Carolina’s RoboQB Cam Newton said people “haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.” But haven’t we seen this story line before?
He is the Next Big Thing in the ever-expanding Big Bang evolution of offensive football. He’s part of an NFL lineage that once turned heads and dropped jaws when Fran Tarkenton had the audacity to leave the pocket in the early 1960s. Or when Randall Cunningham was chewing up yards with those long strides in the 1980s and ’90s. Or when 264-pound Daunte Culpepper was running over defensive linemen and launching deep balls to Randy Moss while finishing MVP runner-up to Peyton Manning in 2004.
At 6-6, 260 pounds, Newton literally is bigger than any one of the defensive linemen who formed the Vikings’ famed Purple People Eaters in the 1960s and ’70s. He is, as he likes to show us, Superman. But he’s not the first super man to defy comparisons heading into the Super Bowl.
So let’s be careful not to accelerate the Cam Coronation until the favored 17-1 Panthers play Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif. After all, five of the past eight underdogs have won the Super Bowl.
In 1984, a youngster with an arm and a quick release we had never seen before played in the Super Bowl after throwing for an unfathomable 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards. But in Super Bowl XIX, Dan Marino’s Dolphins scored 16 points in a blowout loss to the 49ers. Marino played 15 more seasons, 17 overall, and never made it back to the Super Bowl.
In 1990, Buffalo’s “K-Gun” offense was unique and top-ranked. Favored by a touchdown in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills lost 20-19 in the game that launched the head coaching career of a young Giants defensive coordinator named Bill Belichick.
In 2001, St. Louis’ “Greatest Show on Turf” was pinball-machine offense that led the league in scoring despite ranking 26th in turnover differential (minus-10). In Super Bowl XXXVI, the 14-point favorites scored 17 points and lost to Belichick’s Patriots.
In 2007, those Patriots were a never-seen-before 18-0. They set records for points (589), touchdowns (75) and point differential (plus-315). Tom Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns. Moss caught a record 23 of them. And, as 12-point favorites, they lost to the Giants while scoring 14 points in Super Bowl XLII.
And let’s not forget 2013. Manning had a season never seen before. He posted records for touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477) as the Broncos — like this year’s Panthers — led the league in scoring and point differential. The Broncos lost 43-8 to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII.
If this pattern of the never-seen-before offense being corralled by a standout defense continues, the person to credit will be John Elway.
Once upon a time, long before Newton arrived from planet Krypton to dominate and dance, it was Elway who was the quarterback who defied all comparisons in Denver. No one ran and threw like Elway, who was 25 pounds heavier than Tarkenton and 45 lighter than Newton.
In his current role as Broncos general manager, Elway has shown a football IQ that goes beyond playing quarterback. After the Seahawks humiliated the one-dimensional Broncos two years ago, Elway went to work on this team’s toughness.
He signed DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Owen Daniels and Darian Stewart. He fired a successful coach in John Fox and turned to Gary Kubiak for a more balanced offense. He hired Wade Phillips, the defensive coordinator and true star in this year’s Super Bowl run.
Come Sunday night, someone will be raising the Lombardi Trophy at midfield. It very well could be Newton accepting his place in history as the 26-year-old Next Big Thing.
Or it could be the 55-year-old Elway and the 39-year-old Manning, a couple of Past Big Things who now have the posse to prevent the presumed Cam Coronation.