Keeping Cam’s Petulance In Perspective

Cam Newton did not handle his first Super Bowl appearance well. He didn’t play well, he appeared to give up at the end and he was anything but gracious in his postgame press conference. I understand why he’s getting criticized and he deserves it. But would it be asking too much if we could avoid the sweeping character judgments that so often come out of situations like this?

Let’s review the bill of indictment against Newton, in ascending order of importance…

After a regular season where he won the MVP award and an NFC playoff run marked by two blowouts, Cam responded poorly to getting hit in the mouth, literally and figuratively by the Denver defense.

No quarterback on earth would have a good game against this Bronco defense, a unit that reduced Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady to ineffectiveness in the AFC playoffs. Newton was further hurt by some key drops from his mediocre receiving corps.

But early in the game, clearly pumped on adrenaline, Cam overthrow a couple wide-open receivers. He didn’t protect the ball near the goal line in the first quarter when Von Miller made the strip-sack that set up the touchdown which essentially defined the rest of the night. So while no QB could have played well against the Orange Crush assault, the league MVP did fare worse than Roethlisberger and Brady because of some self-inflicted wounds.

Newton made no attempt to dive on his own crucial late-game fumble and often appeared out of it on the sidelines during the game, especially in the fourth quarter.

This is all clearly true. As Daniel Flynn, writing on points out, Newton engaged in self-preservation while linebacker Thomas Davis played with a broken arm (whether Davis’ arm was literally broken I’m not sure of, but it was seriously injured in the NFC Championship Game). This self-protection by a franchise quarterback is acceptable in midseason. Not in the Super Bowl.

After a season of frontrunning—the dabs, the “Superman” celebrations, etc., Newton gave a few one-word answers at the press conference and then walked off the stage.

Again, clearly true and clearly indefensible. If the case against Cam came to a grand jury, he would have to be indicted for conduct unbecoming a league MVP and a face of the franchise. I’m good with all this. Where I part company with Newton critics is the degree of seriousness they attach to this.

Cam Newton is not the first person to be whiny and petulant after a loss. I root for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team and was disappointed in Bo Ryan’s postgame interviews following a crushing loss to Duke in the NCAA final last April. I agreed completely with the substance of Bo’s comments—the game was horribly officiated and they took it away from us at a critical juncture in the second half. But it wasn’t the time or place.

In discussing this with friends yesterday, a Newton critic pointed out that Ryan also didn’t have Cam’s flair for frontrunning with the media when things were good, so it was more legitimate to give the basketball coach a pass. We could say the same for Bill Belichick, who refused to do a postgame interview following the 2012 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

But while I understand the analogy is not precise, the age factor has to count. Newton is 26-years-old. The coaches referred to above are in their 60s. Cam’s behavior was clearly immature—he wanted the positive side of the media adulation, but didn’t want to suck it up after a loss. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have all embraced the hard parts of life as a franchise quarterback in exchange for the huge benefits that come with it. It’s called maturity. Cam showed a lack of it on Sunday night.

But how many people are mature at age 26? And I’m talking just normal, everyday people, not ones whose actions are front and center for the entire media universe.

I’m not a Newton fan or a hater—he does rub me the wrong way a bit, but I didn’t mind seeing him have a big year and wouldn’t have been annoyed watching him win the Super Bowl the way I’ve been with other quarterbacks in the past (Joe Flacco for one, but that’s another story). So this column does not come from a Cam backer who’s desperate to absolve him. I think he deserves to take some heat. But how about a little perspective on just how big a deal this really is.