Cam Newton's remarkable season on and off the field
You’ve heard it all week: The Panthers are a team built in the image of the Seahawks. A dynamic quarterback who can beat you with his arm or his legs. A strong rushing attack and a stifling defense.
Here’s another similarity that should add considerable spice to Sunday’s showdown in Charlotte: Both teams revel in their brashness.
Yeah, the Seahawks may finally have found a team more in your face than them — and they can’t help admire Carolina’s audacity. Which runs counter to the growing clamor — outside Charlotte, N.C., of course — that the Panthers might be getting too big for their britches.
A blog called The Panther Lair recently posed the poll question, “Are the Carolina Panthers Too Cocky?” (52 percent said not at all, 47 percent said yes). A widely discussed letter to the Charlotte Observer newspaper from a Panthers fan ripped quarterback Cam Newton’s celebratory antics as being a poor role-model for her 9-year-old daughter:
“The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the ‘in your face’ taunting of both the Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all,’’ she harrumphed.
Former Chicago Bears great Richard Dent piled on, telling USA Today’s Jarrett Bell that he would have had issues with Newton’s antics.
“It’s disrespect,’’ Dent said, adding that if he was still playing, “I’m going to knock your ass out of the game. That would have been my approach.”
It’s no wonder the Seahawks relate to that type of backlash. They’ve been the team people love to hate for the past three years. It’s the price of having flamboyant, confident players who don’t care much what people think, and a coach that allows their personality to flower.
“I remember a time people called us brash and arrogant, all those words,’’ said Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin. “It’s hard. I have nothing against the Carolina Panthers. I think they’re an excellent team. Obviously, they’ve gone 15-1 through the course of the season.
“They’re having fun doing so, and they’re entertaining. I think the narrative is just there to nitpick at something.”
The Panthers are experiencing the same phenomenon as the Seahawks. For the most part, their fans revel in their antics, while those on the outside have issues. A couple of years ago, a national columnist wrote of Seattle, “Nobody on the Seahawks just makes a play and goes back to the huddle. They are a chirping, preening lot of look-at-me-I’m-the-baddest-man-on-the-planet showboaters.”
That stereotype of the Seahawks has dimmed only slightly, if at all, over the past two years. You probably just thought all along that was the Seahawks showing emotion and having fun, which is pretty much how the Panthers respond to critics.
This is a team, mind you, that has gotten in the habit of posing for a group photo on the sidelines to celebrate victories — while the game is still going on. But coach Ron Rivera — aka Riverboat Ron — doesn’t try to rein them in.
“These guys are not robots,’’ he said during the regular season, and players such as Josh Norman have said they didn’t soar until Rivera encouraged them to let their personality shine through. In other words, a page out of the Pete Carroll playbook.
It would be hypocritical for Seattle’s players to take umbrage with a team for being demonstrative, and to their credit, I didn’t hear any of that this week. Quite the opposite. What I sensed was grudging admiration for the Panthers’ histrionics from the guys that wrote the book.
Like Richard Sherman, for instance, who is probably the person most responsible for Seattle’s reputation for showmanship, based largely on his outburst with Erin Andrews in a postgame interview after the NFC title game in 2014. Sherman has noticeably toned down since then, but public images tend to have a shelf-life.
Norman is an outgoing, outspoken cornerback in the Sherman mold, but it is Newton, of course, who is the in-your-face of the Panthers. His touchdown celebrations, in particular, have drawn rebukes, but not from Sherman.
“You get in the end zone in an NFL game, you deserve the right to celebrate,’’ Sherman said earlier this week. “I mean, you’ve worked hard, you’re a professional athlete. If you don’t get to celebrate in the pros, when do you get to celebrate? When do you get to show what you can do to enjoy yourself?
“I mean, this is a game. I think people who’ve never played it, who’ve never expressed passion, sit behind desks all day and do that. Maybe you celebrate when you do something great, and nobody judges you, because nobody’s watching. But as you’re watching him, enjoy it. He’s enjoying it; you can enjoy his craft. If he wants to celebrate, that’s fine.”
That point of view was echoed, more or less, by Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett.
“I don’t think anybody likes anybody that wins and tries to rub it in a little bit,’’ he said. “If you want somebody not to do something, you’ve just got to stop them. If you hold a team to zero points, then you don’t see any dancing, but if they’re winning and you can’t stop them, the more they should do that. They should rub it in. It’ll make you want to play harder. More people worry about them dancing than stopping them.’’
The Seahawks have gotten other teams to fall into that trap, but it’s unlikely they will be thrown off kilter by any of the Panthers’ extra-curricular activities. And vice versa.
May the best team dance.