The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Newton is the NFL's greatest dual-threat
quarterback and brings boundless energy and enthusiasm to his job
and relishes the spotlight - which will shine brightest on Feb. 7
when he battles the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Beloved by his teammates, the 26-year-old Newton led the top-seeded
Panthers to a league-best 15-1 record in the regular season while at
the helm of the NFL's highest-scoring offense.
He also dances in the end zone after touchdowns, signals first downs
after a clutch play and mimes Superman ripping off his shirt
following his special gridiron feats - histrionics that can get
under the skin of opposing players and fans.
"When I look in the mirror, it's me," Newton said. "Nobody changed
me, nobody made me act this certain type of way, and I'm true to my
roots. And it feels great."
Newton, who may not appeal to some due to his brashness and
outspoken nature, on Wednesday suggested his skin color was a factor
in how he has rubbed some fans the wrong way.
"I've said this since day one," Newton said. "I'm an
African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because
they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."
Fans have witnessed other successful African-American signal
callers, but what sets Newton apart are his celebrations.
Supporters of the Seattle Seahawks, who were eliminated from the
playoffs by the Panthers, were irked that Newton ripped down one of
their signs at Carolina's stadium and have started a petition to ban
him from their stadium.
Last November, a Tennessee mother wrote Newton a letter, shared with
the Charlotte Observer, saying he marred her 9-year-old daughter's
first game with "The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant
struts and the 'in your face' taunting of both the Titans' players
Chatter about his antics has obscured a vital element in the
unflappable fifth-year quarterback's success - the hard work he has
put in and growth he has achieved as a quarterback.
Raw talent carried Newton to a college championship with Auburn, the
Heisman Trophy as top U.S. collegiate player, the top pick in the
2011 NFL Draft and rookie of the year honors.
But under the tutelage of former quarterback coach and current
offensive coordinator Mike Shula, Newton, once feared a too
inaccurate a passer to succeed long-term in the NFL, has honed his
gifts to thrive as a pocket passer.
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Given authority to change calls at the line of scrimmage, he is
patiently exploiting defenses and deftly picking his spots to run
the football while blossoming into the frontrunner for NFL most
valuable player honors.
This season, Newton led all quarterbacks with 45 touchdowns,
including 35 passing scores that topped his previous career high by
11 despite his top receiver missing the season due to injury.
"That's just who he is. He's a tremendously gifted athlete, a
terrific quarterback, a smart football player," Panthers head coach
Ron Rivera said.
Rivera shrugged off negative reaction to Newton.
"People think that you should be stoic when you play this game and I
think a lot of people disagree," Rivera said.
"You should be able to come out and have fun. This is a kid's game
we're playing. I know there's a lot of money involved and
everything, but at the end of the day, it's about entertainment and
Rivals have also voiced respect for Newton, who is now one win away
from capping a remarkable season with a maiden Super Bowl for him
and the 21-year-old Panthers franchise.
"I have never seen nobody who has that size ... can sit in the
pocket and then can run," said Denver cornerback Aqib Talib.
"He's probably the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL right now."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)
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