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Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton forgot to enjoy the moment

By
Ira Miller, The Sports Xchange
Denver Broncos' Malik Jackson makes contact with Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton as he throws a pass in the second quarter at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Denver Broncos' Malik Jackson makes contact with Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton as he throws a pass in the second quarter at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Most people probably didn't notice it and even those who did likely thought little of it, but Cam Newton was beaten in the Super Bowl four days before it was played.

You can look it up. At interview sessions on Wednesday, more than 100 hours before kickoff time, Newton was whining about the demands of the Super Bowl media sessions - which, admittedly, are overdone, but, nonetheless, rather harmless.

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At least they are harmless for the players and coaches who understand the business of the NFL, who understand the function of the media, and who are concentrating on what really matters about the Super Bowl.

But as soon as some people heard about Newton complaining, they really began to like Denver's chances of upsetting Carolina. I know I did.

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"It's just media requirements that is getting up under a lot of people's skin ... I don't get it," Newton said.

Those comments were much more telling than Newton's abbreviated postgame session which in which he limited himself to clipped, two- or three-word answers before walking out. While that was unprofessional behavior, it was the pregame aggravation that shined a light on Newton's attitude while preparing for the biggest game of his life.

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And that attitude was certainly not in keeping with coach Ron Rivera's admonition to his players to "be yourself." Rivera always has known about keeping focus - being yourself - since he was a player and a member of the champion 1985 Chicago Bears, who never let the off-field spotlight or demands detract from on-field work.

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It is lost to history who said it first, but smart guys in sports have been saying it for years: When you get to the championship round, in any sport, enjoy the moment. It comes all too infrequently. Remember how you got there, what you have to do, but take time to enjoy it.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers reached the Super Bowl in the '70s for the first time after four decades of failure, coach Chuck Noll's message to the players was exactly that: Enjoy it, it's a new experience. Veteran players like Ray Mansfield and Andy Russell even told reporters, as they tried to walk away after interview sessions, don't leave, we still have more stories.

Bill Walsh got the message, too, when he coached the 49ers, and so did Joe Montana. Before the final, winning drive in Super Bowl 23, Montana looked up into the stands and pointed out comedian John Candy to his teammates, breaking the tension before a 93-yard march that won the team's third championship.

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Before his team's first Super Bowl after a run of losing seasons, Walsh worried that his young players would be so uptight that, on arrival for Super Bowl 16, he borrowed a bellman's uniform and met a team bus by trying to take briefcases and luggage away from the players. The gag worked as intended.

Actually, Walsh began taking the heat off his team long before it arrived in Detroit for the game, carping about a practice schedule that meant a ridiculously early wakeup time (at least according to California time) for his players. They were allowed a good laugh at their coach's comments, and they stayed loose all week. Compare that with Forrest Gregg, the opposing coach in that game, who kept a tight rein on his players.

The same thing had occurred a year earlier when the Philadelphia Eagles, coached by Dick Vermeil, went into a virtual training camp overload in Super Bowl prep while the opposing Oakland Raiders had a good, old time, late nights out in New Orleans, and won easily. Vermeil later adjusted his routine when he got to the Super Bowl with the Rams following the 1999 season, and this time, he won.

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None of is to fault Rivera for Newton's attitude.

"I think this is his moment, as well as our moment," Rivera said.

Newton is young. He probably will have more moments. Perhaps next time he will enjoy the anticipation more than he did this time. If he does, maybe he'll enjoy the game, too.

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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