For the first time in what feels like forever, Charlotte has a young star playing its most popular spectator sport who is approaching the peak of his powers.Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has changed the culture for a city that has had way too many awful teams in way too short of a period.The 2-14 Panthers of 2010 were really, really bad. They still couldnt touch the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, who lost their final 23 games in a row to set a new standard for badness by going 7-59 (the lowest winning percentage ever in the NBA).But Newton? Hes something else. He was the NFLs Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, accounting for 35 touchdowns (14 of them rushing the ball, which was an all-time NFL record for quarterbacks). He is the topic on Monday mornings in the fall in and around Charlotte, no matter whether the Panthers won or lost. Whole debates are held on the significance of when Newton first places a Gatorade towel over his head during the game.With Newton as the face of the franchise, the Panthers remain the clear No.1 among Charlottes pro and college sports. This season they will seek not just to be entertaining but to also make the playoffs.The Panthers went 6-10 in 2011 in large part because their defense didnt get the memo about things getting better and allowed a franchise high in points. They are the one team in Charlotte that most can agree to cheer for (although not all, as we have so many transplants who root for Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and so on, as well as an aging fan base of Washington Redskin supporters who remember when every Skins game was on TV in Charlotte).The Bobcats dont hold nearly the sway on the city that the Panthers do. Owner Michael Jordan remains the teams most recognizable name, and the club has made a concerted effort under Jordan to do more work in the community. But Jordan hasnt been able to work the old MJ magic that translated so well on the court into the front office.The Bobcats have made the playoffs only once in their history and are undergoing a wholesale rebuilding process under a new coach. They cant be any worse than they were last season, but they likely wont be a lot better this year, either.One plus to that: Bobcat tickets are extremely easy to come by. The team always seems to be having ticket specials, and they play in an uptown arena that is comfortable, nicely located and often only half-full. Panther tickets are somewhat more difficult to get but still can be had on the street an hour or two before every game.There is much more to Charlotte than those two pro teams, of course.Hockeys Charlotte Checkers share Time Warner Cable Arena with the Bobcats and are the top minor-league team for the NHLs Carolina Hurricanes (based in Raleigh). The Charlotte Knights play in Fort Mill, S.C., and offer Triple-A baseball (they are a Chicago White Sox affiliate) at a fraction of major-league prices.As for colleges, the big news is that the Charlotte 49ers will finally field a football program but not until the fall of 2013. UNCC had been one of the largest colleges in the country without a football team.As for mens basketball, the team with the most sustained success is the Davidson Wildcats, who had their best run with Stephen Curry in 2008 but still manage to qualify for the NCAA tournament most years under talented coach Bob McKillop. Johnson C. Smith and Queens both field competitive athletic teams, as well.Many folks around here also are fans of the ACC schools. North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest all have large followings. So do teams from other conferences like Appalachian State, East Carolina and Western Carolina.But theres only one real No. 1 right now in Charlotte, and thats Newton. Interestingly, he hoped to wear the number 2 as a Panther, since thats the uniform number he wore at Auburn. But quarterback Jimmy Clausen already owned it, so Newton switched to what has turned out to be a more appropriate uniform number.