CHARLOTTE – One year ago today, in the shadow of Bank of America Stadium, Cam Newton's life flashed before his eyes.
"We never know the day, never know the hour, never know the minute that's going to be our last hurrah," Newton said on the anniversary of his harrowing automobile accident. "So while you have an opportunity to do something, please do it."
That's the message that most resonates to this day with Newton, whose pickup truck flipped twice after it collided with a car on an overpass that provides a perfect view of the stadium where Newton was headed to study film on his day off.
"The pictures I saw, like most people, were of a flipped-over truck and your franchise quarterback on a stretcher," center Ryan Kalil said. "It was pretty scary."
Two days and two broken bones in his back later, Newton returned to the stadium. Amazingly, just 12 days after the accident, he was back in the Panthers' starting lineup.
"It was scary, something you'll remember most certainly. But we were very fortunate, he was very fortunate," said head coach Ron Rivera, who upon first hearing of the accident followed immediate and intense live coverage courtesy of local media. "When I saw him lying on the ground and they had that shot of him smiling, you knew he was going to be OK.
"That's who he is. He didn't lose anything in terms of his personality. The paramedics were attending to him, and then you see those pearly whites, and I thought to myself, 'He's going to be OK.' "
Newton, in fact, has been better than OK both on and off the field since the accident. Two days before, Newton appeared to turn around what had been an injury-plagued season, leading the Panthers to a 41-10 triumph at New Orleans that snapped a six-game losing streak.
Derek Anderson took over for Newton five days after the accident and led Carolina to another victory, and the Panthers haven't lost a regular season game since. When the Atlanta Falcons visit Sunday, Carolina will try to extend an NFC-record regular season streak of 16 victories.
And Newton, the man directing the Panthers' potent offense, has emerged as a frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.
"A lot has happened since then," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We've kind of found our groove."
Newton said he doesn't dwell on the accident or single it out as a turning point in his life, but a couple of caring texts he received on the anniversary spoke to the biggest impact the incident had on him.
"They're a reminder to never take anything for granted. Just a simple, 'I love you,' just a simple appreciation," Newton said. "That's the only thing I probably would have really regretted – the people I care about, from friends to teammates to family, just not getting a good farewell."
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who has spent as much time as anyone with Newton since the Panthers selected the quarterback No. 1 in the 2011 NFL Draft, said he did notice some changes in Newton after the accident but more chalked it up to a natural progression.
"Yeah, a little bit, but I also think just in general, he's four or five years older than he was when he first got here," Shula said. "He's like a lot of guys his age – you learn more about life through all different kinds of experiences.
"You hope and pray nobody has to go through something like that, but he definitely appreciates even more so the opportunity that he's been given to play football and do it well. I think he's thankful for that."
Newton still has the hospital bracelet from that day. He wore it in his postgame press conference Sunday, but Tuesday he sent it off to have an inscription added: "Never forget your journey."
"It's just a humbling reminder," he said.
Take a look at the career of quarterback Cam Newton in photos.