toward the young fans in the end zone.
John Wesley was waiting.
"We brought our big Auburn blanket. I had my Auburn toboggan on. My brother went down there with me, and he held up the blanket," John Wesley says.
"That's when they scored the touchdown. Everyone stood up. We were in the very back of the people. He grabbed the ball and he circled around."
That's when John Wesley's linebacker instincts took over.
"The people kind of drifted over to the right. I saw a clear path to the left, and I thought I might as well take it.
"He saw our blanket and my toboggan. He handed it in between a kid and me and I got it. If we hadn't had that blanket, I don't think he would have seen us," he says.
"I couldn't believe it. It was crazy. Me and my brother were screaming. My dad was on the staircase. He saw us with the football. My mom kept jumping up and down," John Wesley says.
Within five minutes, John Wesley received the first of "about 30" text messages from friends watching on TV.
"They started sending me pictures and videos," he says.
The Rogers brothers received a mild backlash from some Panthers fans, who thought John Wesley snatched the ball from a younger fan. But after further review, he was vindicated.
"A bunch of people thought that I took it from the little kid at the bottom," John Wesley says. "So I got a lot of grief about that. But luckily, we had people in front of us and behind us who were kind of backing us up.
"They saw the replay on the jumbotron, and it looked to them like I snatched it out the kid's hand. But all my friends texted me and said, 'You totally had that.' Even the announcers said, 'They gave it to the Auburn kid.'"
Just to be safe, John Wesley hid his treasure beneath the blanket in the second half.
One issue still needed to be resolved. Two brothers. One football.
"We decided to put it in our bathroom between my room and Charlie's room," John Wesley says.
Problem solved. The boys' father, Auburn graduate Bradon Rogers, jokes that "it's the first time they've shared anything."
The keepsake will be for display purposes only. Cam's leap will be the last time this football crosses the goal-line. No backyard games. No show-and-tell at school.
"Off limits," John Wesley says.
But there is one exception.
When Cam next returns to Auburn, John Wesley hopes the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner will add his signature to the souvenir.
"We have good friends who know Cam really well," John Wesley says. "We're going to try to get him to sign it for us."
The Rogers family headed northeast late last week from their home in Auburn in search of snow.
The boys found out Thursday the NFC Championship was on the agenda.
Charlie, a fifth-grader, gets credit not only for holding the Auburn blanket, but also another key decision: suggesting end zone seats instead of club level.
"Charlie told us to 'Man up and just stay outside,'" John Wesley says.
And despite the presence of hundreds of other fans with similar aspirations, John Wesley was confident he would be on the receiving end of one of what Cam calls his "Sunday giveaways."
"We kept saying, 'There's got to be a chance that we get this ball,'" John Wesley says. "'Because if we don't, I'll be shocked.'"
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) January 25, 2016