Much like the season-opening game between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers, a meeting of the two most recent Super Bowl champs, there will be another significant matchup on Sunday.
When the Saints go into Bank of America Stadium to face the Carolina Panthers, the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners - Saints running back Mark Ingram and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton - will be on the field.
It’ll be the first of what could be many matchups in the pros, because the two teams play each other twice a season as NFC South rivals, but it’s not the first time their teams have met, of course.
Ingram, the Saints’ leading rusher through four games, can only hope his team has a better time of it against Newton, whose NFL career is off to a sensational start.
Their only meeting came in November when Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, and his Alabama team faced rival Auburn and Newton, who himself was just a couple of weeks away from claiming college football’s top individual award.
Alabama shot out to a 24-0 second-quarter lead before Auburn roared back behind Newton, who ran for one touchdown and threw for three to produce an improbable 28-27 victory.
“He’s a tremendous talent,” Ingram said. “Just the production he had in college and what he’s done so far in four weeks in the pros. He’s a special talent and a great competitor. He plays the game the way you’re supposed to play it.”
Unfortunately, he did that on the day after Thanksgiving in Tuscaloosa, Ala., stunning Ingram and a crowd of more than 101,000.
“Being down 24-0, it definitely takes a strong-minded and competitive quarterback to bring his team back from that,” said Ingram, who leads the Saints in rushing with 184 yards. “Like I said, he’s a great player and a great competitor. He does lots of great things when he has the ball in his hands.”
Newton has already thrown for 1,386 yards and five touchdowns and has run for four TDs and 133 yards - just 10 yards fewer than running back DeAngelo Williams.
But Newton said the numbers are irrelevant at this point considering the Panthers’ 1-3 record.
“The only thing that matters is wins and losses,” he said during a conference call with Louisiana reporters. “Nobody cares in the Super Bowl if you threw for 500 yards. Everyone wants to know if you’ve got a Super Bowl ring or not.
“That’s what it’s all about in this league. You have to put up good numbers to win, but when you don’t (win), it’s really irrelevant.”
Winning is something Newton is used to. He said he’s never lost three games in a season and never even lost two games in a row until the Panthers, who won just twice last season, opened up with two losses.
“It tells a lot about yourself; it tells a lot about your character, and also your team,” he said. “You see what type of team you have when everything’s not looking pretty and see what type of guys you have on your team.”