Cool or Drool: Cam Newton

Dan Bisno, Columnist

Coming off of a career-low quarterback-passer rating in the 2014 season, Cam Newton did not look ready for the big stage. Bandwagon jumpers might have had more fun following the Seattle Seahawks and young quarterback Russell Wilson’s thrilling relationship with R&B singer Ciara than root for Newton’s 7–8–1 Carolina Panthers. Nobody denied that Newton was an athletic anomaly, having won numerous accolades early in his career, such as 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year and the 2011 Heisman Trophy award, but his brand was starting to lose its appeal with the team’s lack of success.

In 2015, that all changed. Newton recorded a career-high quarterback rating, threw for over 4,000 yards, rushed for over 700 yards, recorded 45 total touchdowns and was named the league MVP. Newton’s 15–1 Panthers, led by Associated Press Coach of the Year Ron Rivera, finally figured it out. Their success on the field met with overwhelming enthusiasm from all age groups in response to celebrations incorporating the Atlanta hip-hop dance move “the dab.”

Whether it was dabbing footage of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Betty White or any of the other celebrity fans, the Panthers began to popularize the dance move in sports culture. The team never stops dancing after a touchdown celebration, a sack or something fun on the sideline. With Newton’s flashy attire and a team full of backup dancers, who wouldn’t want to be a Panthers fan? They seemed unstoppable.

At the Super Bowl this past Sunday, Newton did not perform as poorly as the numbers might suggest. For example, T.J. Ward’s interception in the third quarter — a key turnover for the Denver Broncos — never should have happened. Newton dropped the long pass into Ted Ginn Jr.’s hands, which would have placed the Panthers around 10 yards from the end zone. Instead, the easily catchable pass deflected off Ginn Jr.’s hands and led to an interception. Similarly, Jerricho Cotchery dropped two long passes from Newton, one of which should have led to a touchdown in the open field.

Newton’s receivers were unable to catch half their targets, forcing the Panthers to use their running game against the Broncos’ terrifying running defense. Consequently, star running back Jonathan Stewart could barely move up the middle. In fact, Newton himself recorded nearly double the rushing yards on half the carries. He did not dive for the ball after Von Miller’s forced fumble. However, he had less than a second to decide what to do, and he later explained that his leg “could have been contorted” into an injury if he had dove. Still, he would probably not have gotten to the ball before Ward. It is easy to say that Newton gave up, but fans who have watched his entire career know he has always put his body on the line to make great plays. This play will be at the heart of much of the Carolina criticism during the offseason. However, it is unfair to focus on a play that Newton would not necessarily have been able to make when his receivers, halfbacks and offensive line underperformed throughout the game.

Newton is fueled by the energy around him. He is one of the most outwardly emotional star players in this league, which appeals to many young fans. However, after the Panthers’ shocking Super Bowl loss to Peyton Manning’s Broncos, there was no dabbing, no dancing and no smiles for the fans in blue and black. Newton’s post-game press conference wasn’t the typical glamorous display — he barely spoke.

His answers were dismissive. When asked what Rivera said to the team after the game, he responded, “He told us a lot of things.” When later asked if there were any memorable moments in the game, he replied, “Nope.” Sure, Newton did not boast the upstanding-loser attitude for which fans fetishize their team leaders. He was heartbroken. While it is easy to be critical of his evasive answers — the media has certainly not refrained from judging him — did we want him to be happy after the loss? Did we want him to smile and dance? No. Maybe he could have provided more analytical commentary on the game, but he held his post-game conference less than an hour after the game ended, which is much less time to prepare than he usually has.

Newton’s emotions are part of what makes him great. Beats by Dre released a Super Bowl advertisement starring Newton in which he says to God, “I know you molded me different. You placed purpose on my shoulders. So now I come to you. Lord, give me the strength to finish this my way.” Newton did not see loss as an option on Sunday. After a post-season in which the Panthers were never losing at any point in a game, who could have predicted they would never be winning during the Super Bowl? He told Panthers fans, “We’ll be back,” which is a statement he won’t be taking lightly.

With the Panthers’ loss, Newton fans should try not to dwell on his shortcomings but rather see this as a sign of his potential. At only 26 years old, he is already a BCS National Championship winner, Heisman Trophy winner, NFL Rookie of the Year winner and NFL MVP winner and took his team to the Super Bowl after a losing season. He continues to improve and show his will to succeed while being one of the most energized players in the league. Newton deserves a lifetime “Cool” award at the Review. We look forward to his exciting antics and gameplay in the coming season.