Here's Johnny - Cam, Peyton and sportsmanship
At the risk of being thought of as an old-fashioned (if not old) fellow, let me opine for 700 words or so about a little word with a big impact: sportsmanship. When I was growing up, walking uphill to and from school, we were taught to play hard, play fairly, and not rub our opponent’s nose in the mud when we won. The flip side of this philosophy, of course, is that they would observe the same rule, and after a few tears from the loser, we’d all enjoy a cold post-game soda together. Not anymore, at least not in the college and pro ranks. Today, you cannot watch a football game, particularly those of the NFL variety, without seeing nearly every player launch some sort of celebration after a slightly better than average play. I’ll admit to thinking about doing so myself: finishing Here’s Johnny, for instance, would warrant at least a back flip. Back in the ’70s, end-zone celebrations consisted of spiking the football in the turf, if that, and even that wasn’t allowed in the NCAA version. Indeed, at an all-sports camp sponsored by then-UK football coach Fran Curci, I got a flag for doing just that after a slightly better than average touchdown run. I’d watched too many NFL highlights, I suppose. So when Super Bowl 50 approached (the NFL and CBS decided to do away with the Roman numeral “L” for this one), one of the reasons I was rooting for the Broncos was that I was rooting against Panther QB Cam Newton. Healthy? Perhaps not. Justified? You decide. Cam Newton is the largest, fastest, hardest-throwing quarterback the NFL has ever seen. He is a handsome lad with a smile that makes the ladies swoon. About those things, I’m only mildly jealous, because I’m older than Peyton Manning, and my right rotator cuff is even older than that. My point – and I do have one – is that Cam Newton’s dancing, show-boating and taunting of opponents detract from his great talent and set a bad example for the kids at home. He even played the race card when asked about criticism of his celebratory inclinations, suggesting people weren’t comfortable with the idea of a talented, outspoken black quarterback. He also said that if teams didn’t like his end zone dances, they should keep him out of the end zone. That’s what the Denver Broncos did. Indeed, Newton came closer to visiting a hospital ER than the Denver end zone. Nearly every time he dropped back to pass, he was hemmed in and often hit by his speedy, determined foes. I thought Newton showed great courage in getting up again and again, though his disinclination to jump on a fumble in his backfield near the end of the game may have cost his team any chance to come back. After the game, he took part in a strange news conference, during which he had to listen to a Broncos defensive player say his team’s game plan was to make Newton pass. It couldn’t have been much fun for an NFL MVP nursing multiple bruises, the biggest of which was of the psychological variety: a loss in the Super Bowl. Hoodie on, Newton gave curt, short answers, then walked out before the news conference was over. In Newton’s defense, Peyton Manning gave him high marks for his remarks to him after the game, saying Newton was humble. Not long after, the Internet nearly blew up with criticism of Newton and counters from his defenders. One of the latter, a friend of mine, suggested viewing a video of Peyton Manning walking off the field without shaking hands with the opposing quarterback or anyone else after a Super Bowl loss. OK, I wrote him, but if we’re deciding whether someone is a good sportsman, we should consider his body of work. In that tally, just as on the Super Bowl scoreboard, Manning comes out far ahead, though Manning’s no angel, either: A co-worker of mine at a Lexington TV station was once big-timed by the then-Colts quarterback when asked for a quick interview about tight end and former UK player Jacob Tamme. I don’t know Cam Newton and I don’t wish him ill. I do hope he begins to more often let his often-astounding play speak for itself. Others who will one day attempt to follow in his footsteps – and dance steps – are watching.