CHARLOTTE, NC (WIS) - He was the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. The Carolina Panthers selected Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
There was a chorus of boo's that followed Thursday night. But it's obviously a different feeling for Carolina fans.
He's often controversial, always flashy and with a gray and blue suit and snazzy tie, many would say Newton's already more fun to watch than last year's entire squad. For once, Panthers management took a big chance, and we'll soon see how it pays off.
In Newton's own words, on the field, it could be more like collard greens than instant grits. It takes time. But off the field, his impact was immediate.
While he hasn't played a down in the NFL, he's already stealing the headlines and socking away the cash. Under Armour, the apparel and shoe company, signed an endorsement deal with Newton. It's reportedly worth $1 million.
"I'm trying to be the best," said Newton, "I strive to be great." But don't look for grass to grow under his feet.
Though the Panthers have sold out every home game dating back to 2002, they went 2-24 last season. There were thousands of no-shows in the stadium.
With Newton in the lineup, Erik Spanberg of the Charlotte Business Journal said the Panthers are banking on returning fans in the stands. It's revenue from merchandise and concessions that boost the Panthers bottom line. "I think by having Cam Newton on the team people will be more excited and they'll be more likely to come to the stadium and not stay home and watch on TV," said Spanberg.
But with the league in labor trouble, the lockout that was on is now off - for the time being. A cloud hangs over whether Newton or anyone will be playing this year. Players were cleared to talk with the coaches and get playbooks Friday. "All of this leaves fans confused," said Spanberg, "They don't want to worry about legal arguments. They want to see these guys play football, and so the sooner it's over with, the happier fans will be."
Newton wasn't the only one booed at Thursday night's NFL Draft, so was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He said he understands fans are upset.
But as for Friday, it was all about Cam the man. "My wife's an Auburn fan," said Panthers fan Mel Freeman, "We cheered for Cam last year, and we know what he can bring. Hopefully he'll turn out to be a superstar. Hey, he won a national championship last year. Why not win the Super Bowl this year?" You have to like his optimism.
So what's Newton's number going to be? How much is he going to get paid? That's all has to be worked out.