CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 24: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after defeating the Arizona Cardinals with a score of 49 to 15 to win the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The critics went after Cam Newton long before he was officially the Panthers quarterback. Sure, before he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011, it was fair to wonder about why and how he transferred from Florida to Blinn College, eventually landing in Auburn. And it was OK to ask probing questions about whether his experience running Auburn’s spread offense could translate into glory with a more conservative NFL style.

But the criticisms never end. He wears a towel over his head when the Panthers are losing? Stone him! People think he’s not much of a leader? Pitchfork him!! He dances after he scores a touchdown? Draw and quarter him and then run his remains out of town!!!

When he was a first-year player throwing for a rookie record of 4,051 yards along with 21 touchdowns in 2011, he was criticized. When he led the Panthers to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title in 2013, he was frowned upon. And when he dominated and brought Carolina to a 14-0 record to start this season and eventually the No. 1 NFC seed in the playoffs, he still was not universally vaunted.

Now, after going 19 of 28 for 335 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Carolina’s 49-15 victory vs. the Cardinals in Sunday night’s NFC title game, he’s going to the Super Bowl. What will the critics say now? We can’t call him the worst young quarterback in the league anymore, and we can’t say he’s a “sure fire bust” or that he’s “no brainiac.”

That’s because he just produced the best season of his career (3,837 passing yards, 35 touchdowns passing, 10 rushing vs. 10 interceptions and four fumbles with a career-high quarterback rating of 99.2). He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 30 touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season. He’s probably going to be the NFL MVP.

When he was drafted by the Panthers, observers wondered whether he’d lead a new generation of dual-threat quarterbacks, taking the torch from Michael Vick. Seattle’s Russell Wilson perhaps is the best example of that new style, probably because he’s already won a Super Bowl and played in another. But Wilson doesn’t have Newton’s immense size. Wilson is not a speeding train ready to demolish any defensive back in his way.

Basically, Newton is a linebacker who can throw like a top-five quarterback and run like a power running back. There’s never been a quarterback quite like him.

“He’s changed the perception of what we say about the athletic quarterback,” Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said, via the Charlotte Observer. “We always speak about him in a running manner. If you watch him lately, a lot of his damage is done in the pocket throwing down the field and making quick decisions. It’s going to take time when you see the best athlete on the field playing quarterback, and when you see him playing quarterback, it might not look like the way things used to look.”

Need proof?

Yet, it’s understandable why Newton can be polarizing. He’s either giving footballs to kids sitting in the stands (people love him for this ) or he’s ripping down posters made by military veterans (people hate him for this kind of behavior), or they make fun of his postgame outfits (at times, this is understandable).

In 13 days, Newton, the best young* quarterback in the league, will face off against Peyton Manning, perhaps the best old-school signal-caller of all time. Manning is the way things used to look, and Newton has the chance to show why the new generation of quarterback can be just as good as the traditional pocket passers. (*Newton is 26 and has been in the league for five seasons, so young is a relative term.)

But will he, along with Wilson, be the mold for how quarterbacks will play in the future? Probably not. Athletes like Newton are special, maybe once in a generation. He should be celebrated, not derided — commemorated and not chided.

Newton is an entertainer who might annoy you, but he’s also the athlete that might just give Carolina its first Super Bowl title. Newton has answered his critics, the ones who yelled into the night when the 2-14 Panthers drafted him in the first place. He said at the time that he was going “to change this whole organization around, to go from worst to first.”

He’s one game away from doing that. And to show that he was ready for this all along, he stood up in the Panthers locker room at halftime, with the team already winning 24-7, and gave a speech.

“It’s confidential,” he said on Fox when asked about the pep talk’s subject. “What’s already understood shouldn’t have to be said. I don’t want the credit. We won as a team. We did what a lot people said we couldn’t do.”

Those critics, though, aren’t always right. About his team or about Newton himself. Five years after he was drafted, the questions and criticisms about Newton haven’t yet disappeared. But he’s answered just about every one of them.

About Josh Katzowitz

Writes sports for Forbes and covers Internet culture for the Daily Dot. Formerly covered the NFL for and college sports for the now-defunct Cincinnati Post. Also has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. Has penned books about Johnny Manziel, Sid Gillman and the University of Cincinnati football program.