Tuesday 6 December 2016

Newton ready to lay down law to Manning

Rupert Cornwall

Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates with team-mates after beating Arizona Cardinals
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates with team-mates after beating Arizona Cardinals

It was the signature moment of the AFC championship game: Cam Newton swallow-diving over a thicket of opposing linemen to complete a 12 yard rushing touchdown that effectively sealed Carolina Panthers' 49-15 rout of the much fancied Arizona Cardinals.

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The quarter-back strutted and preened, indulged in a little of his trademark dab dance and made to open the front of his No 1 jersey (what other number would do?) which on occasion has covered an S-for Superman T-shirt.

Then he pointed westward, in the direction of distant Santa Clara in California where the 50th Super Bowl will be played tomorrow.

It was Newton's moment - just as it has been his season in the National Football League, leading the Panthers to a 15-1 record, before disposing of the Seattle Seahawks and then the Cardinals in the play-offs. And only fools would bet against him taking the Panthers all the way.

In midweek, Las Vegas oddsmakers had Carolina as six-point favourites to beat the Denver Broncos - a massive margin for a single game.

Oh yes, there are a few notable differences this year at America's most bloated sporting pageant.

For one, Roman numerals being used.

This should have been Super Bowl L, but for 2016 Arabic numerals are back, and it's now Super Bowl 50. 'L' after all stands for loser - which the planet's richest sports league most certainly is not.

For another, this is one of the comparatively rare occasions where the top seeds from each conference meet in the season finale.

Carolina, as noted, lost just once, while Denver, albeit managing a largely unremarkable 12-4 record, edged out their perennial rivals the New England Patriots.

And as rarely in an age where offence has taken over the NFL, this could be a Super Bowl where defences dominate.

Denver's is the best in the land (as it proved when it steamrollered Tom Brady in the AFC title game, sacking the Patriots' marquee quarter-back four times and forcing him to throw two interceptions), while Carolina are ranked sixth.

But American Football is all about quarterbacks, and tomorrow's match-up is one that may bookend NFL eras.

Leading the Broncos is Peyton Manning, along with Brady regarded as the king of his generation. But Manning is close to 40 and coming off a disappointing season, ravaged by injury. Super Bowl 50 could well be his last hurrah.

At which point, if the storyline holds true, the crown prince takes over. Newton, just 26, is not just the best right now of a crop of superlative young NFL quarterbacks that includes the Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. He's rewriting the way in which the most important individual position in all of sport is played.

As few before him, Newton can both throw and rush (ten of his 45 regular season touchdowns were rushing). In 2011, he became the first rookie to throw for 4,000 yards in the regular season, while his massive physique - 6ft 5ins and 250lbs (almost 18st) - makes him a running nightmare for opposing defences - as the Cardinals in the NFC championship game were not the first to discover.

And then there are the Newton trappings: the posing and celebratory dancing that accompany his every touchdown, not to mention the odd first down.

Some hate the routine, many more love it, but even in as brash a sport as football, it offends the powers that be.

Race surely is a factor, but not the only one. Newton is black, but the last four Super Bowls have featured an African American quarterback, two of them in the person of Russell Wilson.

This season, seven were starters in the position among the 32 NFL teams - not great for a sport 70pc of whose players are black, but a big improvement on 1968, before which an African American quarterback had never featured at all.

Newton handles questions on the subject with Ali-esque panache. "It's not an issue," he told reporters this week, "because I think this game is bigger than black, white or even green."

But, he added: "I've said this since day one: I'm an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."

True enough, especially when it comes to the celebrations that expose the NFL's schizophrenia. In this most macho of sports, some Rambo-style chest-thumping is okay. But not where quarterbacks are concerned. They are the (mostly white) gents of their business, its best-known and most admired ambassadors.

Wholesome

Manning and Brady wouldn't be seen dead doing an end-zone dance - which one reason why they lock up millions in wholesome commercial endorsements. Newton, all flash and brash, shatters this mould.

Even when he was drafted, one football writer complained that "he always knows where the cameras are and plays to them."

He had "an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law, and does not command respect from team-mates." He was, the critic witheringly concluded, "only a one-year producer."

That verdict could not have been further from the truth. But the earlier judgement still resonates, even among opponents on the field.

In a regular season game that ended in a 27-10 Carolina win, some Tennessee Titans players went after Newton, after he did his dab dance number after a rushing touchdown. To which he replied: "If you don't like it, then don't let me in the end zone."

The Broncos have been warned.

(© Independent News Service)

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