- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Years before Cam Newton and Von Miller met for Super Bowl 50, the two were already linked.

Newton, the 2010 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Auburn, was drafted with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Right behind him at No. 2 was Miller, the linebacker out from Texas A&M.

Miller has been chasing Newton ever since.

In the most Super Bowl between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, it was Miller who finally got the best of Newton. With five individual tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on Newton (one leading to a defensive touchdown), Miller was named Super Bowl MVP. Newton, who started the dab craze amongst the nation, enjoyed an MVP-worthy season en route to leading his Panthers to an NFL-high 15 win season last year and became a face of the NFL, had to step out of Miller’s spotlight.

Now, Newton’s Panthers are primed to visit Miller’s Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium Thursday night for the kickoff of the 2016 NFL season.

To their core, Newton and Miller are fairly similar. Both are among the best, if not the best, players at their position. On the field, both are expressive, jovial and physical. Off the field, both are carefree and fashionable. They’re icons.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock that the two not only prepare similarly for a big matchup, but that they share a similar level of respect for one another, though they express it a bit differently.

Newton has a bit more of a solemn, reserved in tone. Miller is a bit more bubbly.

“Mutual respect, that’s pretty much it,” Newton said of Miller. “He’s a very elite player in this league.”

“Great player,” Newtown continued. “99 overall in Madden.”

Miller shared that same sentiment.

“He’s in a league of his own,” Miller said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong. You know, Super Cam.”

But while that level of respect is there, don’t expect the two to become buddy-buddy anytime soon. When a photo emerged of Newton playing water polo in the offseason, with the ball in his hand in a throwing motion, it was Miller who reposted Newton’s photo on his Instagram feed, adding himself in the background, stripping the ball out of Newton’s hand

Newton wouldn’t directly comment on that photo.

Newton did say that the two met a couple of times in the offseason, but Miller said the two don’t hang out on a regular basis.

“I know him, but it’s not like I get in my phone and text him and say ‘whats up, you want to come get lunch or something?’ It’s not like that,” Miller said.

“In the National Football League, it’s a small world anyway,” Miller continued. “I got mutual friends, I’ve got guys that know him. But, me personally, I mean, I know him, it’s not hard to know a guy like Cam. I know him, but I’m not on a relationship where you could call him or invite him over for lunch or FaceTime, something like that. It’s not like that.”

Both recognize that it’s not so much of a Super Bowl rematch, but more about winning their season opener.

Both teams suffered a bit of roster turnover. Notably, the Broncos lost both of their top quarterbacks — Peyton Manning to retirement and Brock Osweiler to free agency. Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans. Losing the pair of quarterbacks forced the Broncos to roll with Trevor Simian, a player with one career NFL snap. The Panthers notably lost All-Pro corner Josh Norman to the Washington Redskins after they chose to rescind their non-exclusive franchise tag this offseason.

But the cores of the teams are still there. It’s a new season with similar expectations. But just because the Broncos won the most recent matchup doesn’t make them a sure-fire favorite, at least not to Miller.

“They missed a lot of opportunities (in the Super Bowl),” Miller said. “Some plays, it wasn’t even us or some of the stuff we did on defense. Some plays, the running back missed the hole here or a dropped pass here or there. They had their fair share of chances to win the game. Going into this game, I expect to see the same type of Carolina Panthers, because the win was there for them the first time we played, and I just expect them to execute a lot better this game.”

“I really can’t wait,” Newton said. “We’re just going to play football. That’s what it’s all about. A lot of people want to make it a rematch. It’s not a rematch. It’s just our next opponent. They’re a great team, we understand that. But we’re putting our bid in to be a great team as well. All that’s null and void if we don’t prove it on Thursday night, and we’re going to have a lot of guys on the Carolina Panthers that will be ready to go.”

They have to be. This Super Bowl rematch is the first such contest to kick off a season since the Kansas City Chiefs played the Minnesota Vikings in 1970. And with both teams gunning for a 1-0 start over a respectable franchise, the season will likely kick off to an exciting start.

“I’m telling you, this game on Thursday will be a great game,” Newton said. “Everybody is anticipating that, including myself.”

“We want them at their best, and I’m pretty sure they want us at our best.”

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