Just two short years ago, the Carolina Panthers had one of the most abominable seasons in NFL history. The Jimmy Clausen-led offense was the worst in the league by leaps and bounds. Carolina was so terrible that, on average, they lost by more points (13.3) than they scored (12.2). The Panthers finished the 2010 season with a 2-14 record and a lot of holes to fill, on both the field and the sidelines.
However, there’s always one good thing that comes from being the face of NFL futility: the chance to pick first in the draft. It’s the league’s way of giving the bad teams a chance to get better. After 16 weeks of insufferable football, Carolina had certainly earned that right.
Then, the stars seemed to align perfectly for the Panthers.
With very few playmakers and an impatient fanbase, the team needed a superstar. The Panthers needed somebody who could turn the team into a competitor in the cut-throat NFC South division. Out of the entire draft class, there was only one player with that kind of potential:
At the time, the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Auburn quarterback had just capped off his only college football season with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. With the size of a tight end and the speed of a wide receiver, Newton is a physical specimen that can beat you with both his arm and his legs. Anyone who saw him effortlessly carve through SEC defenses knew he had the potential to be an NFL superstar.
However, there seemed to be just as many questions as answers about Cam Newton. He had been implicated in an alleged pay-for-play scandal at Auburn, which prompted a highly publicized NCAA investigation. Before transferring to AU, Newton was arrested at the University of Florida for stealing a laptop from a fellow student and tossing it out his dorm room window. Furthermore, many NFL pundits questioned Newton’s ability to run a pro-style offense. He was called selfish, disingenuous and immature. There were plenty of red flags that screamed bust. Not to mention, owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney have been notoriously conservative about taking chances on players with character questions. The Panthers had plenty of reasons not to take him.
But they had more reasons not to leave him.
The “play-it-safe” philosophy wasn’t working for the Panthers. It was time to forget about the past, tune out all the speculation, and simply take a chance at being great. Credit to the Panthers, they took that shot.
The rest is history.
Newton’s impact was resounding and immediate. He threw for more than 400 yards in his first two NFL games, setting the tone for what would be a record-breaking rookie season. Along with new head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Newton helped transform the Carolina offense from the NFL’s worst to one of the best in the league. The Panthers tripled their win total from 2010, finishing 6-10 and winning four of their final six games.
Just two years after it seemed like they would never climb out of the NFL basement, the Panthers are getting primed for what they believe can be a Super Bowl season. The buzz and excitement surrounding the team is at an all-time high.
Whether it’s in life or sports, sometimes you just have to put all your chips on the table and take a leap of faith. Great success doesn’t come without taking risks, and sometimes the biggest risk is not taking one at all.
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