What Happened to Cam Newton?


[Writer’s Note: At the time of this writing, the former Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton is unable to find a team, and Robert Griffin III (RGIII), Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota are in similar straits, or they’ve accepted the role of a backup with a team other than the team who drafted them. This might change for them, but the theme of this article remains.]   

Like RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton was the most talented athlete anybody ever saw for most of his life. He never met anyone bigger, better, or faster than in high school, college, and some might argue he was the best athlete anyone in the NFL ever saw. If he encountered someone who was one of the above, along the way, they weren’t all three. If he encountered one who was close, that player was not a quarterback. Cam won the National Championship in college and the Heisman Trophy. He was then the first player chosen in the NFL Draft. He went onto win rookie of the year award, and then the NFL MVP award. Cam then did something, five years later, only 63 other quarterbacks in NFL history have accomplished, he led his team to the Super Bowl. He was fast, big, elusive, and he knew how to win. Some might argue that with the rules of the NFL game being what they are today, Cam Newton’s athletic ability almost single-handedly determined whether the Carolina Panthers would make it to the Super Bowl that year.

Prior to that Super Bowl, Cam led the Panthers to three straight division titles and a 15-1 record in their NFC Championship year. Following the Super Bowl, the trajectory of his career and the plight of the Panthers, has since followed a downward trajectory. The Panthers are now 29-35 since that Super Bowl appearance.

Cam’s measurables, coming out of college, were almost unprecedented. He had almost unprecedented size (Dante Culpepper was 6’4″ 260 lbs, Cam was 6’5″ 250 lbs.), and he had an almost unparalleled athletic ability (Culpepper ran a 4.52 40, Cam ran a 4.59). The three best QBs of the era (Brady, Manning, and Brees) would’ve killed for Cam’s measurables, but the question we now ask, in hindsight, is would those three have won as often as they did if blessed with Cam’s size and ability?

Personally, I don’t think so, because when a quarterback doesn’t have the measurables Cam had in high school and college, they, and their coaches, train their focus on the immeasurables in practices and scrimmages. It’s those immeasurables, those intangibles, that have led those three best QBs of their era and many other lesser talents in the NFL playing QB to enjoy longer, more sustained success in the NFL.    

As another most talented athlete, anyone ever saw, former NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner wrote an article that alludes to the idea that the NFL has a way of humbling even the most elite athletes. For Kurt Warner, that “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw” era ended for him when he left high school, but it didn’t end there for Cam Newton, and it didn’t end for him in college either. Few athletes can maintain this rarefied air in college, and even fewer like Cam, Colin Kaepernick, RGIII, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota maintain this stature in the NFL. Kurt suggests this might be a blessing and a curse for them.

The blessings are immediate, as everyone they’ve ever encountered told them that their athletic talent was such that they could achieve what nearly 100% of the rest of the us could only dream. The curse, that which arrives much later, happens when an elite athlete encounters a brilliant, NFL-level defensive coordinator who uses his elite athletes to minimize the once-in-a-lifetime talents at quarterback to force them into jams they can’t escape with athletic talent alone.   

When forced into such jams, a quarterback learns why all of his previous coaches focused so much attention on developing their immeasurables during their formative years. One of Kurt’s college coaches taught him what to do when the offensive line breaks down, all the receivers are covered, and the defense has assigned one of their linebackers to spy on him, so he can’t run. This college coach instituted what he called a “Kill Kurt” drill that Kurt described as:

“One of my least favorite times on the field, but it may have also been the most valuable. That drill taught me to read defenses and keep my eyes downfield instead of looking at the rush and bailing out at the first sign of trouble. It forced me to know exactly who I was reading on each play and to make a quick decision, inside the pocket, or I was going to get hit. 

“I am grateful my coach installed that drill early in my career, because even though I may have been able to avoid a lot athletically at that age, there was no question the ability to do that would be over sooner rather than later. If I was going to be successful playing the position, it would have to come with what I processed mentally — not what I was able to avoid physically.” 

The young Kurt Warner probably hated the drill as much as he described, because it showed him he was no longer the “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw”. It informed him that if he was going to succeed at the collegiate level, he was going to have to stay in the pocket and develop instincts. The drill taught him that he would have to figure out what to do when things broke down, without taking off and running. When no receiver was open, he had to learn how to scramble in the pocket effectively, throw the ball away, throw it into a tight window that led the receiver to being open, or take the sack. Most coaches, as Kurt alludes, accidentally begin to rely on their QB’s athleticism as much as the QB does, to get him out of jams.  

