CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Brandon Beane's parents knew it was pointless to say goodbye before the Buffalo Bills' charter buses pulled away from Bank of America Stadium.
Bob and Cindy Beane rose glumly from their seats, the season tickets they've had for 18 years in Section 340, while a song they've always relished hearing, "Sweet Caroline," played Panthers fans out the aisles and on their merry ways.
"Whenever he loses," Bob Beane had said in the third quarter, "we don't contact him maybe until Monday or Tuesday."
The Beanes maintained their tradition Sunday, although their circumstances were strange for Carolina's home opener. For the first time since the Panthers began in 1995, they rooted against their adored team.
When the Panthers won, 9-3, upon a gut-wrenching incomplete pass that should've been a touchdown, the Beanes lost.
Bob and Cindy Beane arrived Sunday not in their usual silver-black-and-blue wardrobe, but in red-and-blue Buffalo Bills gear. Their son, Carolina's former assistant general manager, is Buffalo's GM now.
Over the years, though, the Beanes didn't advertise who their son was. He was a college student in 1996 when Bob took him to his first NFL game. Brandon was just some rambunctious kid wigging out in sun-scorched Section 520 of what then was called Ericsson Stadium.
"First thing he did was take his shirt off and start swinging it around," Bob remembered of Brandon's first game. "A security guard said, 'We don't do that here,' and made him put his shirt back on."
The Panthers that day crushed the Atlanta Falcons, 29-6. Brandon Beane would join the Panthers in 1998 as a summer intern and didn't work anywhere else until joining the Bills four months ago.
Yet all along, Bob and Cindy didn't disclose to the fans they sat among that their boy was playing an increasingly significant role in what they watched on the field each autumn.
"When we first had our tickets and the Panthers lost, it didn't really matter to me come Monday," Bob said. "I just enjoyed coming to the games.
"But as Brandon rose up in the team, it worked on me all week."
The Beanes kept quiet back when they sat in Section 520 and when they moved to shady Section 340, along the 5-yard line in the southeast corner, with a view of the Bank of America Corporate Center spire poking above the stadium's brim.
"We've got people we've been sitting with for 20 years," Bob said a couple of weeks before the game, "but we're going to have to wear our Bills gear. We're going to be tough. We're going to handle."
Cindy wasn't so sure at the time whether she wanted to witness Sunday's game from their seats. Bills coach Sean McDermott, fresh from the Panthers' staff himself, had decreed they must dress as Bills fans. No Panthers paraphernalia. No neutral tones.
"We're keeping our season tickets," Cindy said then. "We're just not sure where we're going to sit for that second game of the season.
"I'm thinking about selling those tickets and buying some others."
Beanes' parents made the hour drive from their home in Albemarle, N.C., to have dinner with Brandon on Saturday night at the Capital Grille. They knew that was about all the visiting they would do. Brandon's a tad too intense for socializing so close to a game.
So at 11 a.m. Sunday, Bob and Cindy Beane walked through the metal detectors at the corner of Mint Street and Graham Street in their new gear, Bob in a Bills ball cap and logo'd golf shirt, Cindy in a red T-shirt with the "BILLS" bold in blue.The woman with the security wand was speechless. She recognized them after years of greeting them.
What was all this Bills stuff?
Their son, Cindy whispered, is the Bills' new general manager.
On the 300-level concourse, more members of the Beane family and some old friends gathered in an open lounge area for sandwiches and a discussion of the odd day.
"I'm a little numb about it," Bob Beane said, doing a pretty fine job of selling nonchalance.
Bob's buddy, Gary Lowder, wasn't necessarily buying that.
"This is a special ballgame," Lowder said.
Lowder drives a hauler for Stewart-Haas Racing and trucked Saturday night from Joliet, Ill., back to Charlotte with Cole Custer's NASCAR Xfinity Series Ford Mustang to catch the Bills-Panthers game with his wife. Jann Lowder is a commissioner for Stanly County, where Bob sells roof and floor trusses and Cindy is a certified public accountant.
They were joined by retired teacher Ann Upchurch – she snuck some red and navy beads amid the baby blues around her Panthers V-neck in hopes no one would notice – and her son and daughter-in-law.
But these friends don't sit with the Beanes during the game.
Brandon's big sister, Cristi Lewis, her 16-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter showed up in Bills gear, proudly taking photos on the field with Brandon before joining the pregame confab in the 300-level lounge.
