It’s an American truism that critics relish nothing more than the opportunity to dissect the failures of those who have most enthusiastically celebrated their own successes.
Since the carcass of what used to be dancing and dabbing Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is still fresh, we will pick at it from a different angle.
Newton’s failure to attack a loose ball with the appropriate zeal late in the Super Bowl is being treated as a global cataclysm. But he compounded his postgame petulance with a shortage of personal accountability. (“We didn’t lose the game because of that fumble.”)
Players make mistakes and afterward are sometimes cranky. It’s not unprecedented and rarely lethal.
But the comment most worthy of critique, I’d argue, came later when he tried to explain away his prickly demeanor by saying: “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”
Show me somebody who uses that logic, and I’ll show you somebody without an understanding of sportsmanship or proportional response.
Like fans elsewhere, those in the Northwest view every league development through the prism of their own passion. So when Cam Newton comes up small in the Super Bowl, they ask: How does this reflect on the Seahawks?
So it’s fair, in this case, for them to rear up at Newton’s “loser” remark.
I doubt that Cam Newton hates losing worse than Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
I doubt that Newton felt worse about the Panthers’ loss to Denver than Wilson felt after the dramatic last-minute interception that allowed New England to hold onto the lead against Seattle and win the preceding Super Bowl.
Yet afterward, Wilson said: “ I put the blame on me — I’m the one who threw it.” And “you’ve got to give the Patriots credit. … I admire (Tom Brady) because he plays with his heart out, he plays with true grit.”
Wilson shouldered the blame, praised his teammates, credited his opponents, and set the tone for moving forward and correcting mistakes.
Good loser? That’s a good sportsman. A great leader.
Without realizing it, Newton left his teammates hanging a bit. To say that fumble didn’t cost the Panthers the game was mostly true but surely irresponsible. It was deflecting responsibility rather than embracing it.
Newton deserved the MVP award this season for the consistent quality of his play. He took this team to the Super Bowl, and his teammates have to love that.
But they had guys, particularly on defense, who were playing that game with broken bones joined with metal and screws just so they could play. Players like linebacker Thomas Davis. What does he think when he sees Newton decide not to dive onto a loose ball?
The expectations of everyone, league MVP especially, are that he will play unsparingly in the biggest game of the season. This is the Super Bowl, pal, hit the ground and claw for that ball.
It’s highly possible that Newton is of such value to his team that he has been coached to avoid diving into these scrums, a recipe for a separated shoulder or more. One possession in most games is not worth the risk of losing an elite quarterback for the season.
In 2006, for example, the Seahawks were playing at Arizona and receiver Darrell Jackson fumbled after making a catch 22 yards down the field. Diving into the pile and coming up with the recovery was quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who already was playing with a sprained knee and broken bones in one hand.
It was a stunning effort for a quarterback — especially in a regular-season game. But his offensive coordinator, Gil Haskell, praised the effort but was upset by Hasselbeck taking such a risk.
Or in November, when Wilson threw a pass that was intercepted by Cowboy Greg Hardy deep in Seattle territory. Wilson raced over and made a tackle of the 280-pound Hardy.
Whether it was an imprudent risk or not, Wilson saved a touchdown: The Hawks held Dallas to a field goal and came away with a 13-12 win.
His instinct was to make the play, to be a football player.
Fact is, Newton would not have been confronted with the dive-or-duck dilemma if his linemen had gotten together and decided somebody needed to figure out a way to block the Broncos’ Von Miller at some point.
This pressure/protection equation decides most football games. And it was the one imbalance that revealed the flaws in Newton’s game. And afterward, Newton was left to face the uncomfortable inquisition.
On one hand, it’s unfair to evaluate people at their lowest moment, but that’s also when they’re most transparent.
Newton is a gifted athlete and a maturing quarterback with a terrific career ahead. But he’s going to have to bounce back from this, and the extent to which he can accomplish that will affect the entire Panthers’ franchise.
It could be best for Newton to now consider his adopted persona, Superman, and realize that putting a big “S” on his chest also puts a big target on his back.
He’s not Superman, nobody is. He’s fallible like every other human.
It’s how he — and everybody else — deals with that reality that determines who are the real winners and losers.