Vince Lombardi long loathed the fact that his teams — and all NFL teams — were so deeply dependent upon the quarterback. Considering great coaches and great franchises forever preach the team ethic, it’s quite incongruous to lean so heavily upon one player.
It can breed, as Pat Riley coined it, the “disease of me.” Bill Parcells also loathed the notion of the celebrity quarterback, a star’s binary approach to his job — one eye on the gridiron, the other on sponsors and sneakers and social media.
Enter Cam Newton, the ultimate, new-school star, who, with each win, is chafing one group, while inspiring another.
So the next two weeks will be a referendum on Newton’s name, game and fame, his ability to build a brand and brand himself on the gridiron. And there’s no shortage of opinions on the pyrotechnic QB, who’s having not only his best season, but the best season in all of pro football.
Depending on whom you ask, Newton is either an athletic and cultural revolutionary who is changing the game, or a self-obsessed businessman who, to quote Jay-Z, wants to be a business, man.
Some see it as a racial thing, others a generational affair.
While it’s fair (and sad) to say that Newton’s skin color plays a role with some folks, it’s also unfair to assert that anyone who dislikes Newton is a bigot. Just as it’s wrong to say that anyone who likes him has total disregard for the old-world coda of modesty and the selfless group ethos.
This season, Newton has been undaunted, unapologetic and unstoppable. He says he never gets nervous, but often gets anxious. His convulsive first-down and touchdown dances can fray a million nerves. But as the maxim goes, if you don’t like his spastic scoring moves, stop him from scoring — a task NFL defenses have found all but impossible this season.
But if a man’s worst transgression is enthusiasm — a dance or dab, a sprint to the sideline, a pigskin handed to a preteen fan — then we can certainly live with it.
It’s so much better than Aaron Hernandez. Or Ray Rice. Or Adrian Peterson. Or Riley Cooper. Any crime or transgression, from murder to tax evasion, is exponentially worse than anything Cam Newton does on the field. Or off. There’s nothing to suggest Newton is anything more than an overly caffeinated behemoth who has no filter.
Sure, we’re all a little fatigued from his nth yogurt commercial, dancing with himself while wearing $300 headphones, and his incessant, narcissistic style. But so what?
Surely folks were frothing over Joe Namath, he of the fur coats, sprawling sideburns and pantyhose, with the alpaca rugs and mirrors lathered across the ceiling of his Upper East Side penthouse. He famously declared that he liked his Johnny Walker red and his women blonde. Surely that shattered the old-world sensibilities of his peers and predecessors.
Newton pushes the boundaries. His antics irk players, pundits and fans alike. But ask almost any fan with an IV of truth serum, and he’d tell you he’d gladly trade his more muted QB for the loquacious Newton, who can beat you in as many ways as is legally possible.
Of course, Cam Newton is ultimately parsed and polarizing for one reason — he’s winning. Attention is almost always commensurate to your place in the standings. And no one is standing taller than the Carolina quarterback.
To that end, Newton has been a one-man YouTube reel. His 45 total touchdowns almost lapped the league. He was typically potent in the NFC title game — 19/28, 335 yards, 2 TDs. Throw in a couple more rushing TDs, and his stat sheet bulges into the surreal. Four scores and one turnover, a total QBR of 88. By contrast, Tom Brady trotted out of Denver with a 22 QBR.
Four scores and 12 days to prepare for the QB terminator. Don Shula said the only stat that matters is on the scoreboard. By that metric, Newton owns the NFL right now, going into the Super Bowl with a 17-1 record.
Is Newton now a man and QB in full? Or is this a fluke, an aberration, with Newton slamming back to earth next season?
It’s hard to assume the latter. He’s working with a dearth of dominant skill players around him. After losing his lone, blue-chip prospect in Kelvin Benjamin, Newton was left with a receiving corps (or carcass) of Ginn, Funchess and Cotchery — a cluster of castoffs and gypsies.
Only Greg Olsen was old reliable. But he was so deep into the back-nine of his career, the forlorn Chicago Bears traded him. Other than oft-inured RB Jonathan Stewart, Carolina’s offense hardly reminds you of the 1984 49ers or the 1999 Rams.
Newton still threw 35 TD passes. He’s thrown three more in these playoffs, completed 70 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 113.4 — 20 points better than the second-rated passer, Ben Roethlisberger (93.3).
Newton also leads the playoffs in yards per attempt (9.92) and longest completion (86 yards), and is second in completion percentage (70.0). He’s been sacked just twice. By contrast, the ever-elusive Russell Wilson was sacked seven times in the same number of games.
Numbers never fib. Cam Newton has the numbers, the mojo and momentum all at his back, a football wind that has carried him to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50. He’s just 60 minutes from the mountaintop. Depending on the bookmaker, Newton’s Panthers are favored by about four points to defeat the Denver Broncos.
In the golden Super Bowl, it’s the Golden Child looking for a platinum hit.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.