Cam Newton wasn’t going to provide the ammo.
Not for the media. Not for fans. Not after the past seven months.
Newton’s sulking Super Bowl press conference spawned dozens of think pieces suggesting he learn how to deal better with losses like other athletes. Maybe he did. Or maybe he pulled off a brilliant misdirection.
About an hour after he was battered by the Broncos in the Panthers’ season-opening loss at Denver, Newton refused to do what everybody expected and what most would’ve understood. He had taken at least four helmet-to-helmet hits, yet only once did a flag fly. The floor was his to whine about refs.
“It’s not my job to question the officials,” Newton said. “I really liked this officiating crew, so I know it wasn’t something they did intentionally. But we didn’t lose the game off of that. I know that for a fact.”
Wait, shouldn’t he be railing against the league’s alleged dedication to player safety? Or arguing he doesn't get calls other quarterbacks do because of his size?
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” Newton said. “I just know that tonight was a very physical game on both sides.”
That’s an odd theory to disagree with considering many inside the building and around the league have felt for years that refs don’t always see a 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback as one who could use the same protections as his peers.
“They judge him different,” linebacker Thomas Davis said, “they look at him different.”
The same thing can happen to a wideout who’s built more like a defensive end.
“I get that a lot. Me being big, they figured you can take it. DB’s are on my back all the time on slant routes,” receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. “He’s a quarterback, so you’ve got to treat him like a quarterback.”
Echoing Benjamin, tight end Greg Olsen said:
“We’ve got to treat Cam like a quarterback. I know he’s the biggest guy on the field, but he’s still a quarterback.”
After a first half when Newton was barely touched, the Broncos treated him like it was a replay of the Super Bowl. But this time, a worldwide audience watched a marquee player take shot after shot to the head while the system in place to protect him seemingly didn’t.
Never once was the game stopped to check on Newton, even when he spent a few moments with his facemask in the turf after the most egregious hit of the night. Because that shot from safety Darian Stewart, who launched himself toward Newton’s helmet, was actually flagged, perhaps the officials were distracted. But that doesn’t fully explain why neither the NFL-mandated neurotrauma consultant stationed on the sideline nor the certified athletic trainer up in the press box called for a quick timeout.
Never once was Newton examined to make sure he wasn’t woozy. Well, during the game. He claimed the only concussion-related questions he faced came postgame.
So now the NFL and the Panthers will face plenty of questions over the next few days. Up first will be coach Ron Rivera, who has a Friday afternoon date with the media.
“I’m going to wait until I see the tape. I’m not going to pass judgment on anybody,” Rivera said Thursday night. “I don’t have the benefit of the replay like you guys in the booth, unfortunately.”
And like millions of viewers at home who saw a sport that hasn’t changed much. Yet for one night, at least, Newton had.
49 weeks ago, he ended a press conference with a claim that veteran official Ed Hochuli told him, “You're not old enough to get that call.” Four months later, Newton walked off the podium at the Super Bowl. That he didn’t question calls after he walked up to the podium in Denver was a PR masterstroke, whether it was planned or not.
If Newton did what everyone expected of him, ‘crybaby’ calls would flood sports talk radio stations on Friday. But by playing coy when he had every right to question why flags weren’t thrown, the rest of us are left to wonder why they weren’t.
Maybe Newton really did learn something from Jordan Spieth. Or (insert athlete who lost sometime over the past few months here).
Or maybe he just played this postgame perfectly.
“I know you guys are anticipating so much and I am trying my best to keep it together,” Newton said. “But I knew this was going to happen, especially from a media standpoint, knowing ‘How would Cam react to the media?'
“The truth of the matter is the Denver Broncos are the defending champions for a reason. We came in and had an opportunity to put them away and we didn’t.”