By: Jeffrey Newholm
There were high expectations in Carolina when Cam Newton was the #1 pick in 2011, but for the first few years he and the Panthers had only modest success.
But this year, Newton took his play to an elite level.
He was runaway MVP and his team was the runaway best team in the league. Perhaps more notable than his superb play was the way he celebrated after a score. His “dabbing” and jubilant celebrations caught the nation’s attention and generated controversy. For some, it was endearing. For others, it rubbed them the wrong way.
Newton suggested that fans weren’t used to seeing an African-American quarterback in a position of success and celebration. Another plausible reason is homer fans support celebrations when it’s from their players and detest it in when it’s from the opposition. But with Carolina a sizable favorite to win the Super Bowl, all that seemed like sour grapes.
But Denver had other ideas.
The league’s best defense flustered Newton all day, and his team faced a six-point deficit with less than five minutes to play. Facing a third and nine from his own 25, Newton had a chance to deliver a title for his team with a heroic drive. But Von Miller snaked through the line and stripped the ball from Newton. If Newton could fall on it, the Panthers could punt the ball away, easily stop the Bronco’s extremely conservative offense, and try again on the next drive.
But for whatever reason, Newton froze. Some said he thought a teammate had a better angle. Some said he was waiting for a ricochet. The more cynical fans said he just wanted to let someone else get it.
Whatever the reason, Denver got the ball and punched it in for a backbreaking touchdown. What happened next revealed Newton was unprepared to deal with adversity. Facing a third and 24 from deep in his own territory, Newton was pressured from his end zone and threw the ball out of bounds before being sacked. Newton appealed for roughing the passer, to no avail.
He then pounded the turf with both hands and rolled over in frustration.
One would not expect the quarterback, the field marshal of the team, to lose his composure over what few thought was a penalty. Newton’s mood had not improved in time for the press conference. His body language was overbearingly negative, and he mostly could only give terse, one word answers before abruptly walking out. What Newton didn’t seem to realize is being big just means one has a bigger target on his back. Eventually Carolina would be upset, whether in this postseason or a subsequent one.
But Newton didn’t have to exude such negativity when it did happen.
But this story doesn’t have to have such a down ending. A heartbreaking loss by an elite team can lead to one of two things the next season. On one hand the team can let the bitterness carry over and ruin the next season as well. After the Packers’ devastating loss to Seattle in 2014, something seemed amiss about Aaron Rodgers and the Pack offense the next season. Rodgers tried his best to make up for it with a trio of Hail Mary’s, but in the end they couldn’t mask his team’s underperformance.
On the other hand, a team can come out determined the next year and romp to an uncontested title. The Spurs let the Heat steal the title with a last second rally in 2013, but dominated the NBA the following year. Either Newton can take heart and grow, or he can play without the passion that made this year so great.
As the ancient saying goes, “our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising up every time we fall”.