HONOLULU — From the panorama of the Pacific outside his hotel window to watching NFC teammates Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees throw the ball, Cam Newton can’t help but stare and be inspired by all the perfect views in paradise.
“This is unbelievable, man. This is so gratifying and just to have the opportunity to be here is a blessing,” the Carolina Panthers quarterback said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Newton and fellow rookie quarterback Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals were chosen to replace Super Bowl quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady for Sunday’s Pro Bowl. Their selection makes this Pro Bowl the first time in history that the all-star game will feature two rookie quarterbacks.
In fact, the only two rookie signal callers to make the Pro Bowl since 1970 are Vince Young and Dan Marino.
Newton, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft, said he’s just soaking up the experience and enjoying being with his new teammates.
“I’m a fan of all these guys — Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Larry Fitzgerald — the list goes on with all the All-Pro guys that are here and I get to share the field with,” he said.
Newton is backing up Brees and Rodgers, and doesn’t mind starting on the bench.
“I idolized them throughout the year, watched so much film on them how they play the game from the check downs, to the way they throw, to everything,” Newton said. “Lo and behold, we’re on the same roster.
“So I’m watching and learning. What better way to learn than firsthand? I don’t really don’t mind, especially to these two MVP candidates. I’ll be second string to that, man,” he said.
Newton’s season wasn’t too shabby, either. He’s the first quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 yards.
He completed 310 of 517 passes for 4,051 yards, the most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. He also threw for 21 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. His 14 rushing touchdowns are the most ever by an NFL quarterback in a season.
The Panthers missed the playoffs after finishing 6-10, but Newton promises he has a lot more to offer as his game matures.
“I’ve had an unbelievable and blessed year, but at the same time, I feel the best is yet to come for Cam Newton,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work hard and push myself.”
Looking back at game film of himself, Newton said there were things he was happy with and some things that were “disgusting to look at.”
“That’s why you grow into the game and watch film on yourself to see yourself now and see yourself in the future,” he said.
And to Newton, the future is bright in Carolina, which is looking to become a playoff contender.
“The Carolina Panthers, coach (Ron) Rivera, (General Manager) Marty Hurney and (owner) Jerry Richardson, they have everybody’s interest at heart and they’re going to do what’s the best for this team,” Newton said. “That’s something I do know and I can attest to. This team, this organization is going in the right direction to be an elite playoff team and contender year in and year out.”
As for Dalton, he’s already tasted the playoffs, even though it ended in a lopsided 31-10 loss to Houston in the AFC wild-card round.
Dalton threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns, leading the young Bengals (9-8) to just their third winning record and playoff appearance in the last 21 years.
Dalton still can’t believe how far he’s come.
“A year ago I was in Mobile, Ala., in the Senior Bowl trying to impress scouts. A year later, I’m sitting here in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl,” he said. “A lot has happened and I just feel blessed to be where I am.”
Dalton, a second-round selection in 2011, said making the Pro Bowl never entered his mind.
“Trying to get to the playoffs is all I was worried about. With that, I was able to get here,” he said. “I feel blessed. The Lord has given me so much and it’s been a big year and this is a great way to kind of end it.”
Newton and Dalton greeted each other at the hotel before Wednesday’s opening practice.
“We were able to come in and the teams trusted us to come in and lead the team,” Dalton said. “So I think it’s great. We just came out and did what we were able to do — just be ourselves and it worked out for both of us. We both came into great situations.”
Dalton is joined by three Bengals: second-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins, rookie receiver A.J. Green and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham.
“For us to be here with four guys in their first, second year, it shows the kind of young talent we have,” Dalton said. “I think all four of us here, just to be around these guys that have been to the Pro Bowl a lot, it’s great for us and gives us a little exposure and we can build upon this.”
Newton and Dalton said they haven’t experienced much hazing yet. But sometimes rookies have big food and beverage tabs that left to their rooms. So Newton will be trying to keep his room number quiet.
“Hopefully nobody tries anything,” Newton said. “I’m hoping for the best.”