After a four-month lockout and a summer with more labor talks than football discussion, the NFL returned for its opening weekend on the 10-year anniversary of 9-11.
In Glendale, Ariz., Cardinals fans were eager to get their first look at free-agent quarterback Kevin Kolb in a real game. While Kolb's Cardinals won 28-21, Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton stole the show with a record 422-yard passing performance at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Newton led Auburn to the Bowl Championship Series title seven months earlier.
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick, had shown flashes of brilliance during the preseason - sandwiched around errant passes that left him with a completion percentage of 42.1 in four exhibitions.
But against a Cardinals secondary that played man coverage and dared Newton to beat him, the 6-foot-5, 248-pounder with the rocket arm did just that.
Critics had questioned whether Newton could handle a pro-style offense after running the spread at Auburn in his only full season of major-college football.
But beginning with a 77-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the first quarter - when Newton told Smith to go deep if the cornerback blitzed - Newton stayed in the pocket and made big throws downfield.
He completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns - both to Smith. His passing yardage surpassed Peyton Manning's 302 yards as the most by an NFL rookie in a Week 1 start.
Newton wasn't perfect: He was sacked four times, threw an interception and did little of the running that would become a major part of the Panthers' offense during subsequent weeks.
But at the stadium where he'd begun the year with a championship, Newton looked like the Panthers' franchise quarterback.
"Everybody was knocking him coming in - could he be an NFL quarterback?" Panthers linebacker James Anderson said. "You have game-ballers, and you have practice-ballers. And he's a guy who came out in a real game and showed he can play when it counted."