- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most of the pictures featuring Cam Newton from the Pro Bowl in Hawaii show the Carolina Panthers quarterback flashing his Hollywood smile and having a good time. Many of them include the third-year player laughing with another all-star.
Newton apparently was one of the first to sign autographs for fans during Wednesday night's inaugural Pro Bowl Draft in which he was the second pick by honorary captain Deion Sanders.
When interviewed by the NFL Network prior to his selection, he was light-hearted and playful, saying, "Cam Newton. Ace Boogie [a nickname he gave himself three years ago]. I've got some swag. Why not me?''
What you don't see is the image painted of Newton after his first Pro Bowl experience following the 2011 season A CBSSports.com article by Pete Prisco quoted several unnamed AFC players portraying the then-NFL rookie as "standoffish" and a "diva."
One player told Prisco that Newton turned down an autograph and picture request for his kids at a function.
That, Prisco surmised, was why Newton got unusually rough treatment from defenders in the fourth quarter of a meaningless game.
"He was a total ---hole," one AFC player anonymously told Prisco. "Who did he think he was? He acted like the big s---. Here he was at his first game and he acted like he was the star. Guys didn't like that."
Before an NFC divisional playoff game against San Francisco earlier this month, former 49ers long-snapper Brian Jennings went on the radio in the Bay Area and bashed Newton publicly for his behavior and performance in the 2012 Pro Bowl.
"We got Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, it's the Green Bay offense,'' he said. "You know we've got Drew Brees at quarterback. You know he's got his playbook all week, studying, making sure that he gets in there and run the plays. And we got Cam Newton all week with headphones on goofing off.
"So we go to the game and this guy starts chucking the ball all over the place and everyone is looking around like, 'What's this guy doing? Is he kidding?' And the punter and I look at each other and say, 'We're going to have a long second half.' . . . He went in there, stank it up, never looked at his playbook, he's chucking the ball all over the place, can't hit an open guy.''
Jennings went on to say Newton owed him $25,000 -- the difference between what players on the winning and losing team in the Pro Bowl get -- for throwing three interceptions that cost his team the victory.
Performance-wise, Newton was dreadful. Playing the entire second half, he completed 9 of 27 pass attempts for 186 yards and the three interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown in the 59-41 AFC win.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who is coaching against Newton in Sunday's Pro Bowl, said earlier this year that the 2012 Pro Bowl week wasn't a good experience for Newton. From what he's seen so far, this one has been much better.
"Very much so,'' Rivera said by phone. "From what I understand he is very more sure of himself. He went [the first time] as a rookie sensation. I think there were some people that didn't appreciate that. He got a lot of attention, and he gets a lot of attention around here.
"But the nice thing is everybody takes it all in stride. They all [seven Carolina players] seem to be enjoying it together as a unit, so I'm excited about that.''
Newton, to his credit, declined to look back when asked about that game.
"That trip two years ago, we’re going to keep it at two years ago,'' Newton told The Charlotte Observer earlier this week. "Nothing good can come from me talking on something's that old. This is 2014. I'm going to enjoy myself, have a good time and do what I think I do best, which is play football.”
Newton has grown up a lot since the Panthers took him with the first pick of the 2011 draft. He spent a lot more time this season interacting with teammates and coaches.
Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy told me earlier in the week, "I love that guy."
Newton spent most of the season talking about the future and avoiding the past. In one of his rare looks back with Fox Sports, he talked about how many of those close to him pointed out examples that made him seem standoffish.
"It was very disgusting," Newton said in the interview. "That's as blunt as I can be. I could say other words as well. We went back on YouTube and looked at Cam Newton's postgame interviews. I was like, 'Oh my God, I see what people see. I see how people are viewing me.'
"When they see this selfish player, or see this childish temper tantrum that I was throwing, I'm like, 'That's why people look at me like that.' ''
Newton has changed that perception. He has shown everyone from his teammates to many of his peers that he's matured, that he's not the person they thought he was at this game three years ago.
That he was selected to this year's Pro Bowl also is a sign people have changed their mind about Newton. He showed with his performance, in leading Carolina to four fourth-quarter comebacks in a 12-4 regular season, that he is among the league's elite quarterbacks.
The Panthers have no doubt Newton is the real deal. General manager Dave Gettleman said in his season wrap-up that Newton proved he is a franchise quarterback.
That's why Newton is at his second Pro Bowl, smiling and having a good time.
That's why he'll probably be back many more times before his career is done.