SAN JOSE, Calif. – For Michael Oher, two conversations with Cam Newton at two very different times reveal how drastically his situation has changed.
The first conversation took place via text last offseason when the Panthers still weren't sure who was going to play left tackle in 2015. Oher was coming off a rough, injury-plagued campaign with the Titans, who released him after the first year of a four-year contract.
"I told him, 'I need you. I don't want you. I need you,'" Newton recalled.
The other conversation took place on the field during the NFC Championship game. The Panthers were handily beating the Cardinals, and Newton had a few quick words for Oher.
"Cam said, 'Hey man, think, nobody wanted you last year around this time,'" Oher recalled. "I was like, 'You're right man. They left me for dead and stuff like that. I knew I was going to be all right after I got that call from you.'"
Oher, like most all of us, wanted to work with someone who believed in him and his ability.
Newton proved to be the first of many within the Panthers organization who made Oher feel appreciated.
"I think we all want to be in a position where that feeling or the relationship is reciprocated," Newton said. "He wants to be in a place where he's wanted. He wants to be in a place that he wants to be. And also in return, he wants to be loved and wanted and knowing that there are people around him that are pushing for the common goal just like he is."
Oher signed a two-year deal with the Panthers, and a few weeks prior to the start of the season, he received messages from head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman that blew him away.
"I got a text message (from Rivera) saying they appreciated me being here and they appreciated my hard work every day and my professionalism," Oher said. "Mr. Gettleman sent me a letter saying they valued me and stuff like that. It was crazy to me. These guys… it's a great organization.
"People were saying I wasn't even good enough to play right tackle. Now they want me to play left tackle. That was real big."
Backed by a team that wholeheartedly supported him, Oher felt he had a foundation to flourish. Combine Oher's work ethic with some extra motivation provided by media members who proclaimed he was finished, and the Panthers had themselves a former first-round pick driven to get his career back on track.
"I've always been a hard worker. But having (toe) surgery and being released, I got a chance to learn more about myself and more about football. I studied nutrition, exercise and things like that," Oher said. "You have to look yourself in the mirror. You can't put your dreams and the things you want to accomplish in other people's hands."
Oher started every game at left tackle for the 17-1 NFC Champions, and now he's back at the Super Bowl for the second time in his career.
Not bad for someone who knows he's lucky to have battled through an extremely difficult upbringing in inner-city Memphis. Not bad for someone the majority of NFL evaluators and analysts "left for dead" a year ago.
"I pinch myself just being in front of you guys," Oher said from his Super Bowl podium. "Knowing the road that I had to travel, it was very tough. Most people don't get the chances that I've gotten. That's why I work so hard, why I get up so early, why I try to be the first one in the building. I know where I came from, and it's not somewhere I want to go back.
"Now you're here in the Super Bowl. It just shows you can do anything you put your mind to."
View photos of the Panthers during their media session at the San Jose Convention Center.