It’s been 47 days since participating for the losing team in a football game caused the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton to suffer severe and potentially debilitating trauma. And while there is no way to undo the events of Feb. 7, Panthers coach Ron Rivera has an idea that could spare others from the inhumane ordeal Newton endured after Super Bowl 50, when the quarterback talked to reporters for two minutes and 39 seconds.
“Talked” might not be an accurate word. Newton gave short answers that offered no insight to anything about the game except the fact he wasn’t happy with the result.
That he was required to meet the press at such a vulnerable moment, Rivera believes, is a travesty with a convenient solution: keep the media away from losing players for a day or two, allowing them to gather their thoughts about the cruelest of experiences.
“Personally,” Rivera said at the NFL owners meetings, “I’ve always felt that in a situation like that there is only one person that needs to talk. That’s the person you should pull out and put in front of everybody. Let him answer the questions.
“If not, that’s what you are going to get. You are going to get guys that come across in certain ways, and that’s unfortunate.”
With a handful of exceptions, most NFL players — and pro athletes in general — are able to fulfill the obligation of taking a few questions after a defeat. They regard this as part of the job, which is why Newton’s sullen post-game behavior at the Super Bowl got more attention than his performance in the game itself.
The league’s consensus offensive player of the year and its most recognizable star, Newton was in no mood to act like a professional. Two days later, upon returning to the Panthers’ practice facility, he doubled down.
“Show me a good loser,” Newton said as he cleared out his locker, “and I’ll show you a loser.”
While not a kid any more, Newton is only 26 and can be forgiven his mistaking the term “good loser” with “happy loser.”
Good losers can be just as agitated as Newton was after the Super Bowl. But they’re mature enough, adjusted enough and capable-of-putting-things-into-perspective enough to understand that losing doesn’t define them as human beings, nor as athletes.
Former San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman personified the definition of a good loser. The first reliever to record 500 saves and then 600 saves — with 601, he held the career saves record before it was broken by Mariano Rivera — Hoffman was summoned to protect a two-run lead in the 13th inning of the Padres’ 2007 tiebreaker game against the Colorado Rockies.
With a playoff berth at stake in his team’s 163rd game of the season, Hoffman gave up two doubles and a triple, allowing the Rockies to score the tying runs. A sacrifice fly set up a bang-bang play at the plate. Safe. End of game, end of a six-month long trek put into the reliable right hand of a light’s-out pitcher.
Hoffman could have avoided the post-game inquisition by hiding in the players’ lounge, but he chose to be available and accountable, turning an awkward moment into an indelible one.
“Seeing his passion for the Padres, his love for his teammates and his devastation over the loss, and the handling of each reporter’s question with the utmost class and professionalism, ranks as my greatest sports memory,” San Diego media-relations director Warren Miller later recalled. “How he handled that incredible loss says more about him than any save could. Life is about how you handle adversity, and what he did that night was just remarkable.”
The late Don Meredith, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback whose 1967 team was beaten at Green Bay in the thrilling championship game known as the “Ice Bowl,” learned the long-term career benefits of losing with grace and poise. CBS broadcaster Frank Gifford was sent to the Cowboys’ locker room for postgame reaction — something that wasn’t done in those days — and found the quarterback such a forthcoming interview subject, Gifford recommended him as an analyst for the Monday Night Football booth.
Instead of a terse “you saw it, ain’t nothin’ more to say,” Meredith shared his thoughts, before a national television audience, on what it was like to lose a game destined to be remembered as a classic.
Some five decades after Don Meredith bared his soul about the agony of defeat, Ron Rivera is suggesting the only voice fans need to hear from the losers’ locker room is that of the head coach.
Because, you know, quarterbacks with contracts guaranteeing them $60 million, as Newton’s does, are in no emotional state to communicate after an anxiously awaited day ends in disappointment.
Trevor Hoffman once explained his insistence on remaining accountable.
“The people asking the questions,” he said, “are not responsible for the ball flying out of the ballpark.”
Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a universally admired pro.
John McGrath: email@example.com