By Eric Purnell | For The Duquesne Duke
In April of 2011, prior to the upcoming NFL draft, Sports Illustrated released their annual NFL draft preview. On the cover were three quarterbacks: Jake Locker of the University of Washington, Blaine Gabbert of Missouri University, and of course Cam Newton of Auburn University. The cover listed the three quarterback’s names with the caption “Toughest Call In Football” next to them. Ultimately, Cam Newton would be chosen first with the number one pick in the 2011 draft, but looking ahead to where these players stand in 2015, should it really have been a debate?
Newton declared for the NFL draft following a season where he scored 52 total touchdowns and won the Heisman trophy, while leading the Auburn Tigers to an undefeated season and national championship. Yet still, many scouts and GM’s doubted that his playing style would translate well to the NFL after playing in a spread offense at Auburn. They doubted his ability to be an effective enough passer in the professional ranks, and were weary of his dependence on making plays with his legs. That doubt lasted about four and a half months until Newton was able to play his first game in the NFL.
In the 2011 season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, Newton completed 65 percent of his passes for 422 yards and one touchdown, while adding another score with his legs. 422 yards was more than Newton had ever thrown for in college, and while it took 9 months for him to break his previous high of 335 yards against South Carolina, it took him just 7 days to top his NFL debut.
In the second matchup of the 2011 season, Newton threw for 432 yards against the Green Bay Packers in a game that left Packers head coach Mike McCarthy impressed by the rookie’s performance, saying after the game that “It looked like he was very much in control of their offense”.
Fast forward three years. It’s week nine, another matchup of Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers versus the Green Bay Packers and as the fourth quarter comes to an end, Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers are now very much in control of the entire NFC.
Cam’s four touchdown (three passing, one rushing), 354 yard performance helped the Panthers retain their top seed as the lone undefeated team in the NFC. A week later, the Panthers traveled to Tennessee where they would go on to win 37-29 and preserve their perfect record for the best start to a season in franchise history.
Present day, the Panthers control their own destiny, being in very good position to clinch home field advantage for the playoffs. They have 2 wins in hand over the second ranked teams in the NFC (Vikings and Cardinals), and are tied with the Patriots for most wins in the league. Yet the buzz surrounding the Newton right now is … his dancing?
Following a two-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, Newton “dabbed”, a popular dance move, in the end zone. Titans linebacker Avery Williamson, who broke out into a celebratory dance of his own after sacking Newton earlier in the game, was angered by Newton’s dancing, and responded by getting in Newton’s face to let him know about it. When asked about the altercation after the game Newton said of his post-touchdown celebration “if you don’t like it, keep me out [of the end-zone].
While many, including a Nashville mother who has written a viral open-letter to Newton (via Deadspin.com), mirror Williamson’s sentiments, they are wrong.
Cam Newton has carried a Panthers team, whose most established wide receiver is Tedd Ginn (acceptable reactions include: who? and: that old guy who can’t catch, who’s been a special teams player for the majority of his career), to a tie for the best record in the NFL. He has the right to dance.
Yes, the Panther’s defense, led by star linebacker Luke Kuechly and breakout cornerback Josh Norman, is having a fine season, but outside of maybe Tom Brady, no player in the league is more valuable to their team’s success than Cam Newton. He is a matchup nightmare who is responsible for many sleepless nights of defensive coordinators.
Even still though, fans around the league – a league that employs noted domestic abuser Greg Hardy – are quick to criticize Newton’s character because of his celebrations. These same celebrations that are often coming directly following him scoring a touchdown (often in spectacular fashion), and just before he carries the ball out of the back of the end-zone to hand to a young fan as a souvenir. What a terrible role model indeed.
So why are so many people criticizing Cam? Jealousy could be one answer. He’s the quarterback of a team that is tied for first in the league, and for fans of a vast majority of the leagues teams, he is considerably better than your quarterback. Another possibility for Cam’s character attacks is far more alarming.
When you think of the name Rob Gronkowski, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Him spiking the b… oh him dancing shirtless in a party bus full of childhood friends? Okay, what about the second thing that comes to mind? Yeah, the “Gronk” spike. His ceremonious slamming of the ball into the turf after every touchdown he scores. Have you ever heard people call him a bad leader after spiking the ball into the end-zone? How about when Patriots receiver Julian Edelmen points forward after almost every first down pass he catches, does the internet blow up with opposing fans saying “act like you’ve been there before”? No, but when Cam celebrates touchdowns and first downs he’s seen as cocky, or a poor leader?
My question then is this; besides the position they play, what really separates Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski? They’re both athletic freaks, who are heavily involved in charity work off of the field. Gronkowski is portrayed as the lovable beast, while Newton, on the other hand, who returned to Auburn to finish his education and receive his degree, after signing a 100 million dollar contract extension, is persecuted for being bad role model? Why? Because after he does something awesome, like flipping over the defensive line for a score in the fashion that no other quarterback in NFL history has been able to do as effectively as him he likes to dance? Or when he converts a crucial third and long pass with pin-point accuracy on the run late in a game you’re upset by the fact that he “smiles too much”? In the infamous words of the viral David at the Dentist video: “Is this real life?”
Okay, so what really separates Gronk and Cam? Well, their race.
That can’t be a reason for Cam’s criticism, because O’Dell Beckham is a black player who dances in the end-zone all the time, and everybody seems to love him. This is true, but O’Dell Beckham plays wide receiver, not quarterback. The quarterback position has been largely dominated by white men since the games conception, despite the fact that the league is composed by a majority of black players.
You see, as opposed to positions like wide receiver, the quarterback position has traditionally been composed of players lacking big personalities. Players like Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady who have become faces of not only their franchises, but the entire league are known to be very soft-spoken. Players like this fit the mold of the traditional quarterback, being a humble white guy, whose post touchdown celebrations are limited to a celebratory fist pump, if they absolutely cannot contain their excitement. This is what we’ve come to expect from the league’s quarterbacks, to fit this sort of traditional quarterback mold.
However, Cam Newton is anything but a traditional quarterback.
Cam has the mass of a linebacker, the height of a tight end, and the energy of an eight-year-old. He has established himself as a game changer, and one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the NFL, and he did it while retaining his energetic style of play. Sure, he refined his mechanics, vastly improved his footwork and takes fewer designed runs than at his days at Auburn, but he still shows off his game breaking physical traits every Sunday. Cam Newton did not change who he was after entering the NFL, he just improved upon what was already there.
When pressured in the pocket Cam favors a juke, or stiff-arm to throwing the ball out of bounds. When flushed from the pocket he prefers to lower his shoulder on opposing cornerbacks, to the traditionally accepted quarterback slide. When at the goal line he doesn’t lean into a wall of lineman while pushing forward for a QB sneak, but rather goes through the defense, or goes over them in exhilarating fashion.
It’s time to stop hating Cam Newton just because he is a bowl of fiery chili in a world of unsweetened oatmeal. Instead, we should embrace him for his uniqueness, and for how much excitement he brings to the game.
Cam plays for his teammates and he plays for his fans, both of which are groups that absolutely love him. He isn’t changing anytime soon, nor should he due to baseless attacks on his character. Should you become a fan of him? No, not necessarily, although for fans of excitement I would highly recommend it. It is necessary that you embrace him however, because he’s revolutionized the quarterback position and he’s not going anywhere.