Cam Cole: Not rootin’ for Newton? Too bad, as Panthers’ pivot a special player

 

 
 
 
 
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates during the first quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
 
 

Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates during the first quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photograph by: Grant Halverson, Getty Images

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VANCOUVER — So you don’t like Cam Newton? Take a number.

Bet you are from the “when you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before” school — the famous admonition variously attributed to Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi and Darrell Royal — and the Carolina Panthers quarterback’s over-the-top celebrations make you pine for the days of Bart Starr or Roger Staubach.

Of course, those were the days, pre-Doug Williams, pre-Warren Moon, pre-Steve McNair, when African-American players weren’t considered cerebral enough to be trusted with a responsible position like NFL quarterback.

Peyton Manning is the current avatar of the old school; his low-key acknowledgment after a touchdown most closely resembles the old standards of decorum — trot to the sideline, a few pats on the helmet, and he’s done — but his era is almost done, too.

Monday, Martin Luther King Day in the U.S., was a reasonable occasion to at least ask the question: is it Newton’s behaviour or his colour, or a combination of the two, that make him the National Football League’s most polarizing player, even as he strengthens the argument that he is this year’s league MVP?

If he were Joe Namath or Brett Favre, would you be more likely to write off his cockiness and just love the performance?

You don’t have to buy it, but consider it.

It can’t be all about colour, because there’s Seattle’s Russell Wilson’s humbler example to lead the counter-argument.

But it’s something … something about the way quarterbacks (white, in the mind’s eye) have always carried themselves, that seems to be at odds with the hyperactive 26-year-old who leads the Panthers into next Sunday’s NFC final against the Arizona Cardinals.

Quarterbacks are supposed to wear a look of contained arrogance. Not too high, not too low, lest one’s teammates pick up a hint from the body language and lapse into despair, or celebrate too soon.

Newton breaks every one of those rules, with his primal screaming and leaping about, towel-waving and dancing.

It is exactly the kind of acting-out that prompted a scathing scouting report in Pro Football Weekly before the 2011 draft that said of the Auburn QB: “Very disingenuous … fake smile … selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are … enormous ego … sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble … does not command respect from teammates … will struggle to win a locker room. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness … is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example … Not dependable.”

Evidently, someone judged a book by its cover. White author, black athlete, by the way. Probably a coincidence.

Despite being mentored by Moon in the lead-up to his “pro day” prior to the 2011 draft — guided by the Hall-of-Fame former Edmonton Eskimo, Houston Oiler, et al, on everything from clothes to preparation to the added expectations that would be on him because he was African-American — Newton’s personality could never come within a mile of Moon’s old-soul maturity.

He displays every emotion openly, and when opponents are driven to distraction by his antics, says: “If you don’t like it, keep me out of the end zone.”

In a league where there’s always someone bigger and badder who would love to knock your head off, that takes some serious confidence.

But the adage that applies here is: it ain’t bragging if you back it up. And Newton’s Panthers are 16-1, after Sunday’s 31-24 playoff win over Wilson and the Seahawks, which was actually a blowout disguised as a thriller.

The magnitude of the beating they laid on the Seahawks in that 31-0 first half was less about Seattle not being ready to play than it was a demonstration of just how good Carolina could be. And Cam Newton was, is, driving that bus.

If you don’t like it, at least respect it.

The sideshow, mind you, is dangerous because Newton is, in his own way, blazing a fresh trail for black quarterbacks, one that has gone more than a little bit cold since Moon and McNair and Donovan McNabb.

A good many highly touted African-American QBs have either fired and fallen back (Daunte Culpepper, Kordell Stewart, Michael Vick, Byron Leftwich), or barely fired at all (Vince Young, Tarvaris Jackson, JaMarcus Russell, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III).

Part of that may be because coaches give up on them earlier than they might with a white QB, but part has been simple underachievement, and NFL clubs that spend high draft picks on quarterbacks who don’t pan out will start questioning why, and may be tempted to look at race.

Newton and Russell Wilson, then, carry a great many hopes with them each time they suit up.

Only one of them — a big, ebullient, 6-foot-5, 245-pound specimen with a big arm and a fine grasp of the game — remains in the chase, against Carson Palmer, and perhaps then either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

Lots of people would love to any see one of them wipe that perfectly-even, self-satisfied smile off Cam Newton’s face.

But they might want to prepare for disappointment.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates during the first quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
 

Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates during the first quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photograph by: Grant Halverson, Getty Images

 
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates during the first quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers reacts after their 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after a first down during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers shows his trademark "dab" against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers shows his trademark "dab" against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates with fans after the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) celebrates his touchdown with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers attempts a pass during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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