SAN FRANCISCO — Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason knew Cam Newton was destined for greatness long before he led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.
CBS analyst Esiason, a former Bengals, Cardinals and Jets quarterback, first saw Newton as an eighth-grade participant in an event associated with Esiason’s annual high school all-star game at Hofstra.
“I run an all-star game of New York City high school kids vs. Long Island high school kids, and Cam was a part of a program that the NFL was doing at the time through flag football,” Esiason recalled on Monday at a Super Bowl event promoting the CBS broadcast set for Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. “So the NFL brought his team from Atlanta to my all-star game, and before the game, [Newton and I] were running pat-and-goes [a passing drill featuring long passes by the quarterbacks].
“He’s going like, ‘Man, you can throw. You should play quarterback in the NFL.’ I said, ‘Cam, I’m out of the NFL. I’m done.’ ”
But Esiason was amazed at how well Newton threw.
“I said, ‘Wow, this kid has got this great smile, this great look, and he’s already a physical specimen,’ ” Esiason said. “I said to him, ‘Well, I’ll see you in about 10 years in the Super Bowl.’ ”
It turns out Esiason’s prediction wasn’t off by much. Newton is 26 now.
“It was a great moment, and it was really fun to meet him back then,” Esiason said. “Everybody was saying he was going to be the highest recruited player coming out of high school when he finally got to that point, and he has lived up to every expectation on the football field.”
Esiason said he could tell Newton would be special, even at such an early age.
“He had to be at least 6-foot-3,” he said. “I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me. He was whipping the ball like 60 yards and I’m like, ‘Geez.’ I’m dropping them in there, and he was overthrowing guys trying to impress me. Maybe that’s why he said that’s why I should be an NFL quarterback, because he saw me dropping them in there.”
Esiason is highly impressed not only with Newton’s progress as a quarterback but his maturation as a team leader. He recalled a news conference early in Newton’s career when he created a poor impression after a loss.
“When you lose, you are the face of that franchise and you have to give your fans and your owner reassurance about the prospects ahead, not about what just happened,” Esiason said. “I thought he was really overly negative when he was younger because it didn’t come so easily that second and third year. The first year, he had big numbers, rookie of the year, but then he had a hard time adapting to some of the negativity that happens to us as quarterbacks. To see him now and compared to where he was, it shows me he’s maturing as an athlete and understands the way to carry yourself both positively and negatively in those situations.”
Esiason said he has no problems with Newton’s flamboyant style or how he was dressed when he flew to San Francisco on Sunday. Newton wore a brightly colored, attention-getting pair of pants that cameras caught as he walked off the team plane.
“He’s got this personality,” Esiason said. “He comes walking in with these Versace pants. He’s here, man. That’s what you want. It’s a different way of doing things, so the old traditional way, us quarterbacks couldn’t do what he does. We don’t run with our head down, run over linemen and linebackers and safeties. If I were one of those players running one of those guys over, I would be getting up and doing all that kind of stuff, too.
“You have a young kid who’s living the dream, the great personality, the great-looking kid, the great athlete, and he’s having fun,” Esiason said. “I have no problem, none. I get it. If I could do it, I would do it, but I couldn’t.”