Those who dislike Cam Newton have their reasons. His bright-white smile—as flawless as the Carolina Panthers’ 13-0 record—is a good place to start.
Misery loves company, and Newton clearly would ruin the best pity party. The quarterback’s effervescence as he runs roughshod over the league gets on some folks’ nerves. If his smile is “fake,” as was infamously alleged in a scouting report ahead of the 2011 draft, Newton should be up for an Oscar as well as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.
Then there are his touchdown celebrations. Calling them “dances” would be an injustice. They’re more like elaborate productions, some of which last 12 seconds, seemingly broken into stanzas. Even some fans who don’t have a problem with rump shaking in the end zone might agree that Newton’s choreography can run a bit too long.
His college days also cause some resentment, especially among rabid fans of the Southeastern Conference, where football is king, emperor and grand pooh-bah. Newton spent two years as a little-used reserve at the University of Florida before allegations of theft accompanied his departure. He later transferred to Auburn University—about 110 miles south of Birmingham, Ala.—where he was investigated for receiving improper benefits, but won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to a national championship in his one and only season there.
At 26 he’s rich and famous, blessed with good looks, light feet and a rocket arm. His bookshelf contains an NFL Rookie of the Year trophy in addition to the Heisman. Talk that he might need room for an MVP trophy apparently is too much for some detractors, leading to a multitude of recent headlines like “Why Cam Newton Isn’t the NFL MVP” (Rolling Stone), “Cam Newton Isn’t the NFL MVP and It’s Not Even Close” (USA Today) and “Cam Newton Should Not Be in MVP Discussion” (Sports Illustrated).
Such dedication and devotion in explaining what a given player is not! Yes, clicks and page views are attracted through provocative headlines, but more than search engine optimization is at play here. There’s no doubt that some observers are uncomfortable with the notion of Newton as the NFL’s new golden-boy quarterback. He doesn’t fit a single stereotype associated with the job … aside from being tall and strong-armed.
But love him or hate him, he can’t be ignored.
Not when he leads the NFL’s only undefeated team. Not when he’s arguably the league’s best athlete. Not when he makes insanely ridiculous plays like threading two needles on one TD pass. Not when he takes traditional measures of MVP-level QBs—passing yards and completion percentage—and makes them obsolete with his signature style.
And Newton looks better each game, even judged against the old standards. On Sunday, one week after he threw for 331 yards and five touchdown passes in a nail-biter against New Orleans, he continued to make his case. Newton threw three TDs and recorded a quarterback rating of 153.3 (perfection is 158.3) against Atlanta, coolly leading the Panthers on first-half scoring drives of 80, 93, 80 and 81 yards.
A couple of TD passes went to fleet-footed, shaky-handed Ted Ginn Jr., who held on to grabs that covered 74 and 46 yards. Ginn has eight touchdown receptions this season, tied for ninth in the league. “I give all my success to Cam Newton,” he told reporters after the game. “Without him, there is no Ted Ginn. I can’t say the same vice versa, but we really, really have a nice thing going right now.”
That’s an understatement. Newton didn’t throw a touchdown against Dallas on Thanksgiving, yet he has 13 TD passes in his last four games. (Comparatively, fellow MVP competitor Tom Brady has nine in that span and Arizona’s Carson Palmer has eight). Carolina already has topped 30 points a half-dozen times this year; it happened in four games last year. Every accomplishment has been achieved without the team’s top wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, who tore his ACL during training camp.
Cam’s critics point to the Panthers’ stout defense and weak schedule in explaining Carolina’s success, while simultaneously harping on Newton’s not-leading-in-any-category passing numbers. The Rolling Stone article went as far as to suggest that a few defensive teammates have better claims as Carolina’s MVP, so there’s no way Newton should win league honors.
Excuse Newton for flashing his pearly whites and cutting a step at the idea.
He’s thankful that the entire discussion wasn’t made moot a year ago this time, when his truck rolled in a two-vehicle accident a few blocks from the Panthers’ stadium. His Dodge came to rest on an overpass, just short of rolling down a steep embankment to the bypass. Newton crawled out the back window and was diagnosed with fractures to two small bones in his lower back.
The accident gave him a new appreciation for breath. “He’s always had that great attitude of just enjoying the process of life, of coming in every day with a great mindset,” Carolina receiver Jerricho Cotchery told ESPN. “It deepens when you go through something like that.”
Since then, including last season’s playoffs, the Panthers are 17-1. Newton hasn’t stopped smiling, Carolina hasn’t stopped winning and haters haven’t stopped hating.
But the first two beat universal love any day of the week. Especially Sundays.