Armstrong: Panthers come up big in season awards

Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly (59) waits to be introduced before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. (Chuck Burton)

It's all coming together for the Carolina Panthers. A night before the biggest game of all their lives, the awards were all turning up teal.

Cam Newton as MVP was drop dead obvious, but the official announcement tonight seemed like his formal coronation as the new face of the NFL. His impossibly big smile and near impossible skill set will likely define the league's next decade.

Ron Rivera winning Coach of the Year also seemed a no-brainer. What people thought the Panthers would be vs what they became are two drastically different things. Most of that's on the players, but Rivera's genius was in maximizing their output while never minimizing their personality. He put them in positions to shine and then let them enjoy the ride as they saw fit.

It was interesting to hear him discuss earlier this week how his military family upbringing had once led to believe in ultra-disciplinary coaching. Over the years though, he says he realized the opposite approach is what works best for him. Instead of breathing down his player's necks, he lets them breathe. Rivera knows he has strong leadership in his locker room and is not so insecure as to demand that he make all the decisions.

Kevin Greene became the first 'real' Panther to gain entrance to the Hall of Fame today as well. His Twitter handle says it all: @sackmaster91.

Congrats also to the pride of Tarboro, Todd Gurley for winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Kid is a monster for the Rams and will be a major problem for defenses for years to come.

Of course - all these accolades will quickly be forgotten if the Panthers can't finish things off with a win tomorrow night. I'd worry about the added pressure winning all the major awards may have placed on the team, but these guys long ago proved they are immune to such things. It just feels like destiny with the Carolina Panthers here in Santa Clara.
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