“As we can see when we look at [Cam Newton], [he] never had to worry about not being the best athlete on the field,” Kurt wrote. “Where many of us lose that tag in high school or college, [Cam has] been able to sustain it all the way to the NFL.

“Sounds like an incredible blessing, and of course to some degree it is, but it has delayed [his] overall growth and remains the main reason [he might be] struggling at the NFL level now.

“Many [elite athletes playing quarterback] have never been taught how to play the position the way it has to be played against the best athletes in the world. They have always been taught the basics, but then been encouraged when things didn’t look right to “Do what you do.””

I inserted Cam Newton, in place of the examples (RGIII and Colin Kaepernick) Kurt listed to explain his point, to maintain the theme of my article, because I believe everything Kurt writes apply to Cam Newton’s current state. Some might state that the ‘X’ factor in Cam’s decline include the injuries he accumulated over the years, and they played a role, but there was some level of decline before the injuries that sidelined him. We also have to factor Cam’s style of play in the NFL, as the hits a running QB take are largely unsustainable, as evidenced by the short career of RGIII among others.

Somewhere along the way, incredibly gifted athletes, like Cam, RGIII, Kaepernick, Winston, and Mariota need a coach to teach them how to avoid relying on their athleticism so much, and it has to happen in the formative years of the quarterback’s career. Sports analysts suggest that playing quarterback in the NFL might be the hardest position in sports, and it has everything to do with the measurables and the immeasurables.

Kurt’s point is that the idea that an elite athlete’s failure to develop alternatives to their athletic talent is not always the player’s fault. Yet, some of the times it is. We have to think that when “once-in-a-lifetime” talents develop their talent, they also develop quite an ego, and most high school coaches and some college coaches don’t feel qualified enough to tell them what to do. They might try to enhance and adjust the quarterbacks game, but in that difficult adjustment period, the QB had a couple of horrible outings that hurt his stock. Their friends and family then tell them not to listen to the coach, “You do what you do. You be you. Did you see what Michael Vick did to the Vikings? That could be you. The game is changing, and you need to tell your coach that.”    

Like most professional sports, the NFL is comprised of the most talented athletes anyone in their local areas ever saw. Most of us don’t know what that feels like, and we don’t know what we would do or say when a middle-aged coach, who didn’t have one-fifth of our talent, tells us how to play the game. Even fewer of us, the most elite of the elite, would ever know what it’s like to prove that coach wrong, when the NFL drafts us in the first round, or as three of the four listed here, the first or second NFL pick. When these once-in-a-lifetime talents, who were the best athletes anyone ever saw, then run into the extent of their talent, it’s often too late to make any substantial adjustments necessary for a prolonged, successful career in the Not for Long league, we call the NFL. 

A Catch is not a Catch


Other than the fact that I wanted to see a Big 10 team beat an ACC team, I had no rooting interest in the College Football Playoff semifinal game that pitted Clemson against Ohio State University (OSU). In the third quarter of this game, a Clemson receiver caught the ball and made, at least, three full steps before the ball came loose. Numerous replays show the ball didn’t move throughout those steps, and the officials on the field declared that the receiver made the catch, he fumbled, and an OSU defender retrieved the ball and took in the end zone. The replay officials, in the booth, carefully examined this play and determined that the receiver did not make the catch.

Announcers, analysts, all players involved, and fans can argue about what the definition of a catch is, per the rules of the league, but two facts undercut the “it was not a catch” argument in this particular instance. The first argument involves our common sense that the receiver did catch the ball, and I consider it ridiculous to suggest otherwise. I don’t care what the league rules dictate, 99.9% of the population from all genders and just about every age group knows that that was the dictionary definition of a catch, and if there is a rule that suggests otherwise, it should include an asterisk that suggests that officials and replay officials use their common sense when needed. The second, and far more frustrating point, is that the replay officials reviewing this play needed indisputable evidence to overturn the call the officials on the field made that this was a catch, and they obviously thought that they found it. One person in the broadcasting booth suggested it was not a catch, and that the replay officials would overturn the officials on the field, because the receiver did not make a football move. The idea that he made, at least, three steps did not move this broadcaster, because those three steps did not advance the ball up the field. This definition is so ridiculous that it almost requires an obnoxious reply, “What if a receiver catches a ball and for whatever reason remains still for an elongated period of time? If he doesn’t make a football move, how long can he remain in that position before the officials officially declare the pass complete?”

