A year ago, Cam Newton faced criticism for labeling himself an "entertainer" and "icon." It came off as semi-outrageous. It rubbed listeners the wrong way coming from a young man who hadn't played a down in the National Football League.
Then Newton was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and asked to morph into a franchise quarterback in the middle of the NFL lockout. Instead of playing to the media, Newton put his head down and went to work.
Accusations of style over substance didn't fit the Newton we saw last summer. The rookie progressed through training camp and preseason with a workmanlike vibe -- and then came Week 1.
Say hello, everyone, to the Panthers' frantic, set-free air attack.
After Cam burned up a stunned Arizona Cardinals defense for 422 yards and two touchdowns, it was impossible to ignore his play during a record-setting season that ended with the former Heisman Trophy winner accepting NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
Who could deny Newton's sheer power on the field? Somehow, however, he remained the B-story to endless chatter/gossip about Tim Tebow and anything within 10 feet of Rex Ryan. Newton never complained, in fact, he stayed in the shadows by intention.
"To a degree, I didn't know what I was getting into. And that was in large part, (because of) a lot on my plate, starting off with the lockout," Newton told The Charlotte Observer on Thursday night, following a private event put on by his newly formed foundation, centered on youth initiatives.
"During the season, I wanted to be focused on one thing, and that was winning football games," Newton said. "But now I have the opportunity where my slate has lightened up somewhat, and Iâm here tonight to try to open up and embrace Charlotte."
It makes sense. Had Newton stumbled out of the gate, the backlash would have been severe. There's no questioning his craft today. We're sold and have him ranked as our fifth-best QB drafted over the past 10 years.
He is ready to embrace the people of Charlotte. We doubt they'll refuse.