It was a Monday night game in 2002: Me and my Packers teammates were playing the Bears. With Soldier Field being renovated, we played down at the University of Illinois. It had the feel of a big-time college game when the team buses pulled up to Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Fans everywhere. Wild tailgate parties. The place was electric.
Were we tight coming out of the tunnel? Yeah, maybe a little bit. Some anxious energy there. It happens under the lights in that kind of environment. But it all changed less than five minutes into the first quarter.
Brett Favre rolled to his left, bought time and just slinged the ball down the field. I mean, he launched the thing to Donald Driver. An 85-yard bomb for six. The joint went silent.
That's how we felt on the sidelines after watching Favre celebrate like he had just won the lottery. The guy was loving it, and from then on, we all let loose. Guys started making plays all over the field. We covered kicks like junkyard dogs. Interceptions on defense. More points on the offensive side of the ball.
Man, we whipped the Bears that night.
I don't know Cam Newton and I'm not in the Carolina Panthers' locker room as they prep for Super Bowl 50. But when I watch the Panthers' quarterback drop his shoulder on a linebacker or dive over the goal line head-first -- as he did in the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals -- it reminds me of playing with Favre.
Players gravitate toward that kind of enthusiasm and passion from their quarterback. It's leadership, really, in the eyes of the locker room. So too is taking a lick and popping up with a smile on your face.
Favre did that every week, and there were times when none of us expected him to play given how beaten up he was. But he was always there. And he did it for 297 consecutive games, leading by example, talking trash and playing with a contagious energy that filtered throughout the team.
There were times when I couldn't even sit down during that season in Green Bay. I had to see what Favre was going to do next on the field. He had such a unique way of playing the game, an unconventional style at the position. Yes, Favre executed plays as they were drawn up on the chalkboard, but he also brought a magical element to the field that can't be coached.
We fed off that -- the unpredictability of it all. And I have to believe the Panthers' players do the same with Cam. Because when the quarterback plays loose and shows a willingness to create on the field -- regardless of the dangers in this violent game -- the rest of the team adopts that same mentality. And it's not just the big names on the roster. I'm talking about the special teams guys too, the players on the second line of the depth chart. Everyone sees it. And everyone wants to join the party.
Comparing Cam and Favre from a skill set perspective isn't the point here. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds with 4.59 speed, Newton is super rare. He's a quarterback stuffed into a defensive end's body. And he is rewriting the book on dual-threat players at the position. The game tape, the QB iso plays on the goal line and the 50 combined touchdowns this season tell us that.
The guy has ridiculous ability, and it feeds into the Panthers' obvious swagger. At 17-1 and on the cusp of a Super Bowl title, their confidence is off the charts. Coach Ron Rivera also has a lot to do with that. He is the right man for this group. But I would be crazy if I didn't also point to Cam, because he drives the bus for this team.
Whether it's a rocket throw down the field for a score or the designed QB runs that leave Newton exposed to downhill collisions, he gets up, drops the Dab, signals for a first down with a smile and keeps going.
Sign me up.
ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL.