During his press conference this week, Cam Newton’s tune was familiar.
“Are you ready for some football?” the Carolina Panthers quarterback sang, closing his eyes and nodding as he mimicked the famous Hank Williams Jr. football anthem.
“They had that theme song, from a man that had a cowboy hat on,” he said. “That’s good sauce, good swag right there. You know, I might bring my cowboy hat for Monday night, too.”
The Carolina Panthers (6-3) will play on football’s biggest stage Monday night, against the Miami Dolphins (4-4).
“It’s every kid’s dream growing up,” said Newton. “Just visualizing playing on Monday night. I can remember me growing up, obviously in Atlanta, and anticipating ‘Monday Night Football.’ I really didn’t understand the sport like that (back then), I just knew it was a big deal.”
Newton eventually got his chance to wow the prime-time crowd with what head coach Ron Rivera called the most incredible run he’d ever seen from the quarterback, against the New England Patriots in 2013. Newton avoided four potential takedowns on third down and seven as he scampered around the field, upending and spinning around Patriots defensive players in the process to get the first down.
“That’s why I drive my car home with memories, or nightmares, of Cam Newton,” analyst Jon Gruden said on the broadcast that night.
Breaking off a highlight-reel run has been Newton’s go-to for the last four weeks, as he has led the team in rushing each game. But Monday night, the Panthers have a massive team opportunity, too. With a win, Carolina would head into its bye week 7-3, with one more win than the Panthers managed to get all of last season.
Newton thinks that job can get done on the dirtier side of those highlight opportunities.
“These aren’t SportsCenter plays,” he said. “I’m talking about guys sticking their head in, making blocks, knowing their assignments and knowing their roles.”
After tumbling so far from their Super Bowl berth in 2015, any chance the Panthers get to prove themselves in prime time carries weight.
“It’s a prime-time game,” said veteran linebacker Thomas Davis. “So it’s important for us to go out and perform well.”
Salute to Service
Monday night is also Carolina’s “Salute to Service” game, during which the team honors current and former military service members.
The families of military members who gave their lives in service will be honored at halftime of Monday’s game, while active and former service members will be on the field for the national anthem. World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans will be recognized in the team’s “Row of Honor” section, and troops will lead the team onto the field.
Four military members will be honorary coin-toss captains, and a United States Army staff sergeant will be the game’s “Keep Pounding” drummer.
Carolina Panthers players will also wear helmet decals with the initials of fallen service members.
On Sunday during the team’s walkthrough, the families of these men and women were able to meet and interact with the team prior to Monday’s events.