A moment between rising star, legend

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sometimes you walk into a situation that can't help but make you smile.

That was the case late Sunday afternoon as quarterback Cam Newton, about an hour after leading the Carolina Panthers to a last-minute 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins, emerged from the visitors' locker room.

There in the bowels of Sun Life Stadium, surrounded by his sons, great nephews, nieces and other family members, was legendary coach Don Shula in a motorized wheelchair posing for pictures.

One of Shula's sons, Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula, was among those taking pictures when Newton walked out. Newton quickly immersed himself into the family gathering, telling his coach to take a picture and "send it to me'' as he knelt beside the Hall of Fame coach.

Newton looked completely thrilled to be in the presence of the NFL's all-time winningest coach. He clutched Shula's right hand with his and put his left arm around Shula's shoulders.

Don Shula, 83, proudly displayed the Super Bowl ring he got from Miami's 17-0 undefeated season.

"He was just real happy for all of us,'' Mike said of his dad. "He loves that stuff. He loves the game, he loves game day, he loves having a chance to be out there on the sideline.

"[Miami] Coach [Joe] Philbin has done a wonderful job of making him feel a part of it.''

But what stood out the most was Newton's smile. It was so infectious that it was hard not to smile as well.

It had nothing to do with the fourth-and-10 completion Newton made from his own 20-yard line to keep the game-winning drive alive with 2:33 left. It had nothing to do with his 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds left that extended Carolina's winning streak to seven games.

It was about Newton being Newton, a 24-year-old kid on the brink of NFL greatness.

"He's such a good-looking guy and he's got that smile,'' Mike said. "He loves kids. He really does. All that non-football stuff you see in the paper, it's genuine. There's so many other stories that haven't been documented with him.

"It just comes natural to him.''

And it makes people smile.