ATLANTA GA - DECEMBER 04: Quarterback Cam Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates after their 56-17 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks during the 2010 SEC Championship at Georgia Dome on December 4 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Saturday afternoon, as Cam Newton threw, ran, and smiled his way through another mind-bending display of dominance at the quarterback position, it opened the door for Auburn to head to the National Championship game, and left little doubt as to Newton's legacy with this 2010 season.
As Newton threw for 335 yards and rushed for 73 more, he tallied six touchdowns—video game numbers, pretty much—and at least 10 plays that made millions of Americans fumble the remote, hurrying to click rewind on their DVRs. They don't keep statistics on that sort of thing (YET!), but if they did, there's no question who'd be leading the nation in "Loopability." Quite literally with Cam, we're not sure if we believe what we're seeing, and at the same time, we want to remember it as it happens.
He's left all of us so clumsy and awe-struck that when CBS finally got a chance to talk to him during the waning moments of the blowout on Saturday, their rejoice over the access clouded better judgment, and they green-lit one of the most unintentionally hilarious segments in history.
"Cam Newton having a little fun down here," CBS' Tracy Wolfson said from the sidelines. "He made a little mixture of his Gatorade. He said it's the ingredients of champions. He would not tell me what's in it, but he's calling it 'Cammy Cam Juice'. I'm gonna take a little taste. ... Not bad."
Now, you may remember Cam Newton's 2010 for his surreal 50-yard touchdown run against LSU. Or his acrobatic touchdown catch against Ole Miss a week later. Or his methodical dissection of Georgia after Auburn fell behind 21-7—when we all realized he could pass, too. Or the Alabama game, obviously, when Auburn was left for dead trailing by 24 points on the road, with 'Bama sporting a 312-yard advantage in offense.
Yeah, when Cam led Auburn back to win that one on the road, it instantly became one of the most memorable performances in college football history. But even the Alabama game—or Cam's insane performance Saturday in Atlanta—has nothing on Tracy Wolfson.
"He's calling it Cammy Cam Juice. I'm gonna a take a little taste..."
(Image via 30FPS)
And, um, aside from the hundreds of middle school jokes that may or may not have been made at Wolfson's expense on Saturday (along with just as many DVR loops to make sure that really happened), it was sort of the perfect metaphor for Cam Newton's arrival.
After all the witch hunts hit a dead end, the arms-folded old men shaking their heads in disgust gave way to an NCAA that essentially gave him a "Get Out of Jail Free" card and a CBS crew that couldn't help but run with whatever story Newton would give them. Next thing you know, Tracy Wolfson's squirting his Gatorade bottle into her mouth, Gary Danielson's up in the booth chuckling about Cammy Cam Juice, and the college football establishment is literally drinking the Cam Newton Kool-Aid.
It was hilarious, ridiculous, irresistible irony—the latest chapter in the best story college football's seen in years. I may not remember every amazing move Cam Newton made on Saturday afternoon, but 10 years from now, I'll still remember the moment he made the whole damn establishment look like fools.
"Remember Cam Newton at Auburn?" someone will ask.
"Of course," I'll say. "How could I forget Cammy Cam Juice!"
Saturday night, someone asked me how I spent my day. I was supposed to have been moving furniture into a new apartment for most of the day, but took a break once the Auburn game started, because at this point, not watching an Auburn game isn't an option.
So I told him, "Ah, I watched that Auburn game."
This person wasn't a sports fan. "Oh yeah," he said. "Good game? Who won?"
"Um, Auburn did. I mean, Cam Newton..."
And the blank look he gave me told me this guy had no idea who I was talking about, so I started to explain who Cam Newton is and why, even though the game wasn't close on Saturday, watching him make a mockery of everyone on the field was just as satisfying as any instant classic.
But explaining Cam Newton to someone that hasn't lived through college football for the past four months is almost impossible. It's completely impossible in the sort of off-hand, casual conversation I was having, but even beyond that, it's tough to explain why his success is so refreshing, to the point where even blowouts seem captivating. In broader terms, there's a lot going on here. There's...
- Redemption. A kid that was supposed to follow in the footsteps of the biggest superstar his sport has seen in decades (Tim Tebow) got in trouble for stealing a laptop. When he was suspended from the team, he withdrew from school and the presumed successor to his sport's biggest superstar in decades was relegated to playing in Brenham, Texas for a junior college. Twelve months later, he's back at the top, right where he was always supposed to be. Right where—at one point—nobody thought he'd ever be.
On its own, the story of Cam Newton's rise has enough drama to make for a compelling Outside The Lines piece. Plenty of room for a puff piece on character, perseverance, etc. But there's also...
- Revolution. There's a system in sports that's rife with corruption and hypocrisy, and as each year passes and scandals come and go, it only gets more ridiculous. Titles get vacated, trophies get confiscated, and this sport that essentially exists to exploit our nostalgia regularly instructs us to erase certain memories. All of it's based on rules that govern amateurism in a sport that generates billions by selling every inch of its soul to sponsors. Then there's this player... His family asked for money, which is illegal. And as he tore through his opponents, the media tore through his personal life looking for any proof that he took it. And in the end? He broke the system—just this once, the policemen, even though there was ample proof to keep him off the field, the police looked the other way.
