CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is feeling like a proud papa these days.
Not just because the Panthers (8-0) are one of only three remaining undefeated teams at the halfway point of the NFL season.
He's happy because of the exposure his players are getting as a result of their success. Because the success is allowing them to share stories with the rest of the world – NFL Japan was in town on Thursday -- that could be inspirational to others. Those stories wouldn't be told -- or find a bigger audience -- if the Panthers were losing.
Rivera mentioned one specifically on Thursday, referring to quarterback Cam Newton openly talking about a mistake he made during his freshman year at Florida.
“You’re talking about a person, what, six or seven years removed from a stolen laptop, things that people don’t really want to talk about,” Newton said Wednesday. “A person that had to go to junior college.
“But I did all that and look at who I am today. We all make mistakes. But yet it’s all about how you rebound from that mistake rather than giving up."
Because he’s no longer having to answer questions about why he’s not winning, Newton finally is comfortable talking about his past so openly.
“He made a bad decision," Rivera said. “He talks about it now. He goes out and talks to a group of young people and says, ‘Hey, I made a mistake, but look at where I am today.’
“To me, that’s a great success story. Why? Because he learned from his mistake. We’re a country of second opportunities, and that’s all guys want is that opportunity to get a chance to succeed."
Because the Panthers are winning, Newton’s unique talent as a quarterback finally is being appreciated to the point he’s in the conversation for NFL MVP.
“There’s a lot of great stories in the locker room," Rivera said.
There’s Thomas Davis, who leads the Pro Bowl voting at outside linebacker after being snubbed in the selection process since he entered the league in 2005.
There’s cornerback Josh Norman, who leads the Pro Bowl voting at cornerback and is a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year a few years after being benched.
Both have great stories. Davis has overcome ACL surgery on his right knee three times and Norman has gone from sleeping on his brother’s couch to the verge of stardom.
Davis’ story is so compelling that Rivera predicted a movie might be made about it someday.
There’s left tackle Michael Oher, who, of course, has had a movie made about his life and is fourth in the Pro Bowl balloting at his position less than a year after being released by upcoming opponent Tennessee.
The list goes on and on. And Rivera couldn’t be more proud.
“When a guy succeeds, man, it’s very gratifying," he said. “When you get a chance to see your guys have success ... man, it’s neat."