Chatter in many ways was what you'd expect before an NFL game: the best players (Bob's all-time favorite Panther is Cam Newton), fantasy football lineups (Bob owns Bills tight end Charles Clay and kicker Stephen Hauschka and the Panthers' defense); point spreads (everybody knew the Bills were 7-point underdogs and while they might not have known the over-under they must've been certain it was higher than 12).
Bob lamented he didn't know the back stories of Buffalo's roster like he does Carolina's after two decades in these stands. He says "The John Murphy Show" is his "two hours of homework every day."The Beanes plan to attend three more Bills games this year, next week against Denver at New Era Field, at the Atlanta Falcons and against the New England Patriots on Dec 3.
First, the Beanes had to make it through their "home game."
On the game's third play, Carolina's Newton completed a 17-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin to convert a third-and-11 play and keep Buffalo's defense on the field.
Lewis' son, Grayson, who attended his first Panthers game at 6 weeks old, reflexively applauded the play. Then he was embarrassed.
"I'm not helping," he said.
Bob Beane was composed, enjoyed his Budweisers and offered observations about the players he'd heard Brandon praise while working with the Panthers.
Cindy Beane was more conflicted, as her Apple Watch fired throughout the day. Everybody wanted to know for whom she was rooting.
"It's weird because ..." said Cindy, making a frantic hand gesture to suggest she didn't know how to express her angst.
"It's not hard to pull for the Bills, obviously. It's just hard to go against the Panthers."
But after the Bills sacked Newton on consecutive plays early in the second quarter, she found her voice – somewhat.
"Look at me! Look at me!" Cindy said, clapping.
"But please know that I don't want Cam to get hurt."
One row ahead sat some familiar faces who hadn't yet learned the Beanes' secret.
Upon being informed why their longtime section-mates had turned traitors for the afternoon, retail manager Louis Sinkoe smiled and replied, "I'm letting you slide this game."
Robert Gleiberman, executive director of a Raleigh synagogue, was baffled when asked, tongue-in-cheek, what his favorite Brandon Beane moment was with the Panthers.
"I'm here, watching the game, oblivious to who the people are around here," Gleiberman said, "even though I see them every year and shake their hands."
Carolina led by a measly 6-0 at halftime. No points were scored in the third quarter.
With 11:09 left in the game, Bob Beane's fantasy kicker made a 30-yarder to draw Buffalo within three points.
Carolina, however, drove down the field quite easily and appeared on the verge of putting Buffalo out of its misery.
First and goal from the 1-yard line with four minutes to play.
Bills end Shaq Lawson dropped Jonathan Stewart for a 2-yard loss on first down. Linebackers Ramon Humber and Preston Brown gave him just a yard back on second down.
Newton rolled right and had rookie running back Christian McCaffrey open for a touchdown. And overthrew him.
Bob threw an excited elbow into the man next to him.
"We got a game!"
The Bills forced another field goal and took over with 2:35 remaining. On their fifth play, they reached the 50-yard line. Bob leaned forward. Cindy clapped before every snap.
Tyrod Taylor completed a 9-yard pass to Andre Holmes to convert a third down. "It'll be a game now!" Bob yelled and stood for the first time to get a better view.
The Bills had fourth-and-11 from the 33-yard line with 14 seconds and a timeout. They could have gone for the touchdown or the first down.
"Touchdown," Bob predicted.
Bob would've been right had rookie receiver Zay Jones snagged a pass that could've been better placed yet still hit him in the hands. Jones was open, but bobbled and stumbled.
"Sweet Caroline" filled the air.
"Would that not have been big for Buffalo," Bob Beane said, "to come here and steal a game?"
The 150th straight sellout in Bank of America Stadium – or at least those who stuck around until the end – shuffled toward the concourses. Bob and Cindy Beane waited back for the crowd to dissipate.
They weren't in any rush to get downstairs for Brandon. They don't do that after defeats, now even when they are Panthers victories.
In a tunnel outside the visitor's locker room, Brandon Beane trudged off a loser for the first time in this arena. He wasn't in the mood to reflect, as his parents expected.
"I don't know," Brandon Beane said of losing in his old home. "Man, I just ... I'm really ...
"I just hate losing. This (stinks). It's hard. A lot of guys put it all out there. We fought hard. We just didn't have enough."
As Brandon slipped out the back tunnel toward the team bus, Bob and Cindy walked a few blocks to their car and drove back to Albemarle.
Story topics: Bob Beane/ Brandon Beane/ Cam Newton/ Charles Clay/ Christian McCaffrey/ Cindy Beane/ Cole Custer/ Jonathan Stewart/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Preston Brown/ Ramon Humber/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tyrod Taylor