The hit came, in Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s opinion, out of nowhere.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones capitlized on Newton’s too-casual trip toward the end zone on a two-point conversion keeper, crumpling Newton at the goal line.
“I didn’t even know if I scored,” said Newton on Wednesday afternoon. “That’s when I knew I was messed up.”
He didn’t get knocked out, he said, but “it was a blur.” That, he said, was the difference between Atlanta and the season opener in Denver, when he took a number of helmet-to-helmet hits including a controversial shot on the final drive that left him down on the field for 30 seconds. He did not miss time in that game to go through protocol.
When you put your guard down as I did, I hope people learn from it. Because Lord knows, I’ve learned from it.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, on his recent concussion
“Denver game, yeah I got hit hard,” he said. “But I still saw him coming.”
Newton said the hit from Jones that caused him to miss the Oct. 10 loss to Tampa bay as he went through concussion protocol was one he didn’t see coming.
“I try to describe it as, ‘I feel like I got sucker-punched,’” he said. “Everybody has a brace, an automatic reaction to what your body goes to when you get scared. Everybody puts their hands over their face; that’s just natural. When I look back at it, I was trying to just brace for the hit, and before I could it was just bam, it happened.”
The post-bye week news conference presser marked the first time Newton had spoken publicly – and in almost 20-minute detail – about what he went through during and after the hit.
And he said the hit could have been avoided.
“Part of me is like, ‘Just run through the damn end zone, Cam, and everything will be all right,’” he said, then shook his head. “After talking to Jackie Newton (his mother) … that won’t happen again.”
Devil made him do it
He said it was a lesson and a bit of a wake-up call.
“I’m sure if this was a cartoonistic lifestyle that we lived in, and there was a devil on your left and an angel on your right that said, ‘Cam, run your behind through the end zone,’ and the devil is like, ‘Man, go on and showboat. Walk it in the end zone,’ everything would be different,” he said. “I’m just a servant of showing people that I’m not perfect.”
But a part of him, he said, is glad he went through it because he realizes now the seriousness of head injuries in the sport.
“Concussions are real. It’s a real issue,” he said. “I’m trying to find ways with my foundation to start focusing on head injuries because at our level they’re focusing on it, but when you look at rec ball, peewee ball, high school ball, that’s the thing that turns my stomach because they’re being coached by people who don’t really know about football. I can’t say that about everybody, but certain things that you may see … guys’ necks buckling, legs buckling. And when you put your guard down as I did, I hope people learn from it. Because Lord knows, I’ve learned from it.
“And I am not taking anything for granted knowing that this is a very physical sport and it demands you to respect it on each and every snap.
“And if not, then you will be reminded.”
A different experience
Newton said he did not experience headaches or depression, symptoms sometimes associated with concussions, but the lag in recovery time was clear to him.
“The thing that was extremely frustrating to me is that it’s not like it’s curable. It’s not like it’s a sprained ankle, a torn ACL,” he said.
He rapped on the wooden podium with his knuckles.
“I was just trying to hurry back,” he said. “The next week we were playing Tampa. I was just trying to find ways to play. I would go into meetings and I was still doing certain things that I’d been doing from working out. And everything would feel right one day and then the next day it was like, ‘No. Something’s not right.’
“When you talk to people who have had concussions, everything still is adding up the same. (They say) ‘It felt like I was just getting off a merry-go-round. I was having headaches, I was having this, I was having that. I was real sleepy. I was real down.’
“I didn’t have any headaches. I wasn’t depressed. But certain things were happening where I was like, ‘No, that’s not normal.’”
Thinking about Chosen
Newton stopped rushing the recovery process when he thought of his young son, Chosen, and “wanting to be that father figure” while in his right mind.
“I have Chosen at home expecting me to be Daddy for a long time,” he said. “If he decides to play football, I want to teach him the three-and-five step drop. You know, in a rather cute way.”
He grinned, briefly.
“That was the big picture for me.”
But football, he said, is supposed to be played one way: All-out. And that means he’s not changing his running style, even if he won’t be dawdling at the goal line anymore.
“Even through the game, I know everyone is watching. Like, ‘How many times is Cam gonna run?” he said. “That’s me. That’s who I am.
“My edge is running the football inside the tackle. When somebody tries to take that away from me for what it is, that’s who I am. That’s me. And that’s going to forever be my edge in this league.”