INDIANAPOLIS -- There were plenty of things Ron Rivera learned during Carolina's unsuccessful trip to Super Bowl 50.
Among them: There are a lot more Cam Newton haters out there than he thought.
Rivera admitted that he didn't expect that the public backlash against his quarterback would be so strong after Newton cut his postgame interview short and walked off the podium following Carolina's 24-10 loss to Denver.
"I'm surprised and disappointed that some people feel the way they do about him," Rivera told co-host Bruce Murray and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "But let's be honest about one thing -- he's his own person. That's who he is. I have no issue with him being him. I'd rather have a guy who hates to lose as opposed to accepting it. I want him on my team, that's for doggone sure."
Newton entered the game as one of the league's most polarizing figures. Panthers fans have every reason to love Newton as their quarterback. He won NFL Most Valuable Player honors this past season with 45 overall touchdowns (passing and rushing) on a team that had lost only one game heading into the Super Bowl. Newton and his teammates also have drawn praise for handing footballs to young fans in the stands after touchdowns.
But the flashier aspects of Newton's game -- most notably his demonstrative on-field celebrations that include his trademark Superman pose -- strike his sizeable band of critics the wrong way.
Understandably, Rivera is concerned only with how Newton is perceived by other Panthers players. That hasn't changed post-Super Bowl.
"His teammates really got behind him and supported him," Rivera said while attending the NFL Scouting Combine. "That's what it's all about. If you can say that you have teammates who love you and care about you as a player and a person, I think you've accomplished something special."
The next special accomplishment that Newton and the Panthers are aiming for is avenging their Super Bowl loss by winning the franchise's first championship. Rivera said he has spoken to Newton since Super Bowl 50 and "he's in a great state of mind. He really is."
"He understands. He gets it," Rivera said. "He's just going to be more and more motivated to have success."