Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says the NFL could hold Sunday’s NFC Championship Game anywhere and his approach would be the same:
He’s going to prepare hard, play hard and have fun doing it.
Will Newton be nervous before what he called the “weird” 6:40 p.m. kickoff time against Arizona?
“It’s just a football game. The only thing that’s changed is probably the media (attention),” Newton said Wednesday. “We could have this game in the parking lot. We could have this game on the practice field. It’s nothing different. ... Nothing’s going to change for me.”
Newton had not advanced past the divisional round until this year, but being on the big stage is nothing new for him.
Newton won a national championship at Auburn (and Blinn Junior College) and was the Heisman Trophy winner before the Panthers drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
So no, the moment is not going to be too big for Newton on Sunday.
This is why you play football games. I idolized the quarterbacks who would be in these positions and just dream, man, I hope and pray that I get the opportunity to do it.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton
“I’ve been playing football for too long for me to get nervous,” he said. “I used to dream of being in this type of position. ... This is why you play football games. I idolized the quarterbacks who would be in these positions and just dream, man, I hope and pray that I get the opportunity to do it.
“And you see so many different quarterbacks have their chance, but yet nothing happens.”
Sunday’s game will be the first time two Heisman-winning quarterbacks have met in the playoffs. Newton said he’s not friendly with Carson Palmer, but is familiar with his accomplishments.
“I respect him. I know what he’s done,” Newton said. “I followed him when he was at USC with that explosive group.”
Newton and Palmer were among the best late-game quarterbacks in the league this season.
Palmer threw eight fourth-quarter touchdown passes and only one interception, and his 109.6 passer rating in the fourth quarter was third behind Russell Wilson and Tom Brady.
Newton, who on Wednesday was named league MVP by the Pro Football Writers Association, had the fourth-best passer rating (106.3) in the fourth quarter. Newton tossed seven touchdowns, with one interception, in the fourth quarter this season.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes Newton’s big-game experience will serve him well.
“Let’s not forget as far as college football is concerned, he’s been on the biggest stage of them all. This is just another step for him,” Rivera said. “And I think his experience of having been there and then his experiences of the last two seasons (in the playoffs) is going to really do good things for him, just having been in that type of situation.”
Rivera said he feels fortunate to have cornerstone players on either side of the ball in Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who arrived in Carolina as a first-round pick a year after Newton.
Kuechly said Newton took him to dinner during his first weekend in Charlotte after the Panthers drafted him. Newton praised Kuechly’s work ethic, telling reporters Wednesday evening that if they went into the linebackers meeting room they’d find Kuechly there studying video.
But Panthers wide receiver Philly Brown says Newton is no stranger to long hours at Bank of America Stadium, either.
“He studies more than anybody I know,” Brown said. “I don’t even think he sees the light anymore. Comes in when it’s dark and he leaves when it’s dark. That’s all I can say.”
Newton hopes his preparation will pay off with the second Super Bowl berth in franchise history. When he suffered through losing seasons his first two years in Carolina, Newton would hear team officials talk about the “glory days” like those surrounding the 2003 Super Bowl season.
Newton wanted to be part of getting the Panthers back in championship contention, much like he had at Auburn.
“I would always dream of how I wanted it to be that way. Because I was coming off of obviously the national championship and I knew I was at a place where they weren’t necessarily accustomed to having that type of season,” Newton said.
“And now we’re in the same type of situation. People will be talking about the 2015-2016 Carolina Panthers for years to come, and shame on us if we don’t capitalize on it.”