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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cam Newton

ESPN the Magazine wrote a challenging piece several years back lamenting the disconnect between the quarterback's obvious physical gifts and his aloofness on the football team.  The latter became so pronounced that other leaders approached Newtown and apparently coaxed/instructed/demanded that the unprecedented QB act more like a leader and take over the leadership of the team.

Newtown has great physical gifts -- he can run better than most quarterbacks and can run over linebackers.  He has a great arm, perhaps not yet as accurate as some of the top quarterbacks in the league.  He excelled this year despite having a depleted receiving corps.  He helped lead his team to a 15-1 record.  And it looked like he had fun doing it, even if his critics would say that the celebrations were too frequent and too flamboyant.  Most gave him a pass because he is only 26 and still learning about what it is to be in the spotlight as an NFL quarterback.

Fair enough.  And most gave him a pass after his troubling press conference after Super Bowl XV, where he resembled more the petulant child whose ice cream fell off his cone at the county fair and did not get replaced than a wealthy, star quarterback with media training who should have been able to absorb with some graciousness the media's questions about the game and what happened.  Instead, he pouted, he sulked, he made Bill Belichick and Greg Popovich look garrulous and he almost blamed his teammates for the loss before adding at the end of his longest statement that he made errant throws.  It was not Newtown's best moment.

The pundits the following day gave him a pass, or at least most of them did.  But there were a few articles about his failure of leadership.  Those who gave him a pass offered that he had some things to learn from the experience and that it is difficult to put yourself in his shoes given how hard he plays and how devastating a loss like that is.  Fair enough.  But then Newtown spoke the next day and exacerbated the situation.

Instead of taking the day to calm down and show up with a more measured approach, the Panther QB commented that he is a sore loser and that if someone showed him a good loser, they still would be showing him a loser.  Does that behavior compel another pass, or would someone be fair in calling Newtown out as a poor leader who failed to show grace under ultimate pressure and did not reveal as much character as he could have in the process.  Look, it's easy to be gracious in victory -- while you are taking a victory lap.  Getting up after a defeat is tougher, and society does measure people by how they deal with disappointment and come back.  By many measures, these 36 hours after the game were not among Newton's finest and summon memories of the ESPN the Magazine article about gaps in his leadership.

Newtown would be wise to consult some of the NFL's elders about how to handle situations like these -- such as Tony Dungy and Chris Carter.  There are better ways to handle situations like these, and one who adopts those better ways ends up getting more endorsements and cementing his legacy better than someone who does not.  Food for thought for the unprecedented QB -- in terms of physical gifts if not gifts in comportment.

One of the adages that emerged after the game was that Newton and the Panthers of course will be back.  Yes, they will show up next season, but a lot has to go right to return to the Super Bowl let alone win it.  In 2004 the Philadelphia Eagles had a young Donovan McNabb and lost 27-24 to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  Many assumed that the team under Andy Reid would be back.  They were to never return.  Same with the '85 Bears, whose defense transcended imagination.  They did not return either. 

For the Panthers to return, a lot has to go right.  Players have to get healthy and others have to stay healthy.  The team needs to draft well, sign the right free agents and retain players who no doubt as free agents are more attractive because they played on a Super Bowl participant.  And then they have to work hard and hope that no other team surpasses them. 

And, finally, perhaps they need their quarterback to take his leadership to the next level. 

It certainly would not hurt.


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