If there was a way to describe Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton's first career Pro Bowl during his rookie season, a person would be hard pressed to hear anything positive. It didn't matter that he had just broken multiple rookie records and was on his way to AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Newton's attitude didn't carry over well with his peers in Hawaii.
"...there were some players on the AFC side who wished Newton has stayed home," said CBS Sports' Pete Prisco.
The above quote from Pete Prisco was just a partial glimpse into how the league's perception of Newton was just a couple of short years ago. What made it worse was the AFC defense hounded Newton during his time on the field by bringing a constant pass rush, something which is generally unheard of during the Pro Bowl.
There were accusations that the young Carolina signal-caller was just goofing off during practice and didn't get into the playbook. Instead, Newton went into the week with a “me-first” mentality, and that did not set too well with the other players.
"He was a total [expletive]. Who did he think he was? He acted like the big [expletive]. Here he was at his first game and he acted like he was the star. Guys didn't like that," said a player to Prisco.
So, how much has Newton grown since then?
For starters, he changed his demeanor and attitude around dramatically in his third season as the Panthers quarterback. His actions weren't defined as brooding or sulking but rather those of a leader. Over the course of the 2013-14 season, Newton would engineer four come-from-behind wins, three of which were against playoff contenders.
He helped guide Carolina to their first winning season (12-4) and division title in five years. Despite the Panthers doing a one-and-done in the playoffs, Newton did a great job in silencing his critics. It only seems logical that his new found mentality will carry over into an exhibition game featuring some of the league's best players.
Newton will have the benefit of having plenty of his Carolina teammates there to support him. While the new Pro Bowl draft format will not allow for them to play on the same squad, there should be plenty of familiar faces to help keep any egos in check.
Although, it seems as any and all egos in Carolina were checked at the door the minute last year's training camp opened. Newton has been considerably humble this season and has shared in the blame as much as the successes of the team's terrific season.
According to the Charlotte Observers' Joe Person, Newton isn't dwelling on his last Pro Bowl.
It should be interesting to see how he performs this time around. The game may be a meaningless and arguably unnecessary exhibition game, but it would be a testament to his turnaround if Newton can do the things that helped made the Panthers respectable and earned him his first year as a team captain.
It's expected of everyone in the game to have fun, but a good showing by Newton will prove to everyone that he is a different quarterback than what people remember the first time he was there. Newton can accomplish this by taking a serious and professional approach to the game, getting into the playbook and building a rapport with his teammates.
Cam will be Cam.
Whether it's rocking out his Superman football cleats during warm-ups, doing his pregame ritual or flashing his charismatic smile, Newton has the opportunity to change a lot of people's perception about him while bringing a little seriousness into a fun game.