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Disabled soldier, Panthers rise from 'bottom of the barrel' to Super Bowl

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sgt. First Class Cedric King was a month removed from a coma when he first addressed the Carolina Panthers in November 2012.

The Panthers had a 1-6 record.

A little more than three years later, they're both going to the Super Bowl -- the Panthers as NFC champions, King as a fan and inspiration.

"When I first met them I didn't have legs," King told ESPN.com on Thursday. "I was still in a wheelchair. They went from the bottom of the barrel just like I came from the bottom of the barrel.

"I was bad off. They weren't doing so hot, either. To see that in three years I've turned my life around, they've turned the organization around ... it's like we're going on this parallel track."

King lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2012. That November, with his team struggling, Carolina coach Ron Rivera asked King to speak to his players.

Rivera mentioned at the time noticing a difference in Cam Newton's approach to life after the star quarterback met King.

"It's like, 'Wow, I'm going through a tough time, but this guy really has had it tough,'" Rivera said. "It made him kind of put things in perspective."

Carolina won five of its last six games in 2012, then went 12-4 in 2013.

"Cedric appreciates what our guys go through, but he doesn't realize the impact he has on our guys," said Rivera, whose team is an NFL-best 17-1 heading into the Feb. 7 Super Bowl against Denver. "He's been a tremendous inspiration for this football team for a long time."

King now has two artificial legs. He's training for the Boston Marathon in April.

While the team warmed up on Thursday, King worked out on the side. When it was time for Rivera to break the team down for drills, he asked King to speak.

"I told them don't let 'it' get in the way," King said. "It can be a lot of things. It can be how cold it is outside. It can be the family distraction. It could be a nagging injury. It could be success.

"It could be the success from the last game. They won by so many points [49-15 over Arizona in the NFC Championship Game] it could get in the way of preparing for the next game."

King will depart for the Super Bowl site in Santa Clara, California, next Thursday. He doesn't know if Rivera will ask him to give another speech, but he'll be ready.

He's just happy to be going.

"Three years ago I was in the hospital with no legs," King said. "They weren't doing so hot, either. For us both to be going to the Super Bowl ... It's been a beautiful three-year journey."