Panther Tracks

Will Cam Newton be a villain in the run-up to Super Bowl 50?

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

On ESPN’s popular “First Take” morning sports talk show, co-host Stephen A. Smith, never short for words, got pretty worked up talking about what he thinks will be a primary storyline going into Super Bowl 50:

That Cam Newton is going to be a villain.

Smith thinks many talking heads nationally will be rooting for Peyton Manning to end what could be the final game of one of the greatest NFL careers ever as a champion.

“You mark it down,” Smith told co-host Skip Bayless, “Cam Newton is gonna be a villain. Don’t get in the way of (Broncos QB) Peyton (Manning) and a perfect ending now. We can’t have Peyton Manning losing three Super Bowls in a row: losing to New Orleans, losing to Seattle and getting ram-rodded. Cam will have his time...You mark it down and remember I said this....there will be people who will find every little thing to complain about with Cam because they don’t want him to win because it’ll get in the way of the storybook ending. I’ll bet my check Cam Newton is the villain over the next two weeks.”

Smith was very complimentary to the Panthers’ fifth-year quarterback. He said Newton could surpass Aaron Rodgers, in his mind, as the league’s No. 1 quarterback if he wins the Super Bowl.

“Cam Newton has put the world on notice that he has arrived. It’s just that simple,” Smith said.

The Year of Cam

First Take co-host Skip Bayless said this has become “The Year of Cam.”

“He has become the most dominant force in all of pro football and I’m talking about as a pocket passer, a runner, a short yardage touchdown scorer and team igniter. That team is feeