Cam Newton's Panthers return is a feel-good story amid the NFL's feel-bad season

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·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4-min read
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Cam Newton had the ball in his hands, ran past and through a couple of defenders, scored a touchdown and celebrated like only Cam can.

For a moment, all seemed right with the NFL world.

In a season that's been a hot mess in so many ways, Cam being back adds some much-needed energy, not just for the Carolina Panthers offense and locker room, but for many of us who have been wanting more from the NFL, on the field and off.

The King of the Queen City is back.

Or, more accurately, he's BAAAAAAAAAAACK!

For all of the pains he took after the game to assert that the Panthers' result over the Cardinals wasn't about him — he called the impressive 34-10 road performance an "impeccable team win" — Sunday was about him. 

His style. His swagger. His verve. His joie de football

All of it is welcomed and needed and just so dang fun.

Long one of the most unfairly maligned players in the league, one need look no further than his teammates to see how Newton was welcomed back to Carolina, and why he's suddenly in line to start this weekend. Just three days after re-signing with the team that chose him No. 1 overall in 2011, Newton was kneeling on the sideline in Arizona, the entire offense around him and seemingly hanging on his every word.

Not all of those players played with Newton when he was last with the Panthers in 2019. Some of them already knew his energy and his leadership style and how he comes up with a nickname for everyone in the locker room and coaching staff.

Newton shared his post-game media conference with Robby Anderson, who caught his passing touchdown, noting that the Sunday before he was on his couch eating cereal with his kids. At some point as they answered questions Newton pulled out his phone and took a selfie with Anderson. Still fun, and now after an up-and-down couple of years, reflective too.

At this point, Newton is something of an icon among his peers. He led Auburn to a national championship nearly singlehandedly in 2010. At the time he was drafted, his quarterbacking style was completely different than what was canon for the position. He was at the vanguard of the current wave of pass-run quarterbacks and offenses taking advantage of their QB being able to rush for yards and not just be a statue in the pocket. 

NFL officials have allowed Newton to take a beating from defensive players, never protecting him the way they do others at the position, and other players have noticed. He gave money and more importantly his time to uplift others in Charlotte. He's had success while always being himself, like him or not. He's only 32, but his youngest teammates grew up watching him and, likely for some of them, idolizing him.

His one year in New England, when he essentially served as the bridge between Tom Brady and Mac Jones, helped changed the perception of Newton for the better. Anyone who has paid attention already knew Newton was largely beloved as a teammate with the Panthers, and he is the best quarterback in the franchise's history. 

Yet the narrative around Newton, one which began weeks before he was drafted and was happily regurgitated by those who didn't actually do much homework (and yes, there was always a racial element involved), is that he's a me-first guy, that he cares more about his clothes than his game, that his dancing and celebrations were too frequent, too emphatic, too whatever. Sports radio in Boston was trash-talking Newton before he'd even landed to officially sign his contract with the Patriots, using familiar dog-whistle terms.

But if the famously curmudgeonly Bill Belichick clearly likes and appreciates you, it shifts the way you're perceived. Belichick likes smart and dedicated players. That's what he looks for above all else. That's what Newton is.

We can debate another time whether it's fair or not that it took Belichick's stamp of approval to affect things, since Newton had done enough well before his brief Patriots tenure to show his detractors what he's truly about and given them time to change their hackneyed tune. With many people, it did.

Carolinians never stopped loving him though — on Monday, Panthers' ticket sales reportedly spiked 41 percent. There's only one reason why.

It remains to be seen how this go-round with Carolina will go, and how and when it will end. Hopefully Newton gets a sendoff worthy of his importance to the franchise this time.

But that's for the future.

For now, all is right with the NFL world. Cam's back.

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