By his own admission Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a poor loser.
Newton has covered his head with foreign objects and sulked his way through postgame news conferences after defeats since he was a rookie, and he has made no apologies for it.
He’s also a great winner, with the dabs, the big smile, the ball giveaways to young fans after touchdowns and the victory laps around Bank of America Stadium.
And coach Ron Rivera says if you want the good Cam, you have to take the bad Cam, too.
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The postgame demeanor of a player Rivera once dubbed “Mr. Mopeyhead” remains a thing nearly two months after Newton showed up for his post-Super Bowl news conference with a hoodie over his head, answered nearly every question with one- to three-word responses and bolted after 2 1/2 minutes.
Newton came under heavy criticism for his comportment after the Panthers’ 24-10 loss to Denver. He was unapologetic two days later back in Charlotte, saying he was on the record as being a sore loser.
During the NFC coaches breakfast Wednesday at the league’s annual meetings, Rivera suggested a two-day cooling off period might not be a bad idea for players from losing Super Bowl teams.
“What we ask players to do after a game like that is tremendously unfair. I really do mean that, too. Personally I’ve always felt that in a situation like that there’s only one person that needs to talk and that’s the head coach,” Rivera said.
“That’s the person you should pull out and you should put in front of everybody and let him handle the situation and answer the questions. If not, that’s what you’re going to get. You’re going to get guys that are going to come across in certain ways. And that’s unfortunate. But that’s the truth.”
This wasn’t Rivera proposing the NFL change the way it handles its post-Super Bowl setup. (Although if logistically possible, it would be good to put players from the opposing team in a separate area. Newton’s walk-off came after he overheard Broncos defensive back Chris Harris discussing Denver’s game plan to make Newton beat them with his arm.)
This was a coach defending his quarterback.
But Rivera doesn’t need to shield a 26-year-old who recently became a father and last summer was given the most lucrative contract in team history.
And with that $103.8 million extension comes certain obligations, including dealing with the media after games – be it Week 1 in Jacksonville, Fla., or Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had to stand at a podium and take questions after throwing a game-sealing interception at the goal line last year after losing the Super Bowl to New England.
Wilson acted in a way the public and media have deemed acceptable: taking blame, not throwing his coaches/teammates/refs under the bus, answering in complete sentences.
But Newton’s not Wilson and hates comparisons to any quarterback, Wilson or otherwise.
He’s also not Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly or Josh Norman, who teared up while sitting on the bench by himself watching the confetti fall on the Broncos.
“Each guy handles it individually different,” Rivera said. “You could say, ‘Oh, he handled it better. And he didn’t handle it (well).’ I wouldn’t expect them all to handle it like me.”
Rivera’s point is if you’re going to put players in front of a microphone a half-hour or so after losing the Super Bowl, people should accept “that some of these guys are not going to be happy-go-lucky.”
It’s just that guy for the Panthers is the quarterback and league most valuable player, which is why the crowd around Rivera on Wednesday at the Boca Raton Resort grew as reporters overheard his comments or saw them pop up on Twitter.
“This is made for television,” Rivera said at one point. “Look at all the people that are here.”
Rivera’s defense of Newton went on for 20 minutes, and included references to former Lakers great Jerry West’s distaste for losing and quarterback Peyton Manning, who was criticized for heading into the locker room without shaking the hands of Saints players after Indianapolis lost Super Bowl XLIV.
But Rivera kept coming back to the same point: You can’t celebrate Newton for wearing his emotions on his sleeve when he’s winning and “blow him up” for doing the same after a loss.
“It’s a different type of athlete that we’re dealing with today. These are millennials. These are young men and women athletes that are being brought up in a different way,” Rivera said.
“I think part of it is these are young people that express themselves. When he’s happy, he’ll express himself. When he’s sad, he’ll express himself, too. So I just think we need to accept or understand or at least anticipate that we’re not going to get him at his best.”