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Cam Newton: A cathartic return of a once in a lifetime player

While much will be made of the Panthers 2021 season, just the fact that he’s back is historically significant.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

November 10, 2021. My friend Walker Clement posted an article, posing the question: Do Carolina Panthers fans want Cam Newton back? Not to be confused with “should Carolina sign Cam Newton?”. No. He simply posed the question of whether Panthers fans actually WANTED Cam Newton back. The answer? A mostly resounding “YES!”. Afterwards, the CSR staff discussed in our Slack chat.

“Would Carolina even consider bringing him back?”. Which most of us considered a pipe dream, at best. As fate would have it... this energy created reality.

Suddenly, this far-fetched idea could be a reality. And man, did social media ignite.

And then, the fairy tale came true.

This isn’t even 1% of what I saw that day as the Social Media Czar of CSR. I can safely say I have never seen CSR (or even Panthers social media) explode in that way, a showing of love and yearning for a player we all thought long gone. As divisive as Cam could be in his time in Carolina, it seemed that the old adage remained true; you don’t really appreciate what you have, until its gone.

For context, every single writer on CSR wanted Cam Newton back. We never liked the decision to release him in the first place. We rationalized it, we made sense of it. But from a pure fandom standpoint, we all hated it. Football arguments aside, Cam Newton is the most impactful player in franchise history. Players like him come along maybe once or twice in a fan’s lifetime for a single team. And I am not talking about pure on-the-field production, I’m talking about impact on a team’s history. Cam became the reason fans of other teams tuned in, why the media talked about the Panthers. He forced the NFL to notice them. He helped create a culture, on and off the field. A community united behind one of the NFL’s largest personalities of all time. When he said he wanted to be an icon, he meant it, and he succeeded.

I will never forget the night the Panthers selected Cam Newton 1st overall. I’m gonna be real with you, Panthers fans; I hated the pick at the time. I was still all in on Jimmy Clausen. I drank the Kool-Aid that some media pundits were spinning; that Cam Newton wasn’t a leader, that he was fake, that he couldn’t be the guy to carry a team. And then I got to know him. I saw his smile, his swagger, the energy he brought to the table. I wasn’t entirely convinced about him as a franchise quarterback on the field at first, but he definitely changed my mind about him as a person before his first snap. And then, he changed my mind entirely in his first NFL start.

I’m happy to say my initial take on Cam Newton was incorrect, as he became my favorite player of all time in any sport. And its almost fitting that he returned, a decade later, against the same team he debuted against, in that same stadium. This time, he took home the W.

I spent the better part of my 20’s watching Cam Newton play football. I spent it fighting against those same media misconceptions that initially made me dislike him, watching him become a true figurehead of the franchise and the Carolinas as a whole, both as a player and as a person. The last decade had its ups and downs, but watching Cam Newton take the field on a Sunday always brought me joy.

We watched him make his mark, reveled in his rise to the top, stood fast during the struggles, stuck with him as he tried powered back, and cried when he was forced to walk away from a new group of decision makers that decided they had to move on from the past. So its fitting, that the background theme of his return video echoes these lyrics:

Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.

I know my kingdom awaits

And they’ve forgiven my mistakes.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.

Tell the world that I’m coming... home.

I don’t know what this future holds for Cam Newton, or the 2021 (and beyond) iteration of the Carolina Panthers. But Cam is back, and it just feels right.