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Cam Newton says he's not changing anything to satisfy critics

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton doesn't plan to change who he is or what he says just because he's preparing for the Super Bowl and all the hype that comes with it.

Newton's response to critics he'll face heading into the Feb. 7 title game against the Denver Broncos will be the same it has been since he entered the NFL.

"I've said this since day one," Newton said. "I'm an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."

Newton has been a lightning rod for criticism for much of his career. He was called immature and moody during his first couple of NFL seasons because he sometimes sat alone on the sideline with a towel over his head when the team was losing.

He's been questioned for a lack of leadership. He's been questioned for his dabbin' and dancing after scoring touchdowns, for taking photos of teammates at the end of a blowout win. But Newton said he's the same person now as he was when the Panthers made him the first pick of the 2011 draft.

"The only thing that's changed is we're winning," Newton said.

"People should be scared of a quarterback with his skill set more than anything else ... I don't think he wants to be known as an African-American quarterback. I think he wants to be known as a quarterback, and a great one at that."

Ron Rivera on Cam Newton

The Panthers are 17-1, including playoffs. They have won 22 of their past 24 games (including playoffs) going back to a four-game winning streak to end the 2014 regular season.

Newton is the leading candidate for the NFL MVP award after leading the league with 45 touchdowns -- 35 passing and 10 rushing -- during the regular season.

He threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more in Sunday's 49-15 victory over Arizona in the NFC Championship Game.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said what Newton is doing on the field should scare people.

"People should be scared of a quarterback with his skill set more than anything else," he said. "That's who he is. He's a tremendously gifted athlete, a terrific quarterback, a smart football player ... the list goes on and on.

"That's what they should be concerned about more than anything else. ... I don't think he wants to be known as an African-American quarterback. I think he wants to be known as a quarterback, and a great one at that."

Rivera, the second person of Hispanic descent to be the head coach in a Super Bowl, used himself as an example.

"People want to tag me as a Hispanic head coach," he said. "That's great, but I want to be tagged as a head coach. It really should be about your merit more than anything else, what you've accomplished and what you've done.

"That's how we should judge people and base people."

Newton will be the sixth black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. This is the fourth straight Super Bowl to have a black starting quarterback.

The difference between Newton and those that came before him is he's 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds and runs designed run plays out of the read option.

Rivera compared Newton to former Chicago Bears teammate Walter Payton from the 1985 Super Bowl team in terms of galvanizing the locker room and carrying the offense.

"As a guy who put the team on his shoulders, running the football the way he did, dominating the game running the ball," Rivera said. "The thing about Cam is, as he said, he's special, he's different.

"How many 6-5 quarterbacks do you see like him, 260 [pounds], running like he does and throwing like he does? He's different. And I think that's the only thing people should say is the skill set is different more so than anything else."

Newton said the critics only drive him to work harder. His solution to handling the hype and criticism when he arrives Sunday in California to begin prepping for the Super Bowl is simple.

"Find any way -- any way -- to win a football game," Newton said. "'Cause when you win [he said, chuckling], that's going to give them something else to talk about."

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.