Another NFL season is over and another champion crowned. It was a great game — one that proves the old adage, “defense wins championships.” For two weeks, the casual and professional commentator alike made this match-up one of the possibly-outgoing “Sheriff” vs “Superman.” As it turned out, it was a war of two amazing defenses. The winner was the number one defense in the league which left the dominant offense from 2015 looking like they were playing their first game together.
After the game, all of the cameras ran to Peyton Manning so closely he could hardly lean over to have some words with Panthers’ players or hug his teammates. It may have been his last game. Unlike ESPN and most others, I’m in no rush to see him retire. I’ve enjoyed his play for almost two decades and would be very happy to see him return. But, even in the face of the questions about whether it was his swan song from any and every reporter with a microphone, Manning kept his cool. He gave them his answer about not making an emotional decision and wanted to give all the glory of the big win to his coaches and teammates. More impressive, however, is how available he’s always been to you and me through the media win OR lose. That steady look and complimentary tone towards his coaches and teammates and the league has been overwhelmingly good for pro football.
Conversely, the MVP of the league, Cam Newton, has been the opposite. He’s an amazing player, charitable to those in need, has an infectious smile and demeanor when he’s winning. When he’s not, he’s very immature. Before this season, the Carolina Panthers were building a great team and along the way there were tons of speed bumps. You could always be sure of two things: 1. The team would continue to get better behind an infinitely talented leader and 2. That leader would melt down into a petulant child if things didn’t go his way. This year seemed to bring big improvements in that. But, we forget, the Panthers only lost once and were the odds-on favorites to run the table in the playoffs and celebrate as champions. After that didn’t happen, Newton took to the microphone to take questions from the media. This, by the way, is required as part of being a star player in the National Football League. He barely made eye contact with the questioners and, for the most part, gave one word or very short answers. Granted, the questions weren’t great but, that should have no bearing on how he handles himself in that or any moment related to his position on the team or in the league.
If Cam Newton stays healthy, he’ll play for at least 10 more seasons and has the potential to break tons of records and redefine what a star NFL quarterback should possess to be successful. To achieve that, however, he needs to grow up and realize the responsibility being in that role brings. I’m a fan of talent and a fan of his. I hope he can grow into who he needs to be if he ever really wants to be regarded the Superman he wants us to believe he is after he scores a touchdown. He needs to be that guy when he gets knocked around as well.