SAN FRANCISCO — Kordell Stewart will always remember going to Canton when former Steelers teammate Jerome Bettis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was there that a fan shouted to him as he passed by: “Hey, man, you were 10 years too soon!”
Maybe. But the former quarterback nicknamed “Slash” because of the multiple positions he could play (or had to play) said he does get some satisfaction that his style of working the most important position in football will be front and center in Super Bowl 50 in the person of Cam Newton.
“Somebody has to be part of the pioneer phase,” Stewart told a small group of reporters on Radio Row on Monday. “I feel my era was the very first one that was so direct about being able to make plays with your feet on a consistent basis. It kept building and building and building. It makes me proud to see it coming to fruition more often than not because it’s never been accepted to this level.”
In a week in which Newton’s style both on and off the field will be dissected, and after the Panthers quarterback’s remarks last week in which he said that his being an African-American quarterback with an incomparable skill set might “scare” some people, Stewart said he is particularly glad that the unique Panthers star has not had to conform to the perceived mold of an NFL quarterback.
“Cam don’t give a hoot, and he shouldn’t,” Stewart said. “Who gave the blueprint on how you should act?”
Stewart said he believed he had to “conform” when he played in the NFL. “Being you is not the right thing to do in a sense when it comes to being a mobile quarterback,” he said.
He noted that he was not talking about race but style. He puts Steve Young and Andrew Luck in the group of mobile quarterbacks such as Steve McNair, Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham. And yet, Newton’s comments made it a black-and-white issue.
“It’s inevitable that it will be brought up,” Stewart said. “Cam basically took the bull by the horns and took over the situation . . . he’s an African-American quarterback, he’s mobile, he’s doing it a little bit different than the traditional way. I didn’t agree 100 percent that everyone is afraid, but from a cultural standpoint, it’s hard for people to adapt to that style.”
Stewart said he is surprised that it has taken so long for the league to evolve to this point.
“If you can take a guy who knows how to throw the football and yet he’s just as fast as anyone on the football field, and he can keep the chains moving, why screw it up?’’ he said. “Why mess with it?”
In recent years, we’ve seen more mobile quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in this big game and in the playoffs.
“The thing I love most about watching football now, especially when it comes to the championship games, is to see everybody getting a chance at the quarterback position,” Stewart said. “Every level and style can come on the big stage and have a good time and display their talents. The kids who are growing up who are mobile quarterbacks . . . understand that they do not have to change positions to be accepted in the National Football League because of what players before me and then my era and guys after me and now this era have been capable of doing. I just love the way the game looks today. It’s beautiful.”
It could be even more beautiful if Newton can win on Sunday.
“He is winning, and you have no choice but to hear him and appreciate it and listen, because there is nothing wrong with his style,” Stewart said. “If he wins the game, I think it solidifies that style of quarterback in the National Football League.”