This article, from Issue XXI of Gridiron, originally appeared in 2016. For individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE
The Super Bowl quite rightly holds a very special place in the hearts of NFL fans. And it takes up permanent residence in our memory banks with iconic images living with us for decades. Think about it for a moment — which do we talk about more… David Tyree’s ridiculous helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII or the equally-improbable between-the-ankles reception made by Cleveland’s Gary Barnidge during the 2015 regular season?
Big plays and controversial moments are magnified in the Super Bowl and that is bad news for Cam Newton, as he did not have a good day at the office when the favoured Carolina Panthers fell to a 24-10 defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
Newton didn’t act the right way in the moments after the biggest disappointment of his career and showed little, if any, class. You’ve all seen the press conference clips by now, so you know what I’m talking about. Cam – with a hoodie failing to hide the pain and hurt on his face – one-word-answered his way through just under three minutes before stating “I’m done” and walking out.
“All great leaders should put the team ahead of their own personal needs and demands”
I get that he was in emotional and physical pain, but that is no excuse for acting like a sulky and petulant child who had just lost the three-legged race at sports day. And I’m not buying that Newton could hear Broncos cornerback Chris Harris talking about shutting down Carolina’s passing attack while speaking at a nearby booth. The Super Bowl post-match press set-up has been that way for as long as I have been attending and others have not walked out or had a problem with it.
To me, when you are a highly-paid athlete in the NFL, it is part of your job description to handle and deal with questions from the media because – as I have mentioned before – that is your only real chance to speak to your fans. And countless others handle that duty with class and dignity on a weekly and annual basis.
Blair Walsh fronted up to the media after his missed field goal for Minnesota in this season’s playoffs, Russell Wilson gave full, honest and dignified answers to every question after his late interception cost Seattle last year’s Super Bowl crown. And even back in the day, Scott Norwood sat at his locker and answered every single question put his way after his ‘wide right’ field goal miss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV.
Luke Kuechly was the epitome of class and leadership as he answered everything the media threw at him. And don’t be fooled into forgiving Newton because he is ‘a sore loser’. Kuechly answering every question does not mean he cares less about winning or losing than his quarterback.
“When you are a highly-paid athlete in the NFL, it is part of your job description to handle and deal with questions from the media”
Those post-game comments harken back to a sulkier and surlier Newton, who had seemingly disappeared this season. But I suppose it’s easier to smile and be happy when you’re going 17-1. They often say you find out more about a player when they are losing than when they are cruising to victory and I would say that is true.
The Panthers have more to worry about than a post-match press conference. Newton clearly failed to dive for his own fumble late in the game and, when Denver recovered, they were in perfect position to ice the contest with C.J. Anderson’s short touchdown run. I was willing to give Newton the benefit of the doubt on that one because the bodies converged on the football pretty quickly, but then I saw photographs that showed he was clearly in pole position to grab the ball but actually pulled away. And then I could not believe it when he came out the week after the game and explained that his leg was at a funny angle and that he might have gotten injured if he tried to recover the ball.
What kind of message does that send to the likes of Thomas Davis and Jared Allen, who were willing to play through broken limbs in order to chase Super Bowl glory? Davis played with his right arm stitched up so tight it looked like an NFL football. He played with 12 screws in his arm, never shied away from contact and recorded seven tackles in a heroic effort. He can play through that kind of pain and risk permanent damage to his arm, but his quarterback cannot dive for a crucial fumble? Allen played on a broken foot and could have ended up limping for the rest of his life when sacrificing his body for Super Bowl Sunday, but his quarterback cannot try to rectify his own mistake at a vital point in the biggest game of his life with the football at his feet? That smacks of selfishness and suggests that Newton is a ‘me-first’ player who is more concerned about himself than the team. All great leaders should put the team ahead of their own personal needs and demands.
You can argue all you like about media intrusion and how quickly decisions have to be made on the field in the heat of battle, but Newton did not cover himself in glory on or off the field. And, in a game as big as the Super Bowl, otherwise-routine plays and how you react to them can become iconic images that last for decades. When we think about the Broncos and Super Bowl 50, we will see images of Peyton Manning and a dominant, swarming defense. Yet, when we think about their opponents, sadly, we will conjure up images of a quarterback who appeared to be too frightened to go after his own fumble and who sulked his way through an embarrassing post-match press conference.