If you follow American professional football, or at least watched the Super Bowl, you know who Cam Newton is. If not, then I’ll fill you in. He is the young – 26 years old – quarterback of the Carolina Panthers who is brash, arrogant, and so full of himself that I have spent the last several months making a weekly prayer vigil to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for Carolina to lose. I don’t care who wins. I just want Cam and Carolina to lose. I know that this is petty and childish and I admit that it’s unfair to judge a human being by the ten minutes of television interviews I’ve seen. I guess I’m just a shallow SOB. As much as he irritates me, I have to say that he has been spectacular this year. He throws like he is drilling the ball through concrete. He runs faster and stronger than most team’s running backs. He’s six-foot-five and weighs 250 pounds and can carry linebackers like luggage under his arms. I cannot imagine standing between him and goal line when my job is to stop him. Everything came together for Cam and the Panthers this year and they lost only one game prior to the Super Bowl. They utterly embarrassed my Seattle Seahawks. Twice. And with every first down Cam does ‘the dub’. A little dance to celebrate just how damned good he is. Fans love it. People do it where I work. I hate it.
Last Sunday Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers had their pants pulled down in front of a couple billion people. It wasn’t an embarrassing loss but Denver crushed them in every category. More than once, Cam’s confident smile melted until he looked lost and unsure of what he was doing. After the game, Newton sought out winning quarterback Peyton Manning and shook his hand and smiled a smile that beamed through all the glitter and ticker tape. But off the field and in front of reporters and TV cameras he sulked and refused to talk. When he did talk he mumbled. He stared into space and then pulled his hoodie tight over his head. Finally, he walked off the set.
This week, social media is castigating him from all corners. A few fans are defending him but not many and not well.
But I think Cam will look back one day and see this as the time when he began to find real greatness. He’s not going away – he’s far, far too good for that – and probably has a few more Super Bowls to win.
This entire episode reminds me of a three-minute conversation I had with a boss once. A decision needed to be made about who would manage a nasty and hazardous project. I wondered aloud if Joe was right? “Nope. He’s never screwed up.” I asked if that wasn’t kind of a good reason to hire him? Don’t you want someone who doesn’t screw up? “Nope. A person who has never blown it has played it safe. I need to know how he would act if this thing goes belly up. I need to know if he can handle a problem or if he’ll fold and make it worse.” I’ve never forgotten the conversation. It was such a different view than I was expecting.
Cam Newton doesn’t know it yet but these words are true. Losing and blowing it and screwing up in glorious fashion is essential in making you better or best. You won’t believe it and certainly won’t see it until you’re on the other side. I’ve seen it. At least twice. It is heart breaking. You doubt everything you were once sure of. Some people never recover and I don’t blame them. They get a nice desk job and put in their time. Nothing wrong with that. But if you can recover and resolve to be better, then you find a new calm that isn’t so easily shaken when things start going bad. You learn that screwing up isn’t the end of the world. You learn that you can do well even in the middle of seeming disaster.
Maybe Newton needed to be knocked down. He’s not even thirty and he’s already had an envious career. Maybe he needed some humility. Maybe he needed to learn that you have to earn your rewards before you celebrate them. I don’t know. What I do know is that Cam will come back stronger and more sure of himself and more unshakable in the face of collapse. Losing the Super Bowl just might be the one hurdle he needed to become one of the best players in the game.
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