If things shake the Carolina Panthers’ way Sunday night, there will be dancing. There will be first-down signals.
There will be picture-posing.
These Panthers are on the game’s biggest stage in Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos, and to a man everyone has promised that what they’ve done all season will remain the same.
Even if you don’t like it.
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“I don’t know,” said quarterback Cam Newton when asked why people don’t like his dancing, “but I guess you’ll have to get used to it, because I don’t plan on changing.”
The Panthers shouldn’t change for anyone. They’re young and they’re brash and they’re confident.
But I don’t think they’re cocky or too arrogant. Several Panthers I talked to resented the question, and I had to clarify on a few occasions that I’m not one of the ones who believe they are.
“They want us to be what they want us to be, not what we want ourselves to be,” cornerback Josh Norman said.
“It’s not what they’re used to. It’s not the norm and when things aren’t the norm, that creates problems, when it’s not the script that they want.
“We give them something different. Throw in the monkey wrench and screw everything up. We’ve become the villains. We’ll take it.”
A view from outside
Bart Scott knows about attitude.
The former Ravens and Jets linebacker was fined multiple times in his career for various acts, such as making an obscene gesture in the locker room on TV and threatening to assault a media member.
He should be the perfect person to take the bait and fill my notebook. But no, he doesn’t think they’re cocky.
“They’re just young and having fun and enjoying playing football, and I think Ron Rivera does a great job making sure they don’t overstep their bounds,” said Scott, now an analyst with CBS. “The dabbing and the group shots. That’s where we are. They’re millennials. They’ve having fun. They’re going on to social media.
“Looks like fun all the time.”
Symbols of joy
More times than not, Newton signals first down whenever he rushes to move the chains. He and Mike Tolbert are the two main dancers when they get into the end zone.
Norman is demonstrative when he breaks up a pass. He waved goodbye to Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles when he picked him off for an interception in Week 1.
And then there are the sideline group photos. It dates back to last season but became more discussed this season.
Near the two-minute warning of a big victory, Newton will gather the players on the sideline and pose for pictures that are widely circulated online and on the front page of the newspaper.
Too flashy for some
For these reasons and more, some have criticized the Panthers as being too flashy, arrogant and cocky. Letters to the editor have been written. Richard Dent, a member of the 1985 Bears and prominent in that team’s “Super Bowl Shuffle” video, said the touchdown celebrations are a sign of disrespect.
A Seattle Times columnist wrote last month that the Panthers “might be getting too big for their britches.”
Rivera dismisses those criticisms.
“We’ve kind of crashed the party. We’re new to the scene. Not a lot of people know who we are,” Rivera told me Wednesday. “So to draw a quick conclusion based on a couple of things, I think, is disappointing.”
The celebrating has caused a stir on the field, too. Norman was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in Dallas when his celebration of a pass defense went on too long in the eyes of an official.
And, of course, the biggest one came in Tennessee, when Newton’s touchdown celebration of dabbing and hittin’ dem folks in front of Titans players dominated the NFL news cycle for a week.
“It doesn’t matter,” center Ryan Kalil said when I asked if he cares that his team is called cocky. “And the reason it doesn’t is because they’re all good guys doing it. If they weren’t good people I would have a serious problem with it. But that’s just not the case.”
Not for everybody
Believe it or not, though, there are Panthers players who do not celebrate.
Kalil is one of them. He’s usually in or near the end zone for every touchdown, but usually he has to wait for his teammates to finish dancing before hugging them.
“It’s exhausting playing football, so I’m usually pretty tired at the end of those plays,” Kalil said. “I promise you I’m dancing on the inside as much as I can. I just don’t have the energy most of those guys do. I try to reserve as much as I can for the plays.”
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is one of the quietest players on the team. He doesn’t dab and he has never gotten in one of the team photos near the two-minute warning.
“A lot of guys, if it’s their personality, then they do it,” Lotulelei said. “It’s not me but I love watching all the other guys do it.
“I haven’t been in any of those pictures. I just sit on the sideline, sit over in the (defensive) line area and just chill.”
Hotdoggin’ now standard procedure
Running backs coach Jim Skipper is one of the oldest coaches on Carolina’s staff. He has coached in the NFL since 1986 and has seen the times change.
That doesn’t mean he’s OK with it, though.
“When I first came in the league back in the late 80s, you were hotdoggin’,” Skipper said. “Today that’s standard procedure. It’s just fads. It’s just like clothes. Styles change. The style of football has changed.
“As a coach you’ve got to be able to be flexible. And in my opinion that’s where Ron Rivera is outstanding. He’s the right guy for this team and what’s happening.”
Skipper coaches Tolbert, who’s probably the best dancer on the team. Skipper admits he once was a “staunch conservative guy” when it came to dancing.
Now he just deals with it.
“I don’t say anything,” Skipper said. “I kind of stomach it.”
Even Broncos see no problem
It’s easy during Super Bowl week, but I haven’t heard a single Bronco take issue with Carolina’s personality either.
Peyton Manning joked about dancing if he scores a rushing touchdown. Denver cornerback Aqib Talib – he of “Ice Up, Son” fame – doesn’t mind how the Panthers behave.
“It’s football man,” Talib said. “You score a touchdown, you dance. That’s how it’s been since Day 1. If I score a touchdown I’m gonna dance too!
“Cam’s a pretty good dancer. I checked him out. He got it. He probably practices. Hopefully we don’t see him doing too much dancing.”
Perhaps no defender in the NFL is known for dancing more than Denver outside linebacker Von Miller. He has gyrated and given pelvic thrusts after sacks his whole career.
So, of course, he loves the celebrations.
“I like to show emotion and celebrate with my teammates. Cam is the same way,” Miller said. “I love it. I think it is great for the game. You have a younger generation that pays close attention to that and that is what they follow. That is the future of the sport. I think it is great. Whoever is dancing the most will likely win the game on Sunday.”
You pay attention
Scott, the former player turned analyst, said he’s been on both sides and wouldn’t hate it if he had to play against Newton. He went up against Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
He said it’s his responsibility to make sure the opponent doesn’t score. And if they do, they’ve earned the right to do whatever they want.
It’s all part of the show.
“This is a blend,” Scott said. “It used to be just sports. You have to understand this is sports and entertainment. The reason our business has grown is because people pick sides.
“You either love them or you hate them, but you pay attention.”