Chris Baker says there's only one explanation for his grandson getting a football from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton at last Sunday's game, and it had to do with the boy's late father.
''We all felt like Ben was looking down from heaven,'' Baker said Tuesday. ''Even Cam didn't know that there was maybe a divine direction that led him right there to Colin.''
Six-year-old Colin Toler attended Sunday's game between Carolina and the Green Bay Packers more than a month after his father, Ben Toler, had died. Baker said Colin's father had promised the trip to his son, but his health didn't allow it, and he died of a heart condition in September.
Baker, a sales representative for a paper company, said he and other family members decided to make Ben's wish for his son come true. So the grandfathers and a family friend made the two-hour drive from Danville, Virginia, to Charlotte, North Carolina, for Sunday's game, which the Panthers won 37-29.
After Newton scored on a 1-yard dive in the second quarter, he went through his end-zone Superman routine. As he went to retrieve the ball, Green Bay linebacker and former Panther Julius Peppers kept the ball away from Newton, eventually throwing it to a ball boy near the sideline.
Undeterred, Newton retrieved the ball and took it straight to Colin, seated in the front row in the end zone wearing a blue Panthers replica jersey with the number 14 on it. Baker said that's Colin's favorite number.
''I was so excited,'' Colin said of getting the football. ''I didn't sleep (on the ride home). I was too excited.''
Colin got high-fives and selfie requests from the fans around him. Before he got home, Baker said his grandson was already a celebrity.
''We go into Bojangles' after the game and the guy says `You're the kid who got the ball.''' Baker said.
Has Colin put the ball down since he got it? ''Not much,'' he replied.
Baker said Colin was playing with the ball in the yard of his home and worrying his family because they would like to keep the ball as pristine as possible. Baker also wants to get the ball signed someday.
Asked what he was going to do with it, Colin said he would keep the ball ''on my shelf in my room in a glass case.''
That his father didn't get to fulfill Colin's dream of watching an NFL game together didn't seem to bother him, according to Baker.
''He said, `I know my dad saw this. I know that he's there and what he's feeling that that happened,''' Baker said of his grandson. ''Pretty neat.''