For a team that’s gone 17-1 and is nearly a touchdown favorite in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers still manage to play with an us-against-the-world mentality.

No Panther embodies that underdog spirit more, perhaps, than Cam Newton.

“He’s had an amazing year, but the way he dresses, the way he dances, the way he talks, the way he smiles has been criticized,” former Panthers offensive lineman and current Charlotte-based radio host Frank Garcia. “But you know what? It doesn’t bother him. I think that’s where he’s matured. You start in this league and you try to make everybody happy and you try to answer critics. You’re listening to people give you advice, and they want you to it this way and this guy wants you to do it that way. Eventually, you have to figure out what works for you. I think that’s where Cam has really taken the next step in maturation. He’s realized, ‘I don’t care what everybody else thinks. I’m not going to make everybody happy. I’m going to have fun doing what I’m doing, and if it offends people, I apologize, but not really. I’m going to go out there and do my job and win football games and enjoy doing it.’ I think that’s been kind of his mantra throughout the season, and I think this team has absolutely bought into it 110 percent. They feel the same way and they have a leader that feels that way and they’ve got his back 100 percent. That’s really where you see the growth.”

Newton has accounted for 50 touchdowns this season (38 pass, 12 rush), including the playoffs. He threw for 35 touchdowns during the regular season, shattering his previous record of 24, while also rushing for 10 touchdowns – the most since his rookie season in 2011 (14). Newton has led Carolina to nine wins by double digits and eight wins by a touchdown or less.

In short, he has been the best player on the best team in football.

“People think this happens by accident,” Garcia said. “The people that are the most successful in this world are the ones that work the hardest. He’s really done an amazing job of putting himself in position to be successful with his offseason work. It might have started with his injury last year in the car accident and understanding, hey, you never know when it’s going to happen and that big one’s coming. But since that point, it’s like the light has gone on. It’s hard to explain when that’s going to happen or it’s hard to gauge when that’s going to happen for some players, but it absolutely has gone on and he’s taken this league by storm.”


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