SAN FRANCISCO – Cam Newton’s problem is not dabbing, or dissing, or even losing a Super Bowl.
Cam Newton’s new problem is doubt.
Not the kind of doubt that athletes refer to when citing “doubters,” as if anyone in public life is entitled to a 100 percent sycophantic following. We’re talking about the kind of doubt that can creep into a locker room when a player commits sports’ only unforgivable sin: not caring enough.
After the Broncos beat Newton’s Panthers in the Super Bowl, Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tweeted that “A little dab will do you but too much dab will undo you!”
It was a well-placed needle, but Newton did not lose the Super Bowl because he celebrates with a move known as the “Dab.” He lost because the Broncos pressured him on 42.9 percent of his passes, the highest percentage of his career.
After the game, Newton gave the shortest answers possible to six questions while pouting on the podium, then left. Newton should understand that athletes don’t make millions of dollars because they are good at their jobs. There are exceptional workers — teachers, fire personnel, EMTs — who make less in a year than Newton makes on a Sunday afternoon.
Athletes make money because people care enough about them to buy tickets and jerseys and watch games on television. But leaving an interview will not cost him football games or endorsements, or credibility in his locker room.
Nor will losing a Super Bowl. Great quarterbacks lose, and Newton’s offensive line and receivers gave him no chance.
Newton won’t have to apologize to his teammates for dabbing, dissing or losing.
He might have to allay doubts.
What does matter in the football fraternity is effort and commitment. In the mercenary and calculating atmosphere in an NFL locker room societal sins — drunken driving, child abuse, spousal abuse, drug use — are excused or ignored by most if a player can help the team win, and if his teammates believe the athlete is committed.
The greatest sin in the room is not caring. And for a brief and important moment on Sunday night, Newton appeared not to care.
In the fourth quarter, Denver’s relentless pass rush got to Newton again, stripping the ball from his hand. It bounced in front of him. Broncos end DeMarcus Ware reached out while on the ground. Newton stood over the ball. To recover it, he would have had to drop to his knees as players dove headfirst toward the ball. He chose not to.
When the Vikings were relying on veteran free-agent quarterbacks, they brought in Jeff George as a backup. He replaced Randall Cunningham after the Vikings started 2-4 in 1999 and went 8-2 as a starter, taking the Vikings to the playoffs.
The Vikings were putting up a fight against an excellent St. Louis team in the playoffs when George fumbled a snap … and didn’t make an effort to recover it. That was the moment that ensured that George would not return to the Vikings.
In 2010, Brad Childress brought Randy Moss back to the Vikings. The Vikings were competing with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Moss ran open deep. Brett Favre threw a pass that appeared to be just out of Moss’ reach. Moss made no effort to catch it. After the game, Moss expressed his love for the Patriots and didn’t fly home with the Vikings, but his and Childress’ Vikings careers really ended on that pass play.
Newton deserved to be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Newton might be on his way to greatness. But when it comes to the fumble he didn’t care to recover, he has some explaining to do, and some faith to restore.