SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA, February 9, 2016 — Cam Newton, meet Jim Everett.
You all remember Jim Everett, right? Take the stroll down repressed memory lane.
Jim Everett was the highly touted quarterback out of Purdue who had the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs for much of the late 1980s. In 1989 he led the Rams to the NFC Title Game. Although they were on the road against an NFL dynasty, the Rams had beaten the 14-2 San Francisco 49ers on the road earlier in the season.
This time the game went badly, and the 49ers won in a 30-3 romp. Normally the game would have been forgotten. Those 49ers beat everybody. What people remember from that game is that Everett committed the ultimate sin in football.
With pressure baring down on him in the fourth quarter, Everett took a dive. Replays showed that he had plenty of time. A sack was not imminent. He had been beaten all day, and this time he gave himself up to avoid another hit. The “phantom sack” lit up the media. Everett could have ended the controversy by just admitting what he did.
He took a beating, had a bad day, and had just had enough. Instead, he denied that he hit the ground without being touched.
This allowed the controversy to fester. Talk show host Jim Rome referred to him as female tennis player Chris Evert. When Jim Everett went on Rome’s show, Rome baited Everett into starting a physical altercation that only further diminished Everett.
Neither Everett or the Rams were ever the same after that game. The Rams had several losing seasons and after the 1994 season moved to St. Louis (returning to Los Angeles after the 2015 season). Everett did make one more Pro Bowl in 1991 but was a journeyman for the last four years of his career.
Cam Newton was even more highly touted pick out of Auburn, the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. In 2015, he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl berth against the Denver Broncos. Despite getting beaten and battered by the Denver defense, the Panthers still had a chance to win the game. Down 16-10 with four minutes remaining, Newton went back to pass and had the ball stripped out of his hand. Rather than try and dive on the fumble, Newton pulled a reverse Everett. He backed away. The Broncos recovered the ball and soon scored the clinching touchdown.
Newton was petulant and surly in his post-game press conference. He made Marshawn Lynch seem like a chatterbox. After only three minutes and several non-answers, Newton stormed off the set.
Newton’s defenders pointed out that Newton’s press conference was within earshot of Broncos cornerback Chris Harris’s press conference. Harris was bashing Newton, but he had no idea that Newton could hear him. That unfortunate mistake by CBS does not excuse Newton’s behavior. He could have made a joke about it.
Newton made a mistake in the game, and then he compounded his mistake. Rather than follow Jim Everett’s example, there are plenty of other NFL players who lost on the biggest stage but became winners in the eyes of the general public.
Less than one month ago, Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a 28-yard-field goal at home against the Seattle Seahawks on the final play of an agonizing 10-9 playoff loss. He blew the game. He could have blamed the long-snapper, the holder, or the zero degree weather. Instead he cried his eyes out, took complete blame, and vowed to do better in the future. He answered every media question. Minnesota schoolchildren sent him letters of encouragement. He responded by visiting the schoolchildren. They gave him stuffed animals and drawings of hugs and hearts. Blair Walsh handled it the right way.
The 1992 season saw the Buffalo Bills go to their third of four straight Super Bowls. In the fourth quarter, as they were getting blasted by 35 points to the Dallas Cowboys, Leon Lett picked up a fumble and was on his way to another Dallas touchdown. Lett began showboating near the goal line. Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe sprinted all the way down the field and knocked the ball out of Lett’s hand just before the ball crossed the goal line. Instead of a touchdown, it was a touchback. The Bills lost by 35 instead of 42 points. Yet the world took notice. Beebe received letters from schoolteachers all around the country asking him to speak to their kids. The message was simple. Never give up. None of those Bills ever shrunk from the media despite four straight Super Bowl losses.
The biggest Super Bowl goat came on that first Bills team in 1990. On the last play of the Super Bowl, Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal that would have won the game. Instead, the New York Giants escaped with a 20-19 win, cementing the legacy of Giants coach Bill Parcells. Norwood’s miss became the main joke in Jim Carrey’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Norwood was turned into Ray Finkle, who had a sex change and became deranged killer Lois Einhorn after losing the Super Bowl. The real Scott Norwood faced the media and took every question. Buffalo fans rewarded him and the entire team with a parade. The losing team were greeted as heroes.
At this moment, Cam Newton is none of those players. He is not Jack Youngblood, Charles Woodson or Tory James. They all played in the Super Bowl on a broken leg. Newton is not even the most courageous of the Carolina Panthers. Sam Mills has his own statue outside Panthers stadium for a reason. Steve Smith is as tough as they come, playing with broken bones. Thomas Davis just played in this Super Bowl with a broken arm. Cam had healthy arms and legs, and refused to dive for a football. He gets paid millions of dollars to do what most of us cannot do. A man calling himself Superman needs to act more courageous than a mere mortal.
Instead he showed up at a press conference wearing a hoodie, shrinking like an armadillo. Bill Bellichick has four Super Bowl wins as the Patriots head coach, and his hoodie and terse press conference answers are just as detestable.
Newton’s behavior is only amplified when compared with his constant dabbing. It is one thing for him to do the Superman pose after scoring a touchdown. Aaron Rodgers has his championship belt celebration, and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson became a cult hero for his funky chicken end zone celebrations. Newton dabs after gaining a first down, and deserves as much scorn for this as any other player celebrating after making a first down.
Overall, Newton is not a villain. He is charitable, and after every touchdown gives the ball to a young child. This is an incredibly kindhearted gesture. He is a solid citizen off of the field, staying on the right side of the law.
On his worst days, and this super Bowl certainly qualifies, he acts like the worst stereotype of a typical Millennial. We live in an age of selfie-sticks, Snapchat and Instagram. We also live in a world where every mistake by an athlete is seen by the entire world.
Newton picked a bad day to have a bad day. He picked an even worse day to make matters even worse. What matters is where Newton goes from here. He can learn from Peyton Manning, who threw the interception that led to his second Super Bowl loss. Manning rebounded. With an improved attitude, Newton can become a winner that children everywhere can admire, whether or not he ever wins a Super Bowl. Jim Kelly and Dan Marino are both winners.
Meanwhile, we should avoid piling on any further. Newton did not kill anybody or rob a bank. He made an error in a game and in a news conference about a game. Anyone who has ever messed up should ease up.
We should also ease up on our narrative of Jim Everett. He was a good football player.