AP Sports Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. — When Cam Newton discovered the Carolina Panthers planned to make a run at signing Michael Oher last offseason, he texted the free agent offensive tackle: “I need you. I don’t want you. I NEED you.”
Newton had sent text messages before to potential free agent prospects — but this time he was desperate.
The Panthers weren’t planning to re-sign struggling left tackle Byron Bell, and Newton needed someone to protect his blindside. He thought Oher, the main character in the popular movie by that name, would be a perfect fit.
The fifth-year quarterback turned out to be right.
Oher is having his best statistical season, and the Panthers (17-1) are the highest-scoring offense in the league and will play the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
“Yeah, it meant a lot,” Oher said emphatically Monday night. “I mean, it’s Cam Newton. You get a text from Cam Newton telling you that he needs you, well, you appreciate that. It’s definitely something that resonated with me.”
Turns out Newton had inside knowledge on Oher.
Newton’s younger brother Cecil, an offensive lineman, had been teammates with Oher with the Baltimore Ravens and raved to his brother about Oher’s work ethic and professionalism.
Newton bought in — and so did the Panthers.
Oher signed a two-year, $7 million contract with Carolina, a move that wasn’t particularly popular with Panthers fans considering he’d struggled in 2014 with the Tennessee Titans and been released one year into a three-year contract.
“I got killed on that one,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said.
But Oher has been solid.
In fact, he’s been more than solid, helping the Panthers finish second in the NFL in rushing and helping Newton achieve an MVP-type season with 45 combined touchdowns.
Oher played in 98.4 percent of the team’s snaps this season and allowed a career-low four sacks — tied for eighth-fewest in the league — and was penalized only three times for 25 yards, according to STATS.
Those numbers were a major improvement over his final two seasons in Baltimore, when he allowed a combined 21 ½ sacks, and last season when he allowed six sacks in 11 starts with the Titans.
“He’s been a key asset to say the least,” Newton said.
Panthers center Ryan Kalil said Oher had the perfect personality to fit in on Carolina’s comedic offensive line.
He and his teammates regularly tease Oher about “The Blind Side” — a movie Oher doesn’t particularly like because he felt it portrayed him as a kid who doesn’t like football.
Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers is the first to text Oher to tell him when the movie is on TV — and it seems to be on all of the time.
Remmers also regularly recites lines from the movie, drawing a roll of the eyes from Oher.
“Michael Oher has a great personality and an incredible work ethic,” Kalil said. “You talk about trying to add talent to your football team, but you also want good character guys who will rub off on the younger guys and show guys what it means to be a pro — and Michael Oher is the epitome of that.”
Kalil’s said Oher’s work ethic is contagious.
“It’s the kind of guy you want on your team because it will motivate you to do the same,” Kalil said.
Oher will have his hands full in the Super Bowl though.
He’ll be matched up against All-Pro Von Miller and Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware at different points during the game.
Ware has faced Oher before, when he played for the Ravens, calling him a “great player who is very quick and athletic.”
For Oher, it’s another challenge on the road to rejuvenating his seven-year career.
Oher felt like he was “left for dead” last season when the Titans cut him. He couldn’t have imagined that a year later he would be playing for his second Super Bowl ring.
Newton reminded Oher of his text recently.
“He said ‘I told you I didn’t want you, I need you,’” Oher recalls with a laugh. “Stuff like that made me feel at home. Made me know they wanted me. Good feeling.”
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