Make no mistake: by the letter of the law, Cam Newton shouldn't be playing right now. That he's been allowed to stay on the field is a concession to conscious hypocrisy by the biggest hypocrites in sports. With the whole world watching a standoff between the NCAA and rational judgment, for the first time in my life, the NCAA blinked. Yeah, his father broke the rules, but even the NCAA had to admit, keeping Cam Newton off the field would be an even bigger crime. He's just so goddamn...
- Ridiculous. Like Michael Vick or Reggie Bush in college, Cam Newton does things that leave the rest of us in disbelief. Like Tim Tebow or Vince Young, he's done it while carrying his team sometimes single-handedly, ending with a undefeated record, a Heisman trophy, and a birth in the National Championship game that promises even more storybook theatrics. Statistically speaking, he's been better than either Tebow or Young ever were and won just as many games. And from an entertainment standpoint, Cam Newton is every bit as magical as Bush or Vick ever were.
This isn't supposed to be allowed. You can't be the gritty winner AND the effortless entertainer. You can't be the over-privaleged prodigy on record for requesting handouts AND the consummate teammate with the infectious smile that turns announcers to mush. Can't be that big and that fast at the same time. Can't be that good at running and still good enough to out-throw people. But that's what's become clear as the season has unfolded. Every now and then, the rulebook doesn't apply.
Cam Newton's the sort of mind-bending, rules-breaking talent that makes us step back and question things. There's no such thing as a perfect player, we say, but it's hard to argue with Auburn's record right now. He's not invincible, we know, but even the NCAA couldn't bring themselves to stop him.
A few weeks ago, writing about the Cam Newton investigation and the NCAA's heretical morality, I explained the status quo in college sports:
...instead of anything resembling enlightenment, we get stuck submitting to the NCAA's dark ages-ideals, bowing at the foot of false prophets who make money hand over fist selling this stuff to the masses, all while exploiting some fetishized ideal of an era in amateurism that never existed, asking us to believe that it makes perfect sense for athletes to generate billions and win nothing in return.
But a few weeks later, this one player has become so popular and successful, even the NCAA's corrupt ministers couldn't help but bow to him, instead of the other way around. I mean... I wrote that first article under the assumption that Newton would be suspended, but now that he's free to play, the story's even better.
Injustice has been replaced by hilarious, ridiculous irony. The best player in the last decade of college football openly broke the rules that supposedly make the college game unique, and he's been so ungodly dominant, the lords of the NCAA are letting him play anyway.
And instead of a sideline report about which bible verse some NCAA choir boy chose for his eye black, we get Tracy Wolfson talking about Cammy Cam Juice. It's all so refreshing. When Cam Newton won the SEC Championship Saturday, and he did it as the people's champ. Or... The rational people's champ. For anyone that's ever looked at the NCAA and said, "This system is so screwed up," they can now look at Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers and say, "But at least they won."
Some might see the NCAA's temporary pardon of Cam Newton as an ugly precedent. Others, like Pete Thamel from the New York Times, might snivel out a question about Cam Newton's father, asking whether he'll be allowed to attend the Heisman Ceremony. If you want to be cynical, there's still plenty of room in this story. But for once, it's the purveyors of this stupid system that look like money-grubbing fools, too greedy and self-conscious to enforce their own rules. And all the journalists so used to peddling this backwards philosophy are stuck pointing their fingers at someone other than the players and coaches that make the game so special.
And Cam Newton, for his part, has made it more special than anyone in a long time. The redemption he's enjoyed has been its own, forgotten story arc, and it's still being forged. And even amidst the mini-revolution staged amidst NCAA investigators and over-zealous media, Cam Newton's ridiculous talent has been the story of the college football season.
On all sides, everyone's been so busy trading blows in this war of ethics and amateurism, we haven't gotten the chance to step back and ask the questions that Cam Newton should have posed in the first place. "Rule-breaking talent" never should have referred to any NCAA by-laws. It's a distinction reserved for once-in-a-generation talents that force us to re-think what's allowed.
Now, thanks to a pardon from the fun police at the NCAA, we get to enjoy this for all it's worth, and ask the questions that sports fans love. Instead of whether he'll be eligible, it's whether he's the best college football player of the new millennium. How will he accept his Heisman trophy? He's gotten much better as the season's unfolded, right? So, will he be the number one pick in next year's NFL Draft? Who does he remind you of?
To that last question, a few people have tossed around comparisons to people like Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger. Personally, I'd say he's more like Donovan McNabb during the early years in Philly. Good enough to beat you with his legs, but perfectly capable of beating you with his arm. But all of the comparisons are imperfect.
If he's Ben Roethlisberger, he's a lot more athletic. If he's Vince Young, he's way more comfortable in the pocket. If he's Donovan McNabb, he's already shown more mental and physical toughness than Donovan's shown in a decade. There's a lot going on with Cam Newton, the player, and no single comparison can really explain how and why he's so unstoppable.
And as the NCAA saga fades and we all get ready for one of the better National Championship games in years, that's the story that's beginning to emerge with Cam Newton.
Maybe you CAN be gritty and effortless. Maybe you CAN be supposedly greedy, but worth every penny and more. A prodigy that stands head and shoulders above everyone else on the field, locked in arms with his teammates, singing "Lean on Me" in the endzone of the Georgia Dome. Maybe you CAN be that big and that fast and that unstoppable running, but still deadly passing. Maybe you can be Vince Young mixed Ben Roethlisberger. Maybe, somebody, CAM.
So, "Will he go to Arizona and beat Oregon?" ... Of course he will.
Didn't you can see Saturday's game? That Cammy Cam Juice is powerful stuff.