SPARTANBURG - Carolina Panthers fans see Cam Newton run, see him pass, see him smile, see him scowl and see him toss the football to kids with good seats. They know him as a player. But they dont know him.
Whats he like?
As a player or person? asks Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
As a person.
He wants to please, Richardson says Monday. He wants to please his parents, his teammates, his coaches. Thats been the characteristic thats so refreshing.
Before the Panthers committed to investing the first pick in the 2011 draft on Newton, Richardson invited Newton to his Charlotte home. After the meeting, Newton sent Richardson a handwritten note. Richardson has neither an email nor a Twitter account. Hes not on Facebook, either. But Newton probably didnt know this.
Newton wrote a long note, one man to another, without the assistance of a laptop.
They were his words, says Richardson, who was and is moved. It wasnt written by somebody in public relations.
Whats the relationship between the owner, who turned 76 this month, and the 23-year-old quarterback?
Im very straightforward with him, as I am with all my players, says Richardson. Ill tell him what I think. If he disagrees, hell tell me. But with respect. Hes always respectful with me, as I am with him.
Its tough to write a column about Newton that doesnt come off as an advertisement. But nobody in the organization says anything critical about him not players, not coaches, not management.
Hes their quarterback, and theyre his organization.
Asked about the full-page advertisement Panther center Ryan Kalil took out in the Observer in which Kalil said the Panthers were going to win the Super Bowl, Newton says: If youre on this ship, youre going to back him.
That ship, Newton says Monday, includes everybody from players to custodians.
Newton is neither the master nor the commander. But he probably has a suite.
Its a quarterbacks league, says Panthers general manager Marty Hurney. So when you get a very good one it energizes your entire organization. Now you add Cams personality, which is dynamic, and his competiveness and his work ethic and then his playmaking abilities, and thats contagious.
The receivers are happier and more confident because they know that they always have a chance of getting the ball. The offensive linemen are happier because they know theres always a chance Cam could escape for a 20-yard gain. The defense is energized because if they go out and get a stop they know the offense can score. It all has a domino effect on the entire team.
In what way is Newtons personality dynamic?
All you have to do is look at that smile, says Hurney. Sometimes it reminds you of your son. Hes got a very genuine quality about him and he loves playing the game. He loves the quarterback position, and when I say that, he understands all that goes with it.
At a practice open to fans at Bank of America Stadium last month players were asked to sign autographs for members of the military and for sponsors. Before Newton did he encircled the stadium and, says Hurney, signed autographs for kids.
He has a youthful enthusiasm that is accompanied by an extreme professionalism, says Hurney. He wants to be the best quarterback. His work ethic you dont find any better. Its not a coincidence that hes won everywhere hes played. He understands that youre defined by winning in this league.
In training camp Newton moves the needle and the autograph seekers. Some give up front row seats, and the opportunity to collect the signatures of other Panthers, to anticipate where Newton will next stop and try to squeeze to the front.
Our next guest in todays Camfest is rookie receiver Jared Green. Green might be the fastest man in Spartanburg. Alas, because of his great speed he has lived a life littered with underthrown passes.
Its really great, Green says about playing with Newton. Cam can get you the ball wherever you are and I think thats very incredible and I think thats one of those things you get excited about when you run your routes because you know that ball will be right there.
As much as Newton means to receivers, he means more to the owner of the Panthers.
Cam is the last quarterback Ill ever have, Richardson says. I feel very fortunate that my last quarterback is him.