Cam Newton Is the Breath of Fresh Air the Super Bowl and the NFL Need

Mike TanierNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2016

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton celebrates after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers won 49-15 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Cam Newton always makes us wait for postgame press conferences.

It's an aggravating habit for a young superstar who, let's be frank, has a knack for aggravating some folks. The game ends, head coach Ron Rivera speaks, the locker room opens, the Panthers' veterans offer their thoughts in various states of undress, the press pool returns to the conference room, and then there's a prolonged, muttering silence, the kind you hear while waiting for an airplane to finally taxi to a gate.

Newton is not on deadline, after all. He speaks when he's relaxed, groomed in his inimitable way and ready to speak.

When Newton finally spoke Sunday night in Charlotte, over an hour after beating the Cardinals, 49-15, to advance to the Super Bowl, he made it worth the wait. He reflected on his five years in Carolina:

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

"Like I said, it wasn't going to be instant grits, quick grits," he said. "It was going to be a process like long-cooked collard greens."

"I think those collard greens are brewing right now," Newton said. "You can smell them from a mile away."

Cam Newton is worth listening to. Not just because he is the odds-on MVP favorite and has established himself as an NFL superstar.

Newton is worth listening to when he speaks because he actually says things. Sometimes they are funny things. Sometimes they are insightful things. Sometimes they are honest, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes a little baffling, like old Yogi Berra quotes.

But what he says is never predictable, never like the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady remarks that have sounded for years like they were vetted by a focus group of grumpy old coaches and cliche aficionados.

When a reporter reminded Newton of the day he was drafted, he responded with a snarky "Duh," like a teenager tired of being nagged by his parents. It wasn't rude. It was just real, the kind of moment that most star quarterbacks long ago censored from their speech, along with the country-cooking sayings and anything else that resembled actual human communication, lest they say something that winds up on an opponent's message board or attached to an Internet meme.

As reigning NFC champion, Newton was obligated to say a few words to Fox TV before he left the field. When asked what he said to his teammates at halftime to encourage them to keep applying pressure on the Cardinals, he initially said, "It's confidential" with his signature wide grin, before adding cryptically, "What's already understood shouldn't have to be said."

Newton then revealed he did not know who the Panthers were playing in the Super Bowl, even though the Broncos beat the Patriots hours earlier.

AJ Mast/Associated Press

"Oh wow, playing the Sheriff," Newton said when told of his opponent.

Not many NFL quarterbacks with five years of experience and an NFC title under their belts would respond with a "wow" to much of anything.

Newton also heaped credit on the organization and his teammateswho did their part with, among other things, a whopping seven takeaways. He explained plays, admitted mistakes and dropped the usual "We're not done yet" wisdom.

Newton isn't always unconventional, and he's rarely the self-promoter his critics paint him to be. Just as he has developed from a scrambling youngster into a complete quarterback who often runs, Newton has grown from a guy who calls Ndamukong Suh "Donkey Kong Suh" into someone who can joke at length about wanting to play on the onside kick hands team because he has "organic hands" (as he did last week) while still coloring within the lines of answering sometimes-obvious questions with semi-informative responses.

Newton will be a welcome sight and sound on and off the field at Super Bowl 50.

On the field, Newton's option-flavored game won't be all that novel. The NFC for four years now will have been represented by mobile young quarterbacks who mix designed runs with pocket passes.

But off the field, Newton is something new. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were gritty, grunting chips off the old-school football block. They delivered predictable platitudes whenever they opened their mouths.

Wilson can bore an audience to sleep in a press conference as effectively as he can elude a defense to throw a miracle touchdown. But Newton is different: a millennial Joe Namath, a dapper Dan who dares to talk and act as if football is a fun sport meant to entertain an audience, not bitter warfare.

That sense of fun is what the Cam bashers loathe, of course: the dabbing, the jumping jacks, the goofy grin. Self-styled football purists hate that stuff.

But the Super Bowl and the two weeks of hype that lead up to it are not for football purists. The Super Bowl is for casual fans, young fans, new fans and pop-culture observers who wander in to see the spectacle.

Newton's fashion sense, gift for unusual gab and actual willingness to express joy are going to be catnip to the entertainment press and world media that descend on the NFL in the next two weeks. Those qualities will also open some windows and let in a little light for those of us who eat and breathe the NFL and have grown weary of the predictable, approved non-personality quarterback personality.

Newton's act would be tiresome if he hadn't proven so emphatically that he has earned this spotlight. Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more against the Cardinals on Sunday. He threw just one interception against a turnover-happy defense. In the playoffs, he has completed 70 percent of his passes, thrown for 496 yards and rushed for 50 more against a pair of opponents that were darling Super Bowl choices, largely because a big segment of the football-watching public kept waiting—and sometimes wishing—for Newton to screw up.

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Newton never played down to those critics, nor did he cave in and become another grizzled general off the assembly line. Newton was as calm and composed against the Cardinals as he was against the Seahawks and the Panthers' regular-season opponents. At the end of the championship game Sunday, Newton was just slightly more jubilant than he typically is, all jumping jacks and gestures and poses for team photographs.

Newton is not immature or silly. He's differently tough. He leads a team whose personality matches his: The Panthers reached the Super Bowl by balancing the need to take football seriously with the need to enjoy the game.

Newton will have a lot to say over the next two weeks. Unless you are a Cam basher who has closed his or her mind forever, I invite you to listen. This is the way football should sound. There should be laughs, personality, individuality, a little genuine chest-thumping mixed with respect and sportsmanship. Newton has shown that you can reach the Super Bowl with a smile.

No, you won't like everything you hear or how it's said. Peyton Manning is also on hand if you prefer hearing the soothing sounds of a quarterbot providing automatic, prefabricated answers.

Love him or hate him, Newton is unpredictable, largely unfiltered and capable of the unexpected. He's the quarterback this Super Bowl deserves.

And while he's sometimes a little late when scheduled to speak, his performance on the field always speaks volumes.

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers stiff arms Ed Stinson #91 of the Arizona Cardinals in the second half during the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.