clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Deion Sanders wonders if Cam Newton is ready for his childhood dream to become a reality

The Panthers quarterback has been dreaming about winning a Super Bowl all his life. Can he handle the pressure that comes with the big game and all the scrutiny ahead of it?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Always willing to make a mark with fashion as much with words, Cam Newton wore black and gold pants, with black and gold shoes, to his first Super Bowl 50 media session. Black and gold are this Super Bowl's colors, its "mantra," Newton said. Every Carolina Panther was given a black and gold Super Bowl 50 towel as he entered the SAP Center.

Newton tied his around his head and made a bow in the back.

Once again he had found a way to take the ho-hum and mix it with his flavor. Newton's hour-long huddle with reporters from around the world was full of the quarterback spinning his charm into explanations about the way he plays quarterback, the way he celebrates, the way he views the game and the way he sees himself in it and in the world.

It was fitting that Deion Sanders -- Prime Time, Hall of Fame cornerback and a star who dabbled in football, baseball and music long before Newton dabbed at all -- asked Newton several questions about his persona and place.

Twenty years ago, before Super Bowl XXX, Sanders was a Dallas Cowboys cornerback preparing for the Pittsburgh Steelers but also, curiously, found himself in positions similar to Newton's. Twenty years ago before that game it was Sanders who was talking about black and gold.

He told me then: "I do everything real. I put up no façade. I don't give mixed messages. Black and gold is not a beautiful color. Put gold on black and you've definitely got a problem. The black athlete today is more open, one not afraid to be open and speak up. There are going to be more and more young black athletes who speak louder than me. They are coming. More who have important things to say."

Enter Cam Newton.

* * *

Newton spent a lot of time on Monday night talking about the car accident that almost killed him, the people from his roots who do not have a voice and the importance he feels in bringing them hope. He talked about his mistakes as much as his success and about living this Super Bowl 50 dream. He said it is one that has consumed him since age 7. He's 26 now.

That's a lifetime in Newton's lifetime. His story is full of Atlanta influence (like Sanders) and the music industry, particularly rap and hip-hop (like Sanders). Their similarities are strong.

But Sanders says the differences are stronger.

"I played cornerback, so, it was a good thing to be a young dog, to have some nastiness, to celebrate, because they want you to be like that for the position," Sanders said. "Quarterbacks are supposed to be cerebral. They are supposed to be like angels. They like them bland. But Cam does not believe in that. He put a smile on his face that no one else could put on his face. He put an energy in his game that no one else created for him. It's his. And some people don't like that. Some people don't understand that. You sometimes have trouble with what you don't understand. People are still trying to figure him out."

Newton is still figuring Newton out.

He is evolving every day along with his game. This NFL season was his best but it was also a year of more perfect clarity for him on how he would live his life as a new father and how he would celebrate his stature and gifts. As he transforms the narrow view of NFL prototype quarterback to include size, celebration and dual running and passing, he also is searching for the best way to use his new platform and this new voice. Newton wants to have frank discussions. Real ones. He is already having them here at his first Super Bowl.

Panthers cornerback Cortland Finnegan described Newton this way: "He's a big kid. He's a grown man. He's a quarterback in the NFL in the age of hip-hop. If an older person sees the way he dances, the way he celebrates on the field, that person might think he is arrogant. If a younger person, if a new age person sees it, he goes, `Man, I like that dance! Let's do it!' His teammates realize, every day with Cam, we are touching greatness."

Newton said he has had plenty of reasons to smile this season. He said he hopes he will have more on Super Bowl Sunday.

Sanders is not so sure.

Newton's seems more thick. More pervasive.

"I think we all have a great share of pressure," said Newton. "But it's up to each one of us how we handle it."

Sanders said: "You just don't know how it all builds and effects him when the game starts. You just can't say. The Super Bowl has taken many great players and grinded them. I want him to play well. I want good football."

Until Newton does it, until he wins it all, Sanders believes it's a toss-up how Newton will handle the enormous pressure he is experiencing.

"We really have to wait to see what all of this has done to Cam," Sanders said. "We have to wait and see, on the field, how he responds."