Cam Newton often sends texts to potential free agents, courting them to sign with the Carolina Panthers. It’s a pretty typical message: We’d love to have you as part of the team.
But when he sent a message to Michael Oher last year, there was a different level of urgency.
“I didn’t say ‘I want you to be here’ but ‘I need you,’ ” Newton recalled this week. “Like, that’s the difference. Want and need are two big, different words and that’s what I used in that text, along with other words and expletives before the need. And I think he got the feeling from it.”
He did. Oher signed with the Panthers, and a week from Sunday, he will be their starting left tackle in Super Bowl 50.
Newton said he was tipped off to Oher’s potential by his brother, Cecil Newton, who was an offensive lineman on the Ravens’ practice squad while Oher played for Baltimore early in his career.
Oher, famous as the subject of the book and movie “The Blind Side,” was a first-round pick of the Ravens and helped them win a Super Bowl. In recent years, however, his career had not lived up to his draft status or his off-the-field fame. He played for the Titans last year and had very few options as a free agent coming into the 2015 season.
Newton recently reminded him of that, too.
“, ‘Hey, man, think, nobody wanted you last year around this time,’ ” Oher said of a conversation with Newton. “I was like, ‘You’re right, man. They left me for dead and stuff like that. I knew I was going to be all right after I got that call from you.’ . . . Stuff like that made me feel at home. Made me know they wanted me. Good feeling.”
Oher is more comfortable with his place in pop culture now than he was during his previous Super Bowl experience three years ago, when he brushed aside almost every question about “The Blind Side.”
“I’m a lot wiser, smarter now than then, coming from where I’ve come from the last year or two,’’ he told reporters. “I’ve got to wise up a little bit.’’
There are things about the 2009 Hollywood movie that he doesn’t like because of the way he was portrayed, but the rags- to-riches tale pulled at the heartstrings of many viewers, and Oher has come to appreciate that. It was, after all, a story about finding a place where you are wanted and where people care about you.
He seems to have found that place again. In Carolina.
“I think we all want to be in a position where the feeling or the relationship is reciprocated to the feeling,” Newton said. “He wants to be in a place where he’s wanted. He wants to be in a place that he wants to be. And also in return, he wants to be loved and wanted and knowing that there are people around him that are pushing for the common goal just like he is.
“He’s been a key asset, to say the least.”