Cam Newton makes some folks irrational. They are so blinded by preconceived and post-conceived notions of the Carolina quarterback, they make nonsensical statements and mean-spirited decisions.
Consider what happened Sunday in the Panthers’ 41-38 victory against New Orleans. After rifling a 13-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn Jr., Newton runs to the end zone. He virtually begs the ref for the ball because – as everyone who watches football knows – Newton likes to give them to children in the stands.
The ref looks at Newton, turns away dismissively and tosses the ball, leaving his hand extended like the follow-through on a shot (or offensive gesture). Then he struts away as if he proved anything besides the fact he’s a jerk. Newton can’t believe it but the scene gets worse. He runs toward the “ball boy” – a balding, middle-aged man with a gut – and asks him for the ball. Incredibly, this lowly sideline assistant balks and tries to play keep away, believing he has more authority than the starting QB. Exasperated, Newton snatches it from his hand, runs back to the end zone and hands it to a little girl in a Panthers jersey.
It was one thing when Packers’ defensive end Julius Peppers last month threw a ball aside disdainfully to prevent Newton from doing his thing. (As on Sunday, Newton retrieved it and made a little boy happy). But I can’t imagine a ref and ball boy being that rude if, say, Tom Brady or Russell Wilson asked for the pigskin.
The sequence exemplified the disrespect some have for Newton, merely one of the NFL’s biggest stars and the unquestioned leader of a 12-0 team. He entered the league with a couple of strikes against him in critics’ minds, who couldn’t see past the allegations of theft at Florida and improper benefits at Auburn, the spread-option style and infamously alleged “insincere smile.” And, of course, the end zone dancing, first-down gesturing and Man of Steel mimicking.
Five seasons into his career, Newton still can’t get his due credit, even though he’s the main reason Carolina has won 16 consecutive regular-season games. Some headlines I saw in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s game were mind-boggling:
“Cam Newton isn’t the NFL MVP and it’s not even close” – USA Today.
“The Panthers are the worst team to ever start 11-0” – FiveThirtyEight Sports.
“Cam Newton is not a legitimate MVP candidate” – Sports Illustrated.
“Cam Newton-Tom Brady MVP race isn’t close yet” – Yahoo Sports.
Granted, headlines are meant to be provocative, to induce more clicks and page views. But search-engine optimization aside, I can’t recall ever seeing such dedication and devotion in explaining what a given player IS NOT. Some folks seem uncomfortable with the notion of Newton as the new golden boy under center, where defies every stereotype except tall and strong-armed.
MVP debates probably pre-date the award’s existence. Does it represent the most outstanding player that season? Why it is always a quarterback or running back (with three exceptions: defensive tackle Alan Paige in 1971, kicker Mark Moseley in 1982 and linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986)? Can a player with lesser stats be more valuable than a player with gaudy numbers?
I have no problem with anyone who would vote for New England QB Tom Brady. But it was ludicrous to suggest that Newton didn’t belong in the discussion before he threw five TD passes – four after halftime, two in the fourth quarter – in Sunday’s comeback against New Orleans. Yes, the Saints’ defense is truly atrocious. And Newton would’ve had seven TDs if Ginn caught two other passes that hit him in the hands.
Newton doesn’t have elite statistics but he’s an elite player who completely changes the dynamic for defenses that face him. This isn’t Trent Dilfer being a game-manager for the 2000 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Including the playoffs, Dilfer started the final 12 games and surpassed 250 passing yards just once times. Newton has thrown for at least 250 yards in four games this season; he passed for 246 yards and five TDs against Washington.
STATs Inc. compiled a chart comparing Newton to the Big Three who won MVP (eight times) in the last 10 seasons: Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. Newton is projected to lag behind in every category except rushing and rushing TDs. No surprise, as he’s still considered a running quarterback first and foremost, no matter how many laser beams he throws.
However, judging by the eyeball test – on the field and in the standings – Newton is more than the sum of his statistics. Since we’re never seen a QB quite like him, it’s fair to alter the way we typically view the position. Wilson requires the same adjustment in Seattle, forcing us to pick sides in whether he’s “elite.” As long as we agree that Newton belongs in the discussion, we can argue all day about where he ranks.
But denying his arrival – like trying to stop him from giving a souvenir to a kid – that’s just wrong and plain mean.