Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a legendary year and ascended to the ranks of the elite of the NFL. The 2015 NFL MVP threw for 35 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more despite a depleted receiving corps, including to top target Kelvin Benjamin. His Panthers won 15 games and reached Super Bowl 50. For the whole year, Cam looked unstoppable and elite, finally living up to his massive potential.
Then came Super Bowl 50. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware ravaged the Carolina offensive line and the secondary blanketed the Panthers’ receivers. Newton carried the team on his shoulders, rushing for 45 yards on 6 carries and throwing 41 times. But even he wasn’t good on Super Sunday- a measly 43.9% completion percentage, two turnovers, and multiple errant throws.
With a couple minutes on the clock down 16-10, Cam had the chance to emblaze himself in football fans’ minds as one of the clutch Super Bowl performers of all time. Instead, his fumble on 3rd down gave the Broncos the ball in the red zone and allowed Denver to score its only offensive touchdown of the game and put the contest out of reach.
Every player has poor performances, even MVPs and Hall of Famers. Elite players falter on the biggest stages (look at fellow SB50 quarterback Peyton Manning’s career). We’re accustomed to seeing Cam blow apart opposing defenses, leaping into the end zone, firing lasers, and dabbing. Instead, the Broncos beat him up and ultimately beat him 24-10. It wasn’t Cam’s day.
I have a problem with Cam’s response to losing. A man is judged by how he deals to tragedy and adversity, not success. While I don’t view Cam’s celebrations as excessive boasting, he isn’t the most gracious winner. When he loses, though, he falls apart. Rooting for the Panthers is embarrassing when the franchise quarterback is throwing a fit and rolling around on the ground.
After Von Miller jarred the football loose from Newton’s grip on the fatal fumble, cornerback Josh Norman was called for defensive holding on an incomplete pass, which set up first-and-goal. Newton, watching from the sidelines, fell on the ground in frustration. The Panthers had one last drive at the end of the game and Newton came on the field with no poise. After he threw a pass downfield, Denver defensive lineman Derek Wolfe knocked him off his feet. The play was legal because it was directly after the throw, even if Wolfe did it on purpose.
Newton, laying flat on the ground, glanced at the referee long enough to tell that no flag would be called. In the moments that followed, the MVP, the best player in the NFL, destroyed all the positive he’d built up during the historic season by losing his temper and composure. Newton flailed and pouted in the end zone, an act that would be unacceptable for a five-year-old.
After the game was complete, Newton headed to the mandatory press conference to give vague answers to the reporters’ questions. His words in the press conference had little meaning, which is not a problem. Then Newton overheard Denver cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. taunting the Panthers, specifically Cam, and promptly stood out and left the room. Again, I have no problem with his swift departure, but the actions added fuel to the fire.
Understandably, the press came down hard on Newton, but Newton’s defense of his actions only made it worse. Newton said “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” to the media the next day. Cam, show me any of the other elite NFL quarterbacks and I’ll show you one that acts with class even in the face of defeat. Newton is the outlier, the one man who hasn’t learned to control himself.
In his first years in the NFL, the sight of a Gatorade towel covering Cam Newton’s head, routine sulking that happened after every defeat, was routine. His on-field performance produced mixed results during those years. In 2015, Newton elevated his game and led the team to a 15-1 record. With the Panthers racking up win after win, there wasn’t any time or reason for Newton to pout. We thought that he changed and grew up.
Cam Newton is the most talented quarterback in the NFL, but if he doesn’t learn to show grace after losing, he will never be one of the greatest to play. This isn’t a race issue or style issue but instead a character issue and it is one that can be resolved. I hope, and believe, that Super Cam can do it and become a true MVP.