On September 11th, 2011 Carolina Panther Quarterback Cam Newton returned to the stadium where he led Auburn University to the BCS National Championship just eight months before. This time he was back to make his NFL debut in Carolina's opening game with the Arizona Cardinals.
After a 'lockout' shortened preseason he had to be intimidated, right? Not Cameron Newton. All he did was go into a noisy, hostile stadium, face a blitzing NFL defense and set a new NFL record for a rookie quarterback in a season opener (422 yards).
The old record was set by Peyton Manning in 1998 when No.18 threw for 302 yards in the friendly confines of Indianapolis' RCA Stadium. Cam became the first rookie to throw for over 400 yards in an opener and he did it on the road and in spite of a shortened preseason.
Newton had one running touchdown on the day and was 24-of-37 with two touchdowns and one int. The Panthers had special team breakdowns which led to a 28 -21 loss late in the game. But Cam was magnificent in his first NFL outing. Panther receiver Greg Olsen said,
"Cam played great. That's about as good as a quarterback is going to play, I don't care how old you are; rookie, veteran, whatever. On the road, first game, playing in that kind of environment; he's one of those guys when he gets in a game, there's just something about him. Some guys have it, some guys don't."
To further put in to perspective the significance of Cam's performance, consider that only three quarterbacks have passed for more yards in a season opener since 1960. Those names are Dan Marino who had 473 yards in 1994, Kurt Warner who had 441 in 2000, and Peyton Manning who passed for 433 yards in 2010. That's a pretty impressive group to already have his name associated with.
This writer would be lying if I said his performance amazed me though. His exploits don't amaze me like they did when he first broke in to stardom on Auburn's Pat Dye field. However, what I continue to be amazed at, is his unflappable ability to persevere in the face of adversity.
There is probably no athlete in the history of college football that has had more detractors. more doubters, and yes more haters than Cameron Newton. He won every major college award during 2010. Yet when he declared for the NFL draft there were a plethora of print and TV/ radio journalist that told us why he would fall in the draft.
When he was selected No.1 overall by the Panthers. the drum beat began again. This time we were given a ltany of reasons why he would not be successful in the NFL.
The one that I found the most perplexing was the comments on his lack of leadership and ability to get along with teammates. That is the most laughable when you consider how his coaches and his teammates all spoke highly of him at the two colleges he led to national championships ... Blinn Junior College and Auburn University.
Why so many people who don't know Cam Newton, seem so ready to denigrate him; and why many who don't know Cam Newton are so willing to assume the worst about him, when there's never been any shred of evidence that he has ever done anything wrong at Auburn, is just well ... baffling to me.
The only thing I can come up with is the old axiom that if you have more, know more, or do more ... people will seek to bring you down more. That's certainly been the case with Cam. And the more lies and innuendoes put out there, the more some are ready to think negatively of a person.
The fact that he was able to stay focused in 2010 amidst a campaign of personal destruction aimed at him and still produce the greatest single season by a college quarterback speaks volumes about the player and the man that is Cam Newton..
For any one truly interested, Newton made a statement with his life since coming to Auburn. He has proven he is a great person both on and off the field.
And now he has made an unmistakable statement to his detractors - one that says he has what it takes to play in the National Football league.
I know that one day's performance does not a career make but I also know that Cam is the greatest football player I have ever seen in my more than 52 years of watching college football. I also acknowledge that he will have both ups and downs in his career before he is through.
But Sunday's performance should tell the world that he is destined to be a great NFL quarterback.