NFL quarterbacks are supposed to be restrained. It is one of those unwritten rules, like fashion models are supposed to be beautiful or NBA players are supposed to be tall.
With today’s complicated offenses, an ideal quarterback is some detached hybrid of a play-crunching computer and cool-under-pressure leader. Let the wide receivers and running backs have their elaborate touchdown celebrations. An NFL quarterback’s head is supposed to be too filled with logistics and the big picture to get overly involved in the moment.
Apparently, someone forgot to send Cam Newton this memo. Because not only is he challenging for the league’s MVP with his 13-0 Panthers, but he also is challenging our perceptions of how an elite NFL quarterback is supposed to carry himself.
There is nothing understated about the 6-5, 245-pound Newton. He wears leggings and lavender sports jackets and animal pelts to his postgame news conferences. He gets so pumped up before games that he once ripped a Packers banner from the wall of the Panthers’ home stadium.
His elaborate end-zone celebration, which includes “the Dab,’’ an Atlanta-born dance move, has irritated some opponents. Infamously, a mother of a 9-year-old girl wrote a letter to the Charlotte Observer criticizing his “arrogant” on-field behavior. It also has inspired many young fans, who can be seen doing the Dab on football fields across the country, and has helped make his No. 1 jersey the fifth-highest seller in the NFL.
“I know if I were doing a lot of the things I’m doing right now and we weren’t winning, I would be getting ate up and spit back out,” Newton said this week. “Especially with this dancing that some people approve of and some people don’t. I’m human. I understand that winning sweeps a lot of things up under the rug. But my influence still hasn’t changed. I was doing this when we were 3-8-1.
“There’s a lot that comes with being a quarterback in this league, and it’s not for long. So, while I have an opportunity to do a lot of things, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”
While Newton’s flamboyant style hasn’t changed in the five years he’s been in the league, his ability to command an offense has. This season, Newton has completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,062 yards and a career-high 28 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. He’s rushed for 480 yards and seven more touchdowns.
“He’s in full control of our offense right now, just completely down, both in the passing game and the running game, and he’s playing as well as anybody in the league,” said tight end Greg Olsen, Newton’s favorite target. “There’s a reason he’s up for MVP. There’s no other quarterback that’s asked to shoulder the responsibility like he is with what he has to do in the run game, and we’re able to take advantage of a lot of that because of the unique things that he brings to the table.”
Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas spent the early part of his career playing for the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South, giving him a closer view of Newton’s development. “He’s more of a well-rounded quarterback than I’ve seen,” Casillas said. “He does a lot more at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. He has full control over the entire offense, and that shows.”
Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara also sees a change in Newton’s demeanor this year, saying the way he takes charge at the line of scrimmage reminds him of the way Tom Brady takes charge of the Patriots.
“I feel like Cam has always played with a certain level of confidence, but just now with how the season is going he’s more confident, trusting in guys like Ted Ginn. Ted Ginn is playing amazing for them,” Amukamara said. “It feels like any receiver they put in, Cam is starting to look like the new Brady. Just like Brady, any characters you give Brady, Brady’s always going to make it work. I feel like Cam’s doing that.”
Brady is the one player who might have an edge on Newton in the MVP race. Brady, who plays with a perpetual scowl, likes to celebrate TDs with screaming head butts of teammates. In the post-TD celebration world, Brady is Mr. Vicious to Newton’s Mr. Vivacious. Yet somehow Brady’s outbursts draw less ire than Newton’s joyful celebrations.
Olsen said he believes some people are put off by Newton’s style simply because it is something they haven’t seen before.
“I think we’ve learned in our society that people are scared sometimes of something that’s different,” Olsen said. “He’s playing the quarterback position different than people are used to. He plays the game more like a linebacker and a receiver all mixed into one. He’s unique. He’s comfortable with that, and we’re comfortable with that. You won’t find a guy in this room who will say otherwise.”
As the Panthers head into Sunday’s game against the Giants eyeing a perfect season, Newton admitted he is looking forward to doing “the Dab” in the media capital of the world.
“I don’t believe we play this game to be subpar or mediocre,’’ Newton said. “And this season has not been mediocre by any means. We don’t mean to brush people the wrong way. We’re just excited to do what we do.”