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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Super Bowl 50 eye test: Cam Newton, Panthers look like champs

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton celebrates after the NFC

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton celebrates after the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers won, 49-15, to advance to the Super Bowl. Credit: AP / Chuck Burton

Sometimes you just know.

You look at a team in any sport, in any era, and you just know this is their time. There may not be a specific way to quantify that feeling, because statistics can be misleading. But if you trust what you see, you know what you’re looking at.

The Panthers are that team.

After breezing through the regular season with a 15-1 record, which included a 38-35 white-knuckler against the Giants late in the season, and then getting through another hold-on-for-dear-life second half in a divisional-round win over the defending NFC champion Seahawks, the Panthers ride into the Super Bowl off a 49-15 destruction of a Cardinals team many thought was Super Bowl-worthy.

Sometimes you just know.

Like the 15-1 Bears team that Ron Rivera was a part of in 1985. The Panthers’ coach was a linebacker on that team, which, for one season, may have been the most dominant team in NFL history. The Bears not only beat you, they embarrassed you. They dominated you. They made it so you would never forget them.

Rivera’s team is close to that level, although it doesn’t quite possess the defensive brilliance of that Bears team. There has never been a defense quite like that — the Steelers of the late ’70s were dominant, but not as breathtakingly spectacular to watch — and Carolina’s defense does not have the pass rush that Rivera’s old team featured.

But Cam Newton has blossomed into the league’s most electrifying quarterback, and his command of the offense and 1,000-watt smile and personality are as good as it gets in this league.

This is what you love to see from gifted athletes who begin their NFL journey thinking they know it all and then go through an apprenticeship that can be painful to watch.

We’ve seen Newton go from the up-and-down quarterback in his formative years — the sideline sulking was impossible to miss — to the football magician he is today. And that has occurred even though No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been out the whole season with a knee injury and Ted Ginn Jr. never had been the sort of playmaker he has become in 2015.

Newton’s charisma as a person and a player is unmistakable. Yes, he will rub some people the wrong way, folks who’d rather see their quarterbacks not be so demonstrative after big plays, especially touchdowns. And if he’s not for you, then fine. The rest of us will smile every time he throws or runs for a touchdown and provides his personal exclamation point by doing the “dab” — kissing his right forearm.

The celebratory move has caught on everywhere; even Jets owner Woody Johnson did some “dabbin’ ” after a win this season. So did Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who is about as uncool a dude as there is but who couldn’t help himself after the Chiefs made the playoffs following a 1-5 start.

Newton is one step away from completing a near-perfect season, cementing his legacy as one of the league’s best performers and adding his name to the very short list of young quarterbacks who could end up dominating this league the way Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have done.

Newton is a vastly superior quarterback right now compared to Manning, a 39-year-old game manager who is barely holding on as his career winds down. And it would be a shock if Newton does anything less than put together another signature performance when the quarterbacks meet Feb. 7 in Super Bowl 50.

If the Broncos have any hope of winning, it is because of a defense that might be the only one in the NFL that can solve the riddle that is Newton. This game is about Newton vs. pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, because that’s the only path to victory for the Broncos. If Miller and Ware do to Newton what they did to Brady in last Sunday’s 20-18 win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, there certainly is the chance for an upset.

Miller and Ware were shades of 1985 Bears pass rushers Richard Dent and Dan Hampton last Sunday, and the Panthers’ offensive line cannot afford the kind of meltdown the Patriots endured in Denver. But judging from the way the Panthers manhandled the Seahawks in the divisional playoff round, there will not be the kind of clear path to Newton that there was to Brady.

So if Manning is forced to go toe-to-toe with Newton, it is not a winnable fight. Not unless Newton picks the wrong time for a bad game.

The dazzling young quarterback has been up to the challenge all season, so there’s no reason to think he will be blinded by the bright lights of the Super Bowl.

He has the look. The Panthers have the look.

Sometimes you just know.


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