CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton emerged from hibernation this afternoon, full of himself and vegetables.
Now we can start the season.
“Vegan strong,” the Panthers quarterback said, four days before the Rams come to town and two weeks after injuring his foot in his only preseason game.
If he’s concerned about the lingering effects of the undisclosed injury, he’s not letting on.
Animated, smiling and holding court for the first time in a month, Newton said he’s focused on his offense and the first game.
“I just want to be 1-0 on Sunday,” he said.
Newton cut off the only question about his foot and said he only wanted to talk about the Los Angeles Rams.
Then he started talking about the Temptations and the “Cat Pack” clique that has been formed on the team without him, about new nicknames and the personalities of his teammates, about the tears of grown men and the harsh realities of getting cut in the NFL, and finally a new diet and the human body.
Or at least his human body.
“I’ve been vegan all year, and I don’t think I’m going back,” he said. “I feel good, and I recover well and that’s pretty much what it’s all about, not putting certain things in your body that’s going to combat your body trying to recover. Obviously the human body cures itself.”
Newton, 30, then continued with a lecture about inflammation and aging and learning from other people with perfect bodies.
Headed into his ninth season in the NFL, the Carolina quarterback is maturing. Sort of. And if he’s indeed healthy, Newton should just now be entering his prime. Of all the positives the Panthers can point to heading into their 25th season, they want to believe they still have the most dangerous weapon in the entire league.
Coach Ron Rivera said he would turn Newton loose against the Rams and had no intention to hold him back.
“No reason to,” the Panthers coach said. “I mean, he’s in great shape, finally where we need him to be. He’s throwing the ball well. He’s been very sharp.”
The locker room today was upbeat with music playing and players dancing and no sign of a hangover from a dismal finish to last season or a horrid preseason that left people wondering if Carolina was ready to play the defending NFC champions on Sunday or any other day.
Tre Boston said while the Panthers are humbled and fully aware of what the Rams are capable of, it’s Los Angeles that needs to be aware of what it’s getting ready to face this week.
“Cam Newton,” the Panthers’ safety said. “Getting Cam out of the pocket and his ability to extend plays, worrying about tackling him when he’s actually out of the box is a problem for me. I don’t like playing those scrambling quarterbacks like Cam. I mean, how many quarterbacks do you know who are 6-5 and 240-50 pounds?”
Newton, the old Newton that is, is not a quarterback opposing defenses want to play. And that’s ultimately the question this week and beyond. Is this is old Newton or the aging Newton? Is he in his prime, or have the injuries and the surgeries and eight seasons of pounding taken a toll on his body?
Newton said he’s approaching this season as if it’s his first, thankful to have a job for the past eight seasons and hopeful that most of the pain is behind him.
But he’s not looking ahead of this week.
“Everybody’s optimistic right now,” he said. “Holler at me around Week 4 or Week 5. Everybody feels like they’re doing things no one else is doing. They feel as if they’re going to be the team to win the Super Bowl. At this particular point in time right now, I want to say it publicly, I could care less about the Super Bowl. I’m just trying to become 1-0.”
That’s all Newton wants as he heads into his ninth season as the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers.
Well, that and the lead singer of the Cat Pack.
“They got this thing right now where they have this Rat Pack,” Newton said. “Cat Pack, whatever it is. And I was thinking they need like a lead singer.”
He said he felt slighted, like the Temps without David Ruffin.
“I don’t know who’s responsible for it, but I don’t like it,” Newton said.
He has an idea for his new group.
“Ace Boogey and the Cat Pack,” he said. "They need to implement me some type of way. But other than that, we all right.”
Cam Newton and the Panthers are four days away from the opener, and apparently they’re all right, too.
The show’s about to begin.