Just before 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, Cam Newton was driving his favorite 1998 pickup truck to Bank of America Stadium to study tape of that week’s opponent on his off day.
The Carolina Panthers had beaten the Saints 41-10 in New Orleans two days before, and Newton and the offense looked healthy for the first time all season.
A win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following Sunday would go a long way to continuing the 4-8-1 Panthers’ playoff hopes in early December.
Traveling down South Church Street – in the shadow of the stadium – from his uptown condo, Newton was hit by a motorist crossing one of Charlotte’s most dangerous intersections. It sent the truck, and Newton, into a roll on a bridge over Interstate 277.
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Newton crawled out of the back window and over to the sidewalk. Photographers and reporters arrived to the scene before paramedics, and Newton was transported to Carolinas Medical Center, where tests revealed Newton had two small fractures in his lower back.
One day later, he was released. He hasn’t lost a regular-season game since then.
One year later, we revisit that day.
Players’ off day disrupted by news of crash
Philly Brown was relaxing in his condo near the stadium on the Panthers’ off day when he heard someone banging on his door.
It was fellow rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who lives about five minutes from Brown.
“We’ve got to go to the hospital,” said Benjamin, who explained to Brown that Newton had been in a wreck.
The two hopped in Benjamin’s truck and headed to the hospital, where they were told Newton was in a private room and could not accept visitors.
By that time, pictures from the crash scene were popping up all over social media and Brown knew his quarterback was OK. In fact, Brown says it’s his understanding Newton had hoped to avoid going to the hospital immediately following the wreck.
“We knew he was good. From like the pictures, he was smiling,” Brown said. “They said he didn’t even really want to go in there. So we knew he’d be all right.”
Cotchery pleased Newton enjoying success
Jerricho Cotchery was on his way to brunch at Terrace Cafe in SouthPark, a weekly off-day tradition for Cotchery, his wife and their home-schooled children. After he parked, Cotchery received a text alerting him to Newton’s accident.
By the time Cotchery walked into Terrace Cafe, news of the wreck was scrolling across ESPN on the restaurant’s TVs.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Cotchery recalled. “Next thing you know I’m trying to text to see how he’s doing.”
As a teenager in Alabama, Cotchery was involved in a car wreck in which one of his close friends was killed. While he knew Newton was OK, Cotchery felt bad for his quarterback, who had already endured offseason ankle surgery and cracked ribs suffered in the preseason.
That’s why Cotchery is so pleased to see Newton have success this season and be in the running – if not the leading candidate – for league MVP.
“It’s just cool to see a young guy be able to handle all of that and come to work smiling. Have a resilient mindset about getting it done for this organization, still go out in the community serving people,” Cotchery said.
“Just have a great mindset about life and keep pushing. Next thing you know he’s dabbin.’”
Newton’s parents were there for him
The texts started coming into Cecil Newton’s cell phone six at a time.
“Praying for Cam” or “praying for your family” or “lifting you up in prayer” kept lighting up his phone and he had no idea what was going on.
Finally, his wife, Jackie, got in touch with him and let him know that their middle son had been involved in a car accident.
Cam’s parents were in Atlanta, and they received word about him through his assistant, Shain Collins. Once they learned he was OK, they found it’d be faster to drive to Charlotte than find a flight.
“It was a recollection of blessings and the value of what life is really about,” Cecil Newton said of the drive. “All while we were coming to Charlotte, a lot of memories and thoughts pass through your mind when it’s something of that magnitude.”
When they got to the hospital in the late afternoon, they didn’t hound their son with questions. They just wanted to be there for him.
“We didn’t really want to delve into what happened,” Cecil said. “We just allowed our presence to just fill the room. We didn’t come in asking a lot of questions. Just warm embrace and being who we are: parents.”
Three days after wreck, Newton back on field – watching
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula was in a meeting at the stadium planning how to attack the Buccaneers when he got the news of the accident.
He, like everyone else, tried to get all the information on Newton’s health as he could. When he was assured Newton would be OK, he turned his attention back to the game plan.
His offense had its best game of the season two days before and would be facing the Bucs for the second time without Newton, who missed the season opener at Tampa Bay with cracked ribs.
“(You) kind of try to get back to business and then you find out more information and then your mind starts to graduate to, well, where’s he at now in regard to playing,” Shula said. “Then once you realize he’s not going to play, you just lock in on what D.A. (backup quarterback Derek Anderson) is good at and how he can help us win. The first thing was our concern for his health and safety.”
Three days after the accident Newton was back on the practice field wearing his red jersey. However, he was only watching. Newton started preparing for the following week’s game against Cleveland, but not without some ribbing from his teammates.
“He was getting a lot of jabs that he was just really scared of Tampa,” center Ryan Kalil said. “We said it was a little bit extreme to fake a car injury to get out of playing Tampa. There was a lot of that joking going around.”
Newton ‘thankful to be alive’
Newton was released from the hospital Wednesday, a day after the crash. By Thursday he was back at Bank of America Stadium, receiving treatment on his lower back and attending the quarterback meetings.
Newton, wearing a blue Under Armour hoodie, also came into the stadium’s press conference area to address the media. A reflective Newton said he thankful to be alive, and wasn’t worried about when he might play again.
“I’m on somebody’s fantasy league, and I think it’s the man upstairs,” Newton said.
Newton said he never lost consciousness during the wreck, which he said left him a state of shock in the immediate aftermath.
“I’m looking at this truck and I’m like, ‘Somebody’s supposed to be dead,’” Newton said at his new conference. “And I just can’t stop smiling because it’s like, God has his hands on me.”
The Panthers had already ruled Newton out of that week’s game against Tampa Bay. Newton had missed the first game against the Buccaneers in Week 1 because of the cracked ribs he sustained during an August preseason game at New England.
“As far as when I’m coming back, who cares? That’s not something that I’m worried about right now,” Newton said. “I’m just thankful to have breath in my lungs.”
Looking at the photos of his 1998 Dodge pickup, with its smashed cab on the passenger’s side, Newton said he realized how fortunate he was.
“I’m just lucky to come out of there unscathed with just the little injury that I did have,” Newton said. “Every time I see that flashback of looking at that truck, I’m surprised that nothing serious was done to me.”
Directional arrows added near intersection
On Tuesday, Charlotte transportation crews painted directional arrows in the pavement near Church and Hill streets, a move city staff said “could possibly help motorists navigate the intersection,” according to a spokeswoman. No other infrastructure improvements are planned at the intersection, Charlotte Department of Transportation spokeswoman Linda Durrett wrote in an e-mail.