In the Book of Exodus, Moses famously went from being the Prince of Egypt to wandering the desert, where he became a shepherd for many years before God eventually summoned him back to Egypt in order to free the Israelites. The story of Moses, and his flight into the wilderness, is partially a story of transition -- something that Cam Newton had been focused on in the first half of the 2021 NFL season.
Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, was a free agent after being released by the New England Patriots at the end of the preseason. Out of football only a few short years after being one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, Newton had entered this past week focused on the idea of transition within the context of the Bible.
"In a lot of ways, while I had this off-time, I felt like Moses," Newton said. "When you go to the desert, when you go in that place of isolation, it's just you and God. It's just you and your circumstance. And it's not for you to question, it's not for you to be angry -- It's just for you to just trust. And that's what I did."
Tuesday night, that trust was rewarded -- in this case, the burning bush was Newton's cell phone, and the voice of God was Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Needing a quarterback in the wake of an injury to the beleaguered Sam Darnold, the Panthers summoned Newton back and signed him to a one-year contract on Thursday to return to Carolina and deliver the Panthers from the Pharaoh of a struggling offense and five losses in their last six games.
But incidentally, Newton revealed Friday that he missed Rhule's initial call. It was Taco Tuesday at the Newton household, and he had to do a double-take once he saw Rhule's name in his caller ID.
"I said 'What in the world? It's God -- Hey, it's me.' Are you playin'?" recalled Newton. "... Once I seen it, it was like 'Hold up, is somebody playing with me?' When we talked, it was very exhilarating to just hear his voice."
By his own admission, Newton was still "floating" over his unlikely return to the Panthers, where he became a franchise legend as the team's star quarterback from 2011 to 2019. However, he made a point throughout his re-introductory press conference that his return to Carolina was not about him. Rather, he re-enters the locker room a team that is 4-5 and very much in the mix for the playoffs in the NFC, and his mindset is on getting to work and winning football games rather than any "parade" accompanying his comeback.
What has made Newton's return to the Panthers truly remarkable is the fact that it comes a year and a half after a messy divorce between him and the franchise, which released him in March of 2020 amid a hard rebuild and two-straight injury-plagued seasons for Newton.
However Newton may have felt about his release at the time or beyond that point, he said, is irrelevant now.
"We had an unbelievable conversation. [Rhule] told me what his expectations is ... and it's my job to execute what those expectations [are]," Newton said. "Was there disconnect in the past? It's irrelevant. The fact that we're able to make what may seem a lot of wrongs or some wrongs right, that's the most exciting thing about it.
"To hell with feelings -- it will be the biggest right and wrong by just winning football games. And that's what it pretty much comes down to."
Though the sight of Newton's No. 1 jersey will be the ultimate blast from the past into the present, he now joins a Panthers team that is far different from the ones he led in the past. Head coach Ron Rivera now leads the Washington Football Team. Longtime teammates Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen, Thomas Davis and more are now retired. In their place, a new generation of potential stars has been assembled by Rhule, whose efforts to build a worthy program have been frustrated by issues at quarterback. Isues which have drained the team's fanbase and led to a lack of identity for the franchise.
Newton's mentality now is to "bring the pride back to Carolina," though that will likely have to wait a week. Prior to Newton's press conference, Rhule acknowledged that it was "not very likely" that Newton will see playing time in Week 10 against the Arizona Cardinals. The team is aiming for Newton's return to come in Week 11, when they return to Charlotte to play the Washington Football Team, led by Rivera.
In the interim, Newton concluded his comments on Friday by delivering a mic drop heard throughout the Carolinas. A simple, two word phrase once uttered by Sam Mills that now serves as the Panthers' mantra.
"Without further ado, I will say something that I've been wanting to say for a long time: Keep Pounding."