From winning an SEC championship game, doing a Deion Sanders high step and clinching a pair of NFC South titles, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had some good times in the Georgia Dome.
Now the Atlanta native is ready to leave his mark on the sparkling, $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“This is a new dome,” Newton said this week. “So I guess it’s time to create more lasting memories.”
Newton, who grew up in the south Atlanta community of College Park, has always had a love-hate relationship with his hometown.
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He loves it.
But Falcons fans haven’t always loved him back.
“It just depends on which offseason,” Newton said. “Last year’s offseason was extremely miserable. But the fact that they didn’t win the Super Bowl was kind of like, ‘OK, finally.’ There was a lot of people coming out the woodwork claiming to be Falcons fans.”
Newton grew up rooting for the Falcons and was a fan of former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick.
Newton’s parents still live in College Park, his two young children were born in Atlanta and Newton makes his offseason home in Atlanta.
Newton said he appreciates the back-and-forth with Falcons fans who recognize him.
“Atlanta’s home. Charlotte’s home, too. You can expect the trash talk. You can expect certain things to be said,” Newton said. “But it’s no harm done. I understand the position that I’m in and in a lot of ways I’m a target, just to get people’s reaction. It’s kind of fun, especially to hear certain things.
“But I guess it’s put up or shut up time come Sunday,” he added. “That’s the only time when no talking can ever affect the game play. It’s all about the outcome of the game. And that’s what I’m hoping; our outcome is great.”
The outcomes haven’t always been great for the Panthers in Atlanta since Newton was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011.
The highs have been extremely high – the division-clinching wins in 2013 and 2014. But those are Carolina’s only two wins in Atlanta under Newton, who will try to improve his 2-4 record against his hometown team Sunday in a game with huge playoff implications.
The Panthers (11-4) can claim their fourth division crown in a five-year span with a win and a Saints’ loss at Tampa Bay.
It’s a simple scenario for the Falcons (9-6) – win and get in the playoffs as a wild card. Atlanta could still make the postseason with a loss Sunday, provided Seattle loses to Arizona.
Newton’s teammates are confident No. 1 will be fired up to face the Falcons.
“That’s his home state. That’s where he’s from. So you definitely know he’s going to be ready,” nickel back Captain Munnerlyn said. “He’s not going to lay down and go, ‘Oh, let’s let them in the playoffs.’ That’s not our mind frame. We’re going out there to win a football game.”
Newton had his share of memorable moments – good, bad or otherwise – in the Falcons’ old home.
Newton threw for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for two scores, to lead Auburn to a 56-17 victory against South Carolina in the 2010 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome.
Newton has brought flair – and in one case, too much showmanship – to the games in his hometown while with Carolina. A sampling:
▪ In his first game as a Panther in the Dome in 2011, Newton punctuated a 14-yard touchdown run with a high-step dance in the end zone that was a tribute to Sanders, the former Falcons’ cornerback known as “Prime Time.”
▪ Newton had one of his best games in Atlanta the following year, accounting for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in a game the Panthers lost 30-28.
▪ The Panthers were 14-0 and chasing perfection when they arrived in Atlanta in Week 15 in 2015. After Newton gave Carolina a 7-0 lead with an 8-yard TD run, he celebrated by using the ball to “rock the baby” to honor his son Chosen, who was born in Atlanta three days earlier.
Newton finished with 142 yards and zero TDs on 17-of-30 passing and the Panthers fell 20-13 and saw their dreams of an undefeated season come to an end.
▪ Newton sustained the first known concussion of his career last season in a Week 4 loss in Atlanta.
Newton slowed down before crossing the goal line on a two-point conversion run and was drilled by linebacker Deion Jones, whom Newton had taunted earlier in the game.
Newton recoiled after the hit and ended up getting into the end zone. But he missed the next game while in the concussion protocol and later said, after talking with his mother, that type of showboating wouldn’t happen again.
All of which is to say Newton takes these matchups in Atlanta personally, a fact Panthers coach Ron Rivera knows all too well.
“I try not to mention it around him. I try to keep him calm,” Rivera said. “He gets real excited about it. It’s his hometown and it’s always a neat deal for him to go home and play in front of his home folks.”
Newton said he’s had opportunities to go to Mercedes-Benz Stadium since it opened in August, but turned them down because he said it wouldn’t be the same as playing there.
He’ll get his first chance to make memories in the Falcons’ new building Sunday.
Munnerlyn can’t wait.
“That’s your hometown, growing up he probably liked the Falcons and everything,” said Munnerlyn, who’s from Mobile, Ala. “So he wants to go out there and prove to everybody, ‘Hey, I’m in Carolina now. That’s my stomping ground. And I still can run Atlanta.’”