Sorensen: Towel shouldn't obscure real issue surrounding Panthers' Newton

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 26, 2012 

Giants Panthers Football

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks out on the field during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

MIKE MCCARN — AP

— I don’t care if Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wears a towel over his head. I’ve never had much interest in men’s headwear.

I don’t really care where Newton sits on the bench. He should have watched his teammates after he was removed from the New York Giants’ game last week. But the issue isn’t terribly important.

Celebrating when your team is getting kicked is crazy. But I’ve beaten the subject into the ground. It, too, is less than monumental.

In Charlotte – and in every other NFL and college town I’ve been in – we tolerate and forgive our quarterback’s perceived shortcomings when he wins.

But when he stops winning he becomes an instrument of evil, as former Panther quarterback Jake Delhomme, who helped the Carolina Panthers to their only Super Bowl, could attest.

There’s only one way a quarterback who becomes an instrument of evil can again become beloved – he has to win.

If Newton leads Carolina to an upset of undefeated Atlanta on the road in his hometown Sunday, all will be forgiven.

I mean, does the guy look good beneath a towel or what?

That’s all it will take. That’s all it will ever take.

Newton spoke to the media Wednesday. He stood behind a lectern and made more eye contact than is his custom and was more talkative and was less sad and less morose.

Sometimes he’s so glum at news conferences - and I’m not talking news conferences after a loss - that I want to buy him a get-well card and get everybody to sign.

The lone issue Newton avoided Wednesday, and pretended not to know about, was the much-publicized advice Steve Smith gave him late in the Giants’ loss. Essentially, Smith told him to stop sulking.

Smith talked to reporters about the issue last week. Wednesday – Cam Day – was the first access the media has had to Newton since the incident.

In response to my question, the second question about the subject, Newton said: “You all been getting some information that I ain’t getting. Y’all scaring me. I don’t know what y’all heard, but as far as me and Smitty talking, I don’t know you if y’all trying to come up with a story or a story has already (been) set.

“Look. Me and Smitty are on good terms and that’s my teammate. I look up to Steve Smith, so if you all want to write anything about it (you) must note that he’s going to talk to me after this meeting.”

That Newton did not want to discuss the six-day old issue was not important. Whether he’s gregarious or glum is not important. How he reacts when he’s out of the game is still not terribly important.

What’s important is simple: How far can he take this team?

I don’t know if Newton is a conventional leader. I’ve never been in a huddle with him. I’m in the locker room only when the media are allowed. To assume that what we see is business as usual is make-believe.

Is Newton a quarterback who, with a word or a look, can take teammates to a place they couldn’t otherwise go?

Or is he a player who leads and inspires by running 40 yards on an option, and by rolling away from certain tackles and finding Smith deep or Greg Olsen over the middle?

If the Panthers are to accomplish anything this season, Newton has to be good, and he might have to be better than that.

The rest is nothing more than filler between games.

When Newton’s team wins, the accolades will flow. When it doesn’t, the criticism will.

That’s part of the job description. He was the first pick in the 2011 draft, the only No. 1 overall pick in Panthers’ history.

Newton is the face of the franchise.

Do you really care if it’s covered by a towel?

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