The overturned call in this game, coupled with the irrational rationale behind it, made me so sick that I fast-forwarded through a chunk of the game. Again, I had no rooting interest, and I’ve probably rooted against OSU more than I’ve rooted for them in my life, but I cannot shut out that part of my mind that calls for rational, common sense. As illogical and irrational as fast-forwarding through the game to try to pretend the replay officials didn’t overturn the call was at least as illogical and irrational as the call was. 

I imagined being a top broadcaster who is skilled enough and lucky enough to call such a game. I have to imagine that the promotion and the subsequent uptick in salary would change the way I buy products. I would probably buy some large products without any guilt, and I would loosen the purse strings on my budget as the huge checks rolled in. If a play like this happened in a game I was calling, however, I would probably be so sick and irresponsible that my impulses would drive me to ignore the increase in salary and the luxuries it affords me. I would probably also ignore any concerns I have about the network dismissing me after the game. 

“A call like that disgusts me. My heart goes out to all of those involved at OSU who worked so hard to make this day happen, and my heart goes out to their fans too. This replay official just single-handedly robbed all of you of the chance to play for the national championship. I’m sorry Jed,” I would say to my broadcasting partner, who would probably have to lead the search for a new broadcasting partner the next day, “but you make a call like that, you deserve to be fired. I know officials have a tough job, and they need league rules to protect them and provide some parameters that promote consistency in their calls, but to declare that there’s indisputable evidence that that was not a catch just doesn’t make sense to me on any level.”   

In the post-game analysis, some obnoxious fool dropped the obnoxiously foolish comment that all obnoxiously foolish analysts make when an official blows a call that affects a game (Clemson won 29-23). He wrote that to avoid allowing officials decide a game, OSU should’ve scored more touchdowns. He correctly pointed out that OSU had at least two opportunities in the red zone that resulted in field goals. He failed to mention that if Clemson wins the national championship this year, it will be their third in four years. I mention this, to note that if a team wins a national championship, they have to have a competent defense at the very least. If that team wins three of four, their defense is probably great. OSU made some costly mistakes that affected this game, it’s college football after all, but I have some problems with analysts who say a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous live calls from on the field officials. I have greater problems with analysts who say that a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous calls from a replay official who is able to slow the film down and analyze the play for however long it takes them to reach an official conclusion.

Any time a team loses a huge game like this one, as a result of one disastrous call by an official on the field or in the booth, at least one of these ingenious analysts trots out the ingenious insight that if the losing team considered scoring more touchdowns that would’ve resulted in more points, and that would’ve increased the probability that they won the game. The losing team, they add, shouldn’t have put themselves in a position where a bad call could determine the outcome, and these analysts write these articles in a manner that casts blame on the losing team for failing to consider that. As ridiculous as these suggestions sound, their argument is correct and logical, but is it as logical as a statement that suggests that it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns a team scores if there are enough bad calls from officials and replay officials, made against them? 

Let’s Make Football Violent Again


“Make football violent again,” was a hat the safety for the Minnesota Vikings, Andrew Sendejo, wore in an NFL training camp. The instinctive reaction we might have to such a call is that Sendejo is trying to be provocative, for no one who knows anything about violence would condone it in anyway. We might also say that, as a professional football player, Sendejo is setting a poor example for the youth who look up to him. Our society should be moving in the exact opposite direction, others might say, especially when it comes to young men. 

An argument that condones violence in any way will never make its way to a broadcasting booth of any kind, unless it is to condemn it, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, when it comes to football at least. If the argument did make it on air, in some form, we have to imagine that the broadcasters would say, “I don’t condone violence, but …” to distance themselves from Sendejo’s argument, but there is a but argument that is worthy of some consideration. The but argument focuses on the unpleasant fact that some young men have violent impulses, and they need an outlet, or a ‘somewhat’ controlled and monitored environment, to indulge that primal impulse for violence. Most audiences don’t want to hear anything about that. They prefer a more rational discussion that focuses on ways to make would young men less violent in a way that might help make our world less violent. No rational discussion by a professional in any field would focus on the need for an outlet for violent activity.

