The big stage of Super Bowl 50 seemed so perfect for Cam Newton. He seemed like he wanted all the attention. He demanded all eyes on him. It sure looked like he wanted to be the star of the NFL’s show.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that in his biggest moment he came up so painfully small.
And it wasn’t just his play, either — though he was ineffective, jittery and clearly rattled by the Denver Broncos defense throughout the Carolina Panthers’ 24-10 loss. The worst of his performance came afterward, when Newton — the leader of the NFC champs, the NFL MVP and a player who might just be the face of the league’s future — bolted from his postgame press conference almost without talking at all.
He declined to be a good loser. He refused to be gracious in defeat. There were no compliments of his opponent or explanations for his poor game.
Instead, he got up after about two minutes or so of mostly one-word answers and long, blank stares, leaving his teammates to pick up the pieces of a disappointing Super Bowl performance.
And after a season of “dabbing” and dancing and Superman celebrations whenever things were going right for him and his teammates, Newton had to do better than that when things went wrong.
But the 26-year-old quarterback clearly wasn’t in the mood in the moments after a game where he was sacked six times and completed only 18 of his 41 passes for 265 yards. The Panthers had just one offensive touchdown in a game that was ripe for the taking against an opponent that gained just 194 yards — the lowest total ever for a Super Bowl winner.
So it was somewhat understandable when he began his postgame press conference with a long, uncomfortable silence as he was asked some questions. The cranky tone of his one good answer was somewhat understandable, too.
“They just played better than us,” he said. “I don’t know what you want me to say. They made more plays than us and that’s what it came down to. We had our opportunities. There wasn’t nothing special that they did. We dropped balls. We turned the ball over, gave up sacks, threw errant passes.
“That’s it. They scored more points than we did.”
After that, though, his postgame session went off the rails. He ignored several questions. He gave one-word answers to several others. He basically said nothing. Then he got up and walked away.
Sure, he was understandably upset, but several of his other teammates — Luke Kuechly, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis, among others — sat there and did what professional athletes are supposed to do. Newton is supposed to be their leader. But abandoning ship is not what leaders do.
Really, though, things seemed headed in this direction all week long as Newton, who brought the spotlight on himself, seemed to get increasingly annoyed that it stayed on him. He bristled about questions regarding race, even though he started the conversation by saying “I’m an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to.” Then he complained that he was getting repeat questions and that his Super Bowl media obligations had gone on too long.
Of course, he would’ve gladly sat through one more press conference after the game if he had been holding the Lombardi Trophy. He wanted the spotlight, though only if it didn’t get too hot. The image he left is that he’s happy to stand at center stage when he’s winning. But when he’s losing, he’ll leave that to somebody else.
That’s a terrible look for any athlete, but it’s even worse for a quarterback who is supposed to be the face of his franchise. He’s supposed to stand there and take the hit for his teammates. He’s not supposed to let them take the hit for him.
But the real shame of it is this: All season long Newton has been a target of criticism for the way he dances and acts and celebrates on the field. It seemed so unfair for a player who seemed genuinely likeable, who was good in his community, who was never in trouble off the field and played with a refreshing and unrestrained joy. He had a chance to show his critics he was better than they thought.
Instead, his petulant act played right into their hands.
That’s not the end of the world, of course. But it’s still a bad look for a player who’s not just some kid thrust into an unfamiliar situation. He’s a five-year NFL veteran. He even once played on an NCAA champion. He made it crystal clear to anyone who’d listen that he was ready for this moment.