CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shortly after noon on Dec. 9, 2014, a clear and sunny day, Cam Newton drove his matte black Dodge pickup to Bank of America Stadium to watch game film on his day off, a mundane fragment of his Tuesday routine. He crossed West Hill Street while cruising on South Church Street, about a block from the stadium, and the mundane ceased.
A black Buick pulled in front of Newton, swerved and clipped the back of his truck. The Dodge jackknifed, rolled, skidded sideways and came to a stop on an overpass above I-277. Airbags burst open. Windows shattered. The roof caved in on the passenger's side. Newton crawled out the sliding window and limped to the side of the road.
"It looked to me like he was in shock," said Josh Wrona, the driver of the car behind Newton.
Later, when he saw photos, Newton would say he thought he should have died. He was left with two fractures in his back.
The events in the 13 months since the crash have made it even harder to fathom.
Newton has become the most dominant force in the NFL, the presumptive Most Valuable Player, even a powerful symbol of the changing perception of black quarterbacks in broader society. The Panthers have morphed from a languishing outfit to a team with consecutive NFC South titles and on the brink of the Super Bowl.
As Newton and the Panthers prepare to host the Cardinals in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, the accident stays with him. Newton wears on his left wrist the yellow patient's bracelet he received at the hospital, the words "FALL RISK" still legible in fading black marker.
"It's a constant reminder," Newton said. "It makes you put what's really important in life first. Yeah, we're playing for the NFC championship and potentially, if everything goes as we plan it, playing in the Super Bowl. The truth of the matter is, if I'm not in my position using my position in a positive way, then shame on me."
Newton missed the next game after the wreck, Carolina's win over the Bucs. He has played every game since and the team is 20-2 in that span.
In other Panthers news, dinged-up running back Jonathan Stewart and defensive end Jared Allen returned to practice.
Female coach: Bills co-owner Kim Pegula congratulated Kathryn Smith for becoming the NFL's first full-time female assistant and said in a statement Smith "has proven that she does excellent work" in seven years on Rex Ryan's staff. The move has generated buzz: Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of President Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, wrote "#NoCeilings" on Twitter in posting a link to a story about Smith. "The amount of attention generated from this announcement in the past 24 hours has been extraordinary," Smith said in a statement. "However, my focus remains on my job responsibilities and helping the team win."
Chiefs: Brad Childress and Matt Nagy were named co-offensive coordinators. Childress had been the spread game analyst and special projects coach the past three years and Nagy had been in charge of quarterbacks. Childress was Vikings head coach from 2006-10.
49ers: Wide receiver Eric Rogers, who led the CFL with 1,448 yards receiving and 10 touchdown catches last season with Calgary, signed a two-year deal.
Raiders: Rookie receiver Amari Cooper was added to the Jan. 31 Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Jets receiver Brandon Marshall.
Rams: A second lawsuit was filed over the team's move to Los Angeles from St. Louis, this time by holders of personal seat licenses who say they should retain their right to seat licenses and season tickets, even in California. The suit, filed last week in St. Louis County, said the existing PSL agreement granted holders "the right to purchase season tickets for the assigned seats for each and every football season through the year 2025," but did not stipulate that the games had to be played in St. Louis.