The well-intentioned opponents of the game now know that football is too entrenched for them to make any strides with regard to banning football from the high school level on up. Yet, they are making strides at banning tackle football in youth groups, and they are using the banner of ‘player safety’ to lessen the impact of some of the more violent hits in the game from the high school level on up. Proponents of the traditional game know that some measures are required to make the game safer, as athletes become stronger and faster, but as these measures to remove violence from the game progress, proponents warn, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

We’ve all heard horrific tales of the wide array of what can happen on a football field, and we’re all sympathetic to the players and their families affected by it. Among these stories, are those that involve brain injuries, including concussions and repeated severe concussions that could lead to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). We’ve heard that various forms of CTE have ruined lives. We’ve heard neurologists state that scientific studies of the harm football causes young people is now irrefutable. We’ve had neighbors tell us that these studies scare them so much, they won’t let their children play the game. The NFL has heard all of this too, and they’ve made substantial rule changes to try to lessen the violent impact of the game, in the hopes of influencing college football, and high school football officials to follow suit.

The ‘be careful what you wish for’ crowd has heard all of these arguments too, and they’re sensitive to them. No one wants to see a young life affected to the degree we’ve witnessed in far too many instances, but when esteemed neurologists list sports’ alternatives for concerned parents, proponents suggest that they fail to recognize the need young boys have to hit one another in a violent manner. Those other sports might satisfy the need young people have for competitive athletic activity, team play, and various other character-building exercises that build self-esteem, but they don’t satisfy the primal impulses young men have to commit violent acts on one another.

Those of us, who played an inordinate amount of unnecessarily violent, pickup games of tackle football, know that football was our favorite way to satiate that primal need for violence. We didn’t know anything about these beneficial qualities, and we didn’t know the possible harm we were doing to ourselves when we played these games, but we saw our non-football playing friends go out for the evening just to “crack some skulls.” We thought they were joking, or engaging in some false bravado, but they had all this pent-up rage, and this general sense of animosity and anger that they couldn’t explain. They needed to unleash in an impulsive, irrational manner. They wanted to hurt someone, and they always got hurt in the process, but they wore their bruises and open cuts as symbols of valor. They failed to adequately explain what a rush it was to the rest of us, because they probably couldn’t understand it well enough to explain it. The only thing they knew was that they gained respect from their peers for their violent tendencies, and it did wonders for their self-esteem. They also enjoyed an element of team spirit in some cases. Those fight nights gained them what the rest of us attained playing football.    

“No one is saying that if we ban football or make it less violent, it will automatically lead to more violent young men, but if you think it will make them less violent, be careful what you wish for,” proponents say to parents who will not allow their children to play football. When our grade school banned football on the playground, we played kill the man with the ball. Our school administrators caught on, and they banned that. Soon after that, we played kill the man with the pine cone. If we dilute football to the point of hopscotch, proponents say, boys will find a way to hit each other, tackle each other, or some way to inflict pain on one another, because we cannot legislate the impulsive, primal nature out of boys and young men. Most parents, who raise their children in safe, happy climates cannot understand why they have violent tendencies, and we might not remember why we did, but football proponents suggest that the sport satisfies something in us that no other non-contact sport can.

Even though this impulsive need for an outlet to indulge violent tendencies has existed throughout human history, we have to imagine that B.C. humans didn’t want to discuss it in polite company either. The games the cavemen and the ancient Romans played were more violent, of course, and modern man might think he stands above that which occurred back then, and we might have a more advanced brain than those who sit below us in the animal kingdom, but the primal need for an outlet still exists in some. This conversation is so unpleasant and uncomfortable that the major broadcasts networks will never cover it on one of their pregame broadcasts, and I don’t think we’ll ever hear this as a topic on one of the all too numerous sports radio programs, because it feeds into the portrayal of young men as primal beasts. Yet, we all know this unpleasant side of young men exists, and if we don’t provide them a monitored, somewhat controlled method of channeling their impulses and needs, it might result in other unintended consequences our society doesn’t want to consider.