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A reminder that a year ago today, Panthers QB Cam Newton escaped tragedy

Indeed, life is good these days for Cam Newton. And he'll be the first to tell you that he's savoring every minute of it after being involved in a serious auto accident a year ago. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton won't have to look further than his left wrist for a reminder of how lucky he was to avoid serious injury a year ago today, when his truck rolled in a two-vehicle accident a few blocks from Bank of America Stadium.

That's where he still wears the hospital wristband.

The Carolina Panthers quarterback recently had the wristband customized because it kept falling off in practice when he got sweaty.

But the message it holds is the same as it was at the beginning of training camp when Newton explained why he wasn't worried about the risk of injury during an adventurous offseason that included Australian rules football and "Knockerball."

"I don't wear it for a fashion sense," Newton said on the last day of July. "I wear it as a reminder that so many people worry about the negatives -- 'Oh my God, he is going to do this or that?' -- but not just appreciating that the sun is out.

"Because like my father always told me, 'One day you can be on the top of the world, and the next day the world can be on top of you.'"

Newton is on top of the world today. He's playing at a level that has him among the front-runners for the NFL's most valuable player award.

He's a big part of Carolina (12-0) being the only undefeated team in the league.

But around 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, Newton's world was on top of him. That's when, while he was on his way to the stadium two days after snapping a two-month losing streak, another vehicle pulled out from an intersection.

The car clipped the left rear of Newton's 1998 Dodge truck. The truck rolled and settled on its side on the Church Street overpass, just short of rolling down a steep embankment to the bypass.

Newton crawled out the back window, not knowing at the time he'd fractured two small bones in his lower back that would require him to sit out that week against Tampa Bay.

Images of Newton on the sidewalk while paramedics checked him for injuries and of his truck on its side quickly spread via social media and news outlets.

Newton said two days later the images had the look of "someone supposed to be dead or severely injured worse than what I am right now."

Since then, Newton has talked several times about a new appreciation for life. He'll likely talk about that again today as he recalls the anniversary of the wreck during his weekly news conference.

"He's always had that attitude of just enjoying the process of life, of coming in every day with a great mindset," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "It deepens when you go through something like that.

"That's what's happened in this case."

Most associated with the Panthers and Newton remember exactly what they were doing at the time of the accident. Cotchery was having a late breakfast with his family when he saw news of the wreck on SportsCenter.

Tight end Ed Dickson was at home, thinking somebody was playing a practical joke. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula was at the stadium putting in the game plan.

"It was kind of, 'Are you sure?'" Shula recalled. "And then it turned into, 'How bad is he? Is he all right? Is he OK?'

"You try to get back to business, then you find out a little more information and then your mind just starts to graduate to, 'Well, where is he at now in regards to playing?' But the first thing, obviously, was our concern for his health and safety."

Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was among the first players to reach the hospital. Others texted Newton, who was kept overnight for observations, to say they were thinking of him.

"The next day I threw on my Under Armour shoes that he gave me, just trying to cheer him up a little bit because he spends a lot of time cheering up other guys," Cotchery said.

As badly as Newton wanted to play the Buccaneers after missing the opener against them with fractured ribs, he didn't fight the decision to sit out, like he did in Week 1.

The Panthers, with backup quarterback Derek Anderson, beat Tampa Bay, and then won their final two regular-season games with Newton. They made the NFC playoffs with a 7-8-1 record, and then beat Arizona in the first round.

Then this season happened.

But through it all Newton has continued to wear the bracelet as a reminder of how lucky he was.

"That's just to say, don't take life for granted," Dickson said. "1 [Newton's jersey number] always plays with passion, but he seems to be playing with a little more and enjoying himself since then. ... He's thankful for being here and just enjoying the ride."