CHARLOTTE – The Carolinas are ablaze over the Panthers hosting an NFC Championship for the first time in franchise history, about the idea that their beloved team is four quarters from earning an invitation to Super Bowl 50.
So what does Cam Newton think about all of this?
"It's just a football game."
Now before the anti-Cam crowd begins anew with a "What's wrong with this guy?" chant, a little perspective. When Newton says it's just football, understand where football ranks in Newton's world. No, it's not life and death (more to come on that), but it most certainly is a big part of his life.
And that's good news for Panthers fans because the pressure of the playoffs is real. But Newton is ready.
"I don't get nervous. I've been playing football too long for me to get nervous," he said. "I've dreamed of being in this position, but I don't get nervous as much as anxious for Sunday at 6:40. I'm ready.
"This is why you play football. I would idolize the quarterbacks in this position and hope and pray that I would get an opportunity to do it. You see so many different quarterbacks have their chance but nothing happens, and I'm not promised to be in this position again."
If Newton is nervous, it's a spare moment before taking on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, a moment of reflection where he thinks about the amazing things this Panthers team has accomplished. He then thinks about making sure it doesn't end before football's ultimate accomplishment.
"I was so intrigued talking to guys who have been here a long time, talking about the glory days of Carolina, about going to the Super Bowl, about going 13-3 and things of that sort," Newton said, thinking back to his rookie year in 2011 when he took over at quarterback for a team coming off a 2-14 season. "I've always wanted it to be that way. I was coming off a national championship (at Auburn) coming to a place that wasn't necessarily accustomed to having that kind of season, but now we're in the same type of situation. People will be talking about the 2015-16 Carolina Panthers for years to come, and shame on us if we don't capitalize on it.
"It's about seizing the moment. We know what we have in front of us, and if we don't maximize that opportunity, then we're going to be looking at it like, 'Dang, we let something so close slip through our hands.' "
It's not a news flash that Newton doesn't exactly take losing in stride. After his first NFL game, Newton sat stoically in front of his locker well after the game had ended.
His first preseason game, that is.
Newton has learned to bounce back better as he's aged, and his perspective shifted some again late last season, when he was spared serious injury in an accident that flipped him and his truck multiple times.
"It's a constant reminder of what's really important in life," Newton said. "Yeah, we're playing for the NFC Championship right now and potentially the Super Bowl, but the truth of the matter is that if I'm not using my influence in a positive way, then shame on me."
Alas, not everyone has a positive view of Newton, a reality in a world where "sports hate" runs rampant. Newton has learned to silence the haters in his head at least and focus on those who could most use a little love.
"Seeing how people react to you, like, 'Hey dude, I'm inspired by you. You went the junior college route, went from one university to another university.' That's not the prototypical way to success, but they see hope," Newton said. "And when you see me playing and there's a kid out there – some people call it immaturity, but I could care less – as long as I see a kid smiling ear-to-ear because they got a football, that's what I care about.
"Long after I stop playing, I want people to say the positive things outweighed the negative things."
They do, and win or lose Sunday, that won't change.
But Newton, of course, sure wants to win.
"Winning," Newton said when asked to share his favorite moment of the season. "Bringing the pride of the Carolinas back."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Cardinals.