As Cam Newton and Calvin Johnson waited beside Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle when the new cover of Madden was being revealed, I couldn't help but notice how nervous Newton looked.
This was indeed strange, considering how confident Newton usually seems (during NFL games and whenever he's got a camera on him). But this was also strange because it was not a NFL game or the ESPY awards, this was the unveiling of the 2012 Madden cover.
When the cover was finally revealed and Johnson was determined the winner, Newton, of course, congratulated Johnson and joked around with Cowherd and Beadle saying to the fans, "I thought you guys liked me."
Now there's two things to draw from Newton's reaction when he realized he didn't win. The first thing is probably the most obvious—Newton is extremely competitive (as all great players are) and losing at anything is a disappointment. Secondly, losing the Madden cover gave Newton another reason to believe that he's just not good enough yet.
The first point is not worth discussing since it's (as mentioned above) obvious. For instance, Kobe Bryant was on Max and Marcellus yesterday and talked about how elite players like Michael Jordan (an idol of Bryant and even Newton's) were extremely competitive.
These athletes are not just competitive when playing in their professional sport, they are all around competitive. Playing a game like ping pong, Kobe joked, can be an extremely competitive game for guys like Jordan or himself.
We've all seen the way Newton acted after losing NFL games. He pouted and kept his head down on the sidelines. When he answered questions at the post-game press conferences, he often appeared to be extremely disappointed and somber, kind of like a little boy who just watched his balloon fly away.
The second point, that Newton realized he's not good enough, is more interesting. Newton had a fantastic rookie year. He put up some amazing numbers (through the air and on the ground); he threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 14.
Despite his amazing rookie performance, the Carolina Panthers still ended their season with 6-10 record and were third in their division. Given the state of the NFC, the Panthers' playoff hopes (if they had any) were pretty much eliminated halfway through their season.
Johnson and the Detroit Lions, on the other hand, did make the playoffs. Players who make the cover of Madden aren't necessarily players who played for playoff teams. For instance, Peyton Hillis made the cover of Madden and he played for the Cleveland Browns.
But that's beside the point. To be on the cover of Madden you have to be an impressive player, like Johnson or Newton.
Some could say that Newton did his part, but football is a team sport and when your team has some weaknesses, it's only a matter of time before those weaknesses will show. In the case of last year, the Panthers had some major weaknesses (especially on defense).
At the same time, Newton did have a small problem with turnovers. Nevertheless, not many would claim that one of the Panthers' problems was Newton.
Still Newton's performance was impressive and it silenced many of his critics (the ones who argued that Newton is not good enough to be a quarterback in the NFL). But Newton still has a long way to go and losing the Madden cover might have reminded him of that.
I know this is the cover of Madden we are talking about. But if Newton reacts to this loss the same way he reacted to those critics, we might see a version of Newton that is even more competitive than he was last year.
Who knows how hard he'll try this season to make the cover of Madden '14? But he'll be trying much harder to make the playoffs.