On Dec. 27, the Carolina Panthers’ bid for a perfect season ended in a stunning 20-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. After 14 consecutive wins to start the season, however, the loss to Atlanta seemed only a small hiccup for Carolina, and the Panthers proceeded to steamroll three more foes en route to Super Bowl 50.
But the Falcons’ win meant a whole lot more to the Denver Broncos. The loss to Atlanta exposed Carolina as a team that relied too heavily on its quarterback and showed that if any defense could somehow contain him to earthly numbers during his MVP season, they had a chance to contend. Unfortunately for Cam Newton, the Broncos were indeed that team. Somehow, it seems rather fitting that it took the league’s top-ranked defense in overall yardage, passing yards and sacks, and third ranked against the run, to defeat Newton.
Having been named MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and to AP All-Pro first team, Newton was understandably frustrated with his Super Bowl performance ─ throwing 18-41, zero touchdowns and three turnovers ─ and most clearly displayed his emotions by falling to the ground when the Panthers committed a penalty to give the Broncos a fresh set of downs as time dwindled in the fourth quarter.
That, added to the fact that he walked out of the conference room upon hearing a question that bothered him, will certainly hurt his reputation among critics and football fans who have previously called him “polarizing,” “immature,” and even “stupid.”
But to me, Newton’s postgame reaction was fitting. Nothing more, nothing less. I watched this game with ─ considering the Broncos knocked out my beloved New England Patriots ─ surprisingly no real preference about who I wanted to win. Consequently, I can’t help but view Newton’s reactions as a beautiful encapsulation of the emotions of professional football.
Players are, of course, paid to play. But at some point each season, their effort transcends their paychecks into their hearts, from monetary success to real jubilation, when they realize that hard work has paid off in the form of winning games. Once a team realizes it is good enough to compete for a championship, we as fans are able to see the human side of these brilliant athletes. Sure, some players may get financial bonuses for winning awards like the ones Newton did, but it was evident that his frustration was rooted in his realization that his valiant effort all season long had fallen just short.
CBS cut back to its postgame show after the reporters were unable to get anything out of Newton, and Deion Sanders immediately grilled Newton, noting that it is part of Newton’s contract to answer questions. So I would ask the question, “Does Sanders think Newton doesn’t know that?” The media works with the NFL to present football to the masses and make money, and while they didn’t necessarily get quotes from Newton, do they really need them right then? Is the fact that Newton was unwilling ─ and possibly unable ─ to answer questions not a great story in and of itself?
To me, it is.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers came close to glory, but fell just short. They came up against a team that they likely underestimated ─ most of the media certainly did ─ and their opponents were simply better prepared to win. Hell, Newton was probably more shocked by the Denver defense than anyone else. He had dominated every team this season with creative scrambles and numerous clutch plays to propel his team to victories. Imagine what it is like for him to not be able to use his talents to the best of his ability, and to no fault of his own.
Blame Newton all you want for being immature with the media, but let’s be clear: He doesn’t give a damn. His emotional display was human, so instead of calling him immature for his distaste with media questions after losing a Super Bowl (of all games), I’ll go ahead and thank Cam Newton.
Thank you Cam Newton for entertaining us all year long with brilliant plays. Thank you for teaching us the “dab” and for giving children footballs. Most importantly, thank you for being real and not what the NFL seemingly wants to mold its players into. Best of luck next season — and keep being yourself.
And while the media may be bitter about Cam Newton not answering their questions, ironically, it was Newton of all players, whose words best summarize Super Bowl 50.
“(The Panthers) got outplayed.”