When Newton succeeds -- and he will -- critics will go silent

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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NEW YORK -- His name was called, and the boos came down like acid rain.

Cam Newton ignored it all. He walked on stage and that smile seemed impenetrable. He was going to enjoy the moment and didn't give a damn about the reaction. It took about 10 seconds for the Panthers to make the pick. That's part of Newton's Law: you either fall for Newton or you don't.

You either hate him or you love him.

The Panthers love Newton and they made the right choice. They would be the dumbest team on the planet to pass on Newton. Dumbest. Ever.

This was the Cam Newton Draft. Years from now the sport will look back and likely view this moment in one of two ways: the day when Newton's illustrious career began or the day when Newton's bust of a career began. I don't think there will be an in-between. There is no middle ground with Newton. High or low, bust or boom -- that's the Newton way.

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And he'll go boom. There's too much raw material for that not to happen, too much of a work ethic. And I know the quotes. I know the "icon" stuff. I know the ego stuff. I know the past. Sure. Got it. He made mistakes as a teen and 20-something.

I also know the divisiveness Newton inspires. There are those, for various reasons, who despise him. There is a hatred of him so thick, it borders on irrational. There are times when I wonder if people will ask him for a birth certificate.

Fine. I see a different player. I see a different guy. I see a winner in junior college and a national champion. I see a Heisman. I see a work ethic and a nice arm. I see desire and passion. I see a complete player. I see it all.

Will Newton step right in and become a Pro Bowler? Probably not. It might take a year. It might take two, but many of the greats have waited -- see Rodgers, Aaron, home address Green Bay. Newton is a No. 1 overall pick, and because of that, patience will be thin in Carolina and throughout the league, but it will pay off.

Newton is Ben Roethlisberger -- a behemoth who is also an excellent athlete.

"He's going to be one of the better players and he's going to surprise people," Hall of Fame quarterback and Newton advisor Warren Moon told CBSSports.com in a phone interview moments after his protégé was selected. "He's not going to surprise people with his arm or talent -- that's there.

"What's going to surprise is his attitude and work ethic. The people who question his heart and say he doesn't care or think he's going to get a bunch of money and not play hard. They're the ones who are going to be surprised. They're going to get a good shock. They don't know Cam the way people close to him do. They don't know and they're going to be shocked."

Moon added, "We're going to be hearing from him for a long time in the NFL, and it's going to be in a good way. He's a grounded kid with a good family. His father will push him to be great and Cam will respond as he always has."

Moon said the key for Newton was a recent meeting the quarterback had with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. The meeting, Moon said, may have changed everything.

"I think Jerry had concerns but after meeting Cam, he didn't," Moon explained. "Jerry really liked him and Cam was able to erase any doubts Jerry had."

Newton himself was humble in his press conference with the media. "I understand that preparation is key," he said. "I'll be ready."

Hopefully Newton won't get too humble. Arrogance, to some degree, is what fuels NFL players. It's their warp core.

Are there risks with Newton? Hell, yeah. High risk, high reward isn't quite fair but it's not far off.

This was the Cam Newton Draft. One day we'll all know who was right: his proponents or his critics. Yet I get the feeling when he's a success his critics will go radio silent.

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