In the late 90s, a writer friend of mine was involved with the presentation of the Davey O’Brien award, a trophy given yearly to the top college football quarterback by an athletic club in Fort Worth, Texas.
My friend had helped coordinate the voting by other writers and as a thank you he and his wife were invited to attend the ceremony. The next morning they were in their hotel lobby preparing to leave for the airport. The volunteer coordinating transportation informed them that there had been a mix-up with the cars and they would have to share a ride with one of the previous evening’s honored guests. My friend and his wife didn’t mind. They just wanted to get to the airport.
As it turns out, the honored guest didn’t feel the same way. He was, to put it politely, miffed that he had to share his car. After loudly berating the woman arranging the cars, he spent most of the short ride on his phone calling various members of his entourage to voice his displeasure; informing them of the terrible indignity foisted upon him.
“They were supposed to have me in a private car,” he whined to the people unlucky enough to have answered his call. “But instead they’re having me ride with a sports writer and his wife.”
To be sure, he wasn’t joking. He was genuinely irritated. And so on to the airport they rode with my friend and wife feeling increasingly uncomfortable as the phone calls continued.
Who was this guy? This insufferable egomaniac who sounds like the last person anyone would want to be stuck with in a car? He was much younger back then but today you know him as the Papa John’s Pizza eatin’ Budweiser guzzlin’ Nationwide Insurance jingle hummin’ two-time Super Bowl Champion and all around hero Peyton Manning. This story popped into my mind this morning as I watched the great American hype machine sink its teeth into and begin the demolition of Cam Newton.
Newton is a frequent target of the Greek chorus that is social media these days. He’s braggadocious in the eyes of many. He dares to wear a Superman T-shirt. He dances when he scores. He smiles a lot. For reasons they’ll have to answer, this offends some people.
One would have to assume that Super Bowl Sunday was the worst day of Newton’s athletic life. He stepped onto the biggest stage in American sports and took more mud to the face than Private Dewey Oxberger in the female wrestling scene in “Stripes”. He was so beaten down both physically and mentally that when given a chance to dive into a pile to recover a fumble late in the game he appeared to demur.
Newton’s been accused of behaving poorly after losses by fans, media and even his own teammates. Discussions about his “body language” after losses have dogged him for his entire NFL career. That side of his personality was put on display, front and center, under the bright post game lights in Santa Clara. His visit with the media lasted barely 30 seconds and ended with him sulking off stage to take his pity party somewhere a little more private.
Taken together, Newton’s attitude and perceived arrogance followed by the cartoonesque face plant during and after the game has been the equivalent of a giant “it’s on!” to the masses of football fans who have savaged him for most of the hours since the game ended. If you’re in that camp, think about what you’re doing. You’re being critical of a young man for…what exactly? Being a little brash and not handling losing well. That’s it. Might it not be better to give his life a little more time and see a more complete, if not total, picture?
An examination of the total picture of Manning’s career reveals some interesting things. He left the field after losing the Super Bowl to New Orleans without bothering to congratulate Drew Brees. He once blamed a Colts loss on the offensive line. His intensity and willingness to berate teammates who make mistakes is legendary to the point that it was lampooned in a memorable bit when he hosted “Saturday Night Live”. Manning was also involved in an ugly incident involving a female athletic trainer back at Tennessee and, like it or not, he’s in the middle of a still unresolved story about possible HGH use.
Does all that mean Peyton Manning is a bad guy? No. It means he’s human. He’s capable of making the kind of mistakes that most of us humans make from time to time. Mistakes of arrogance, hubris, and immaturity. Being rude or thoughtless to people. Not always handling adversity with grace.
You know, the things Cam Newton is being accused of today. Things about which some of us could be a little more understanding and a little less judgmental.