This week, the Cowboys will spend hours upon hours watching tape and creating defensive schemes in order to find a way to somehow stop a man who less than three years ago was playing football at Blinn Junior College.
Cam Newton's rise to superstardom was fast and included its fair share of controversy. Newton is now honored with the nickname "Superman," but in 2008 he was a sophomore backup to Tim Tebow who found himself in hot water for allegedly stealing a laptop from a University of Florida student.
Newton apparently threw the laptop out of a dorm window to avoid being caught by the police, and soon after had filed transfer papers to play football at Blinn. He became the most recruited JUCO quarterback in the nation and decided to attend Auburn University the following year.
That's where the magic started. In his only year at Auburn, 2010, he threw for 30 touchdown passes and rushed for 20 more while running away with the Heisman Trophy ahead of candidates like Andrew Luck and LaMichael James. In that season, Newton led the Tigers to a national championship.
But all the while he was continuously surrounded by controversy. During much of Newton's Heisman-winning season, there was an investigation under way looking into Cam's father, Cecil, and the claim that he had been attempting to solicit money from universities for his son's commitment to play football. It was said that Cecil offered his son's skills to Mississippi State for over $120,000. The investigation was closed when it determined that no money was solicited form Auburn, where he eventually went, and there was no proof that Cam was aware of his father's actions.
That following April, the Panthers decided to put their future in Newton's hands. Having only won two games in 2010, Carolina could not afford to misfire with the No. 1 overall pick. They selected Newton and haven't looked back since.
Newton rewarded the Panthers by continuing to be an offensive machine in his rookie year. At 6-6 and 245 pounds, many skeptics expected Newton to be a quarterback that could run the ball well and not much else. In his first season, he proved those people both right and wrong. He broke the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a season for a quarterback with 14, but he also broke the NFL rookie record for passing yards in a season with over 4,000.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett talked about how impressive it was for Newton to do what he did as a rookie.
"He's an outstanding football player," Garrett said. "Obviously what he did as a rookie is really, was record-breaking. … I think a lot of people had a perception that he could run the football, make a lot of plays with his feet. I think he showed the world he can do a lot more than that."
Newton is only in his second season in the NFL, but he is already a household name and is unquestionably the focal point of the Panthers offense and the face of football in Carolina. Every time he steps on the field, he carries football's relevance in North Carolina on his shoulders.
When asked if those expectations are a burden of pressure, Newton sounded as if he had never heard of the word.
"Pressure? Not really," Newton said. "It's just focusing on what has to be done as tasks and opportunities here in Carolina that these fans want to see. The pressure is on every single guy that wears a jersey for the Carolina Panthers and not only myself."
That may be true, but the man who pretends to rip off his jersey from his chest while imitating Superman certainly has higher expectations. Newton seems to be in a bit of a sophomore slump for his standards this year, as he only has seven total touchdowns compared to eight total turnovers, with the Panthers going just 1-4.
Combine that with Newton's lackadaisical expressions during losses and he is under relatively consistent criticism for his first time as a Panther. His head coach, Ron Rivera, talked about how Newton handles his struggles and the resulting criticisms.
"He wants to win and he wants to win badly," Rivera said. "He's committed to so many things as far as what we're trying to do on the football field. He's here, he studies. He does the extra lifting, the extra running, extra throwing. He's a pro as far as those things are concerned.
"When you invest as much as he has in terms of his time and his effort, when you lose it really takes a toll on a kid like him. The young man wants to be good at everything he does."
Newton and the Panthers may be struggling, but the quarterback has proven that he rarely stays down for long and media criticism is the last thing that will keep him from succeeding. He is still an offensive machine, something of which the Cowboys are very aware.
"I think there's only one Cam Newton," Garrett said.
For that reason, he won't be hard to find come Sunday in Carolina, although for the Cowboys, finding him won't be the issue. Bringing him down and stopping him might be.