Green: Newton unfairly cast as Super Bowl heel
Must we always have a villain? A guy we are able to vilify and trash, a guy who flopped in the stress of sporting combat? A guy who fumbled away a game when he might have won?
That is what we-the-media do — and our villain of the month is Cam Newton.
It seems Cam did not care to dally as long as desired by sports journalists who besieged him with the usual interrogation after Carolina’s loss to Denver in last Sunday’s Super Bowl 50.
Newton was dejected and slouched behind a podium, wearing a black Panthers hoodie. One AP report also described him as wearing “a frown.”
He mumbled one or two-word answers and didn’t reply to other questions, then walked out. Newton ended the press conference after three minutes of delivering a series of alibis.
Since then, Newton has been a bull’s-eye target for more media vilification for his fumbled press conference than for his fumbling game performance.
Sorry, we-the-media have been spoiled.
Whine and seethe
Too often we behave like whining brats. I accept that I have been guilty in this misbehavior myself. We have expectations and lots of my colleagues believe that they have entitlements to grill and dissect athletes who have just suffered painful defeats.
But I’m going to defend Newton for his walkout on the media.
He had just been beaten. He had failed. He had been humiliated. The day before he had been honored by the AP as the NFL’s most valuable player. Now, in Super Bowl 50, he had been disgraced.
I believe that he had his own entitlement to suffer and feel pain in privacy. He had that right despite his usual preening and show-off public persona.
He is a human being — as even the entire corps of we-the-media are. We have emotions and feelings – even if the NFL propaganda system disputes the truth of that statement.
Back in Carolina, Newton did address regional media on Tuesday — without any apology for his quick postgame disappearance.
“Show me a loser and I’ll show you a good loser,” Newton told the reporters there.
“If I offended anybody, that’s cool, but I know who I am and I’m not about to conform nor bend for anybody’s expectations because yours or anybody’s expectations would never exceed mine.
“Who are you to say that your way is right?”
Newton — and Coach Ron Rivera — did emerge from Super Bowl 50 as villains. They made themselves into villains — if my theory that we must have villains at sporting events of such magnitude is to be confirmed.
A year ago, Pete Carroll was the villain of Super Bowl XLIX for his call of a pass play that was intercepted at the end — and cost his Seahawks a probable victory over the Patriots. That time, Carroll did stand up to media scrutiny by accepting the blame.
The blame at Super Bowl 50 belongs to a football team that played gloriously through and entire season and the playoffs with one defeat. A total of 17 victories overall, with that single upset loss. They headed to Super Bowl 50 with an aura of invincibility.
Then they played the season’s climax game burdened with lethargy. They lacked flair, pizzazz.
They played with bewilderment, they played as though they were unprepared.
Unprepared for the Broncos and unprepared for the championship-game atmosphere in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The powerful, high-potency team went put-put — pffft, fizzle — in the game it need to play its best.
Carolina’s offensive scheme kept sending plays toward the strongest points of Denver’s heralded defense. On running plays, the Panthers’ backs kept hitting the same hard sports on the Broncos’ defensive line.
Newton fumbled twice when he was blitzed and slammed by the linebacker Von Miller, the game’s MVP. Cam also turned the ball over on an interception.
His two fumbles resulted in the Broncos’ two touchdowns.
On the second fumble, Newton was accused of not even bothering to try to recover the loose ball.
He explained, last Tuesday in Carolina, that he feared his painful leg could have been further injured.
“OK, I didn’t get the fumble,” he said. “We can play tit-for-tat. I’ve seen numerous quarterbacks throw interceptions and their effort afterwards and they don’t go.
“I don’t dive on one fumble because the way my leg was, it could have been contorted in some way.
“OK, you say my effort. I didn’t dive down. I fumbled, that’s fine.”
“We didn’t lose the game because of that fumble I’ll say that.”
Except when Miller popped Newton’s arm and the ball popped loose on the pass play, the Broncos were still catchable. The point difference at the time was six points — 16-10.
I say that second fumble was a vital play in Carolina’s loss.
The subsequent touchdown and Peyton Manning’s pale contribution of a two-point-conversion pass sealed the victory for the Broncos.
Then Rivera waived the white flag of surrender — shamefully.
This is a coach who is a disciple of Mike Ditka. Thirty years earlier, Rivera had been a backup linebacker conqueror in Super Bowl XX with Ditka’s Bears.
Down by the eventual 24-10 final score, deep inside Carolina’s territory, Rivera ordered that his team punt on a fourth down. A punt with even the tiniest chance for a tiny miracle in the final two minutes was a dastardly surrender.
Perhaps, according to Carolina’s coaching logic, the Broncos had stopped a fourth-down desperation play, they have scored another TD.
Or more likely, Manning would have ended by taking knees. As he did anyway.
The Panthers — believed to be invincible before Super Bowl 50 — simply quit. Outrageous!
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.