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Even for elite QBs like Cam Newton, returning to Super Bowl not easy

By Ira Miller, The Sports Xchange
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Even for elite QBs like Cam Newton, returning to Super Bowl not easy
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton speaks to the media in San Jose, California on February 2, 2016. The Carolina Panthers will play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Cam Newton is only 26 years old, the oddsmaker's favorite to win Super Bowl MVP honors with a team that came close to an undefeated season. He was the quarterback of undefeated teams in both junior college and college.

He burst onto the NFL scene with such an impact that, four games into his rookie season, coach Ron Rivera told me, "When the rest of our team catches up with the quarterback, we'll be pretty good."

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Well, this year, the rest of the team finally caught up with Newton. And they are more than just pretty good.

Newton is, some say, the future of NFL quarterbacking -- a monster who is as big as a linebacker, can run like a receiver, throws like a quarterback and wins. He is charismatic and outgoing, and the only question is how many more times we will see him in the Super Bowl.

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But there are no guarantees, and just because Newton's five-year career has continued from that fourth game on an upward trend does not mean we ever will see him again on this stage.

Oh, we probably will. But history reminds us how frequently we think someone can get to the top and stay there seemingly forever -- and how frequently we are wrong about that.

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There's one reason already to wonder about Newton and his future. By midweek, he was complaining about the Super Bowl media requirements, and history tells us those who get to the pinnacle and then complain about it ... well, that's not a good sign of the mindset necessary to stay on top.

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Tales of some others whose visit to the NFL's ultimate game promised more -- and didn't get more.

1. Dan Marino

He became the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback six games into his rookie season in 1983. The following year, he set NFL records by passing for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. The Dolphins went 14-2 and were the talk of the league before playing the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

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The 49ers, who had been 15-1, used a rotating cast of defensive linemen to harass Marino, and Joe Montana clearly outplayed him in a 38-16 San Francisco victory.

No problem, everyone thought. Marino would be back.

Wrong.

Marino played another 15 seasons in the NFL. In only eight of the 15 did he lead the Dolphins to the playoffs and never did he play in another Super Bowl. So much for inevitability.

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"I'd trade every record we broke to be Super Bowl champs," Marino has said.

2. Brett Favre

In 1996, his fifth season as the Green Bay starter, Favre, who will be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, led the Packers to a Super Bowl title.

The following year, he had them back in the Super Bowl again, but this time, Denver upset the Packers. Favre was 29 at the time with plenty of years still ahead of him. But he never played in another Super Bowl and, in fact, won only four more playoff games in his 13 remaining NFL seasons.

3. Aaron Rodgers

More recently, the then 27-year-old Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory after the 2010 season and the expectation was that we would see him on the big stage again and again. Five years later, Rodgers has not even gotten back to a conference championship game.

4. Colin Kaepernick

He was viewed as the next big thing when he got to the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers after the 2012 season, coming within one pass of an epic comeback victory.

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It has been all downhill for Kaepernick since then. His performance declined, he was benched, two successive 49ers head coaches have been fired, and it's considered likely he will be dumped by the team before a $14.3 million contract guarantee kicks in in early April.

5. Joe Flacco

He led the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs, winning at least one postseason game, in each of the first five years of his career, culminating in a Super Bowl victory that earned him a huge new contract. But the Ravens have reached the playoffs with Flacco just once in the last three years and, this season, he was the league's 30th-ranked passer -- just one spot above Kaepernick.

6. And at least one more name belongs on this list of quarterbacks still waiting for that next ring: Dan Fouts.

San Diego's Hall of Fame quarterback orchestrated some of the NFL's greatest offenses in the late '70s and early '80s, but, among other things, he was held back by his team's wretched defense. Fouts never even played in the Super Bowl.

None of this is to suggest or predict where Newton's career goes from here. Just consider it a cautionary warning. It's never automatic. There is a reason for the old cliche that tells folks to look around and enjoy it when you get to the peak.

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You never know when you'll be there again. It's clearly true for NFL quarterbacks.

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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