Cam Newton’s lightning strike career at Auburn has yielded a BCS championship, a Heisman Trophy and a mountain of still unanswered questions, which, if eventually answered a certain way could cause the vacating of the first two items.

It also helped land Newton the largest endorsement deal ever for a NFL rookie, a multiyear shoe and apparel endorsement contract with Under Armour, according to Darren Rovell at CNBC. While specific numbers were not available, the deal will reportedly surpass Reggie Bush’s $1 million per year contract with Adidas that was signed in 2006.

Bush, of course, was also a magnet for controversy, eventually becoming the first player in history to give back his Heisman Trophy after it was determined he and his family received money from agents while at Southern California.

So who says crime (or at least crime as the NCAA determines it) doesn’t pay?

In the Auburn quarterback’s final regular-season college game at rival Alabama, he was mocked over the public address system with the “Steve Miller Band” song “Take the Money and Run.”

On Monday, Cam Newton got the last laugh on that one. He’s running now with a record haul. Under Armour beat out Nike for the deal, according to CNBC.

In terms of creating a brand that shoe companies wanted, a little controversy can go along way. At least everyone knows who Cam Newton is.

Back when he was just a high school basketball player at Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron James was caught up in similar stories -– namely driving a new Hummer that appeared beyond his family’s means. He was even temporarily suspended by the state high school federation.

He landed a $90 million-plus deal with Nike anyway.

Newton may not be LeBron James, the ultimate sure-bet superstar when entering the professional ranks. He is a dynamic talent though who has the potential to be a NFL star and is a likely top 10 draft pick in April, according to a number of projected big boards.

NFL success is largely determined by work ethic -– a requisite amount of skill must be constantly honed and developed. Peyton Manning is still fanatical about film prep and off-season workouts.

There’s never a way to know if a prospect will make it or not. Under Armour is banking on Newton being committed to being great.

Newton’s stratospheric rise from fairly anonymous junior college recruit to must-see TV was like nothing college football has seen in years.

It usually takes seasons for football players to become household names. Newton, with his immense size, speed and flair for dramatic come-from-behind victories did it in a matter of months.

Feeding his obvious ability were midseason reports that his father, Cecil, had attempted to sell him to Mississippi State for $180,000, a soap opera tale that gripped the sport. The NCAA ruled, to much criticism, that Cam could remain eligible because he was unaware of his father’s actions. That decision was decried by administrators and coaches across the country.

Auburn held firm, spending at least $170,000 on legal fees to defend its star player, according to the Birmingham News.

Through it all, Cam kept his head high and a smile on his face, winning fans for his poise –- let alone his performance –- through a monstrous storm.

Soon after leading Auburn to the title, he declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.

He remains a touchstone for debate, many college fans either loving or hating him for the controversy that helped define his career. Many see a kid who -- knowingly or not -- worked outside the rules. Others consider the NCAA rules ridiculous and could care less. Still others think he was an innocent victim of his own father.

Thus far, there has been no implicating either Cam or Auburn football to any violations. And there may never be.

At this point, for Newton the product, it doesn’t matter. He certainly isn’t a damaged brand. And his NFL career will be determined by his play and nothing else. Few care about complying with NCAA statutes.

Colleges make a killing off star players like Cam Newton –- want to buy a $289 framed picture of him? Go to the Auburn school website. The only reasonable trade-off comes from the marketing the college game provides these supposed “amateurs.” The schools can make you famous.

College football did that for Cam Newton, a big-smile, bigger-talent whose whirlwind run won’t easily be duplicated. Good or bad, he was in the news. Everyone watched. And when they saw him with the ball in his hand, they kept watching.

Maybe one day they will take the Heisman back. Maybe they won’t. As Reggie Bush knows though, they can’t come for the money.

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