Meredith and Al Putnum never saw the two men coming.
The 63-year-old Charlotte woman just felt one of them grabbing at her purse as they headed out to the Concord Mills parking lot Friday evening after a stint of holiday shopping for their three grandchildren. Then the other was pushing her 65-year-old husband to the ground.
The men ran off with the Putnums' carefully selected presents: the digital camera, the clothing and, Meredith Putnum said, something called an iPod. The gifts were gone.
Enter John Mazzocchi.
The 32-year-old former college football safety and phys ed teacher was headed to the mall to grab a drink at Macado's restaurant. He was still in his car when he saw the parking lot scuffle.
"You see they're an older couple," he told the Observer. "That's not good."
Mazzocchi said he followed the fleeing robbers in his car about 15 yards in the parking lot, then jumped from his car.
The University City man likes to say he's 5 foot 11 inches tall but admits he's closer to 5 foot 10. He likes to say he's 200 pounds but, well, he's actually closer to 206. The two men were about the same size, he said, but about 10 years younger.
"When I got out they confronted me," he said, "and asked me what I was going to do about it."
Using the skills practiced on the gridiron at State University of New York College at Brockport, Mazzocchi tackled the robber carrying the Putnums' packages.
Then, Mazzocchi said, he realized the other guy might try to hurt him as he lay sprawled on the other robber.
He stood up and saw the second man had already fled. The one he'd tackled then jumped up and ran, too. They disappeared into the dark.
But the packages lay on the ground: the digital camera, the clothing, the iPod, all intact.
Mazzocchi picked them up and returned them to the shaken Putnums. He gave them his name and phone number in case they needed him as a witness for a police report.
But, Meredith Putnum said, her husband just had just a few scrapes and bruises. They didn't get a good look at their robbers. And their grandchildren would get their gifts -- though she says she's still not sure what an iPod actually is.
So, she said, they didn't file a report with police. But they wanted everyone else to know how the nice man from the University area came to their rescue.
"I thought it was commendable," she told the Observer.
Two other men were standing by, she said, watching the whole thing. They didn't do a thing, she said. They just walked away.
Mazzocchi seemed surprised when a reporter called to ask about what happened.
"I think anyone would do the same thing in the same situation," he said. "I was brought up: What's right is right."
That night, he didn't think much of it after returning the gifts to the couple.
He said he got back into his car and turned around. He'd ripped the knee of his jeans in the scuffle and wanted to change before showing up at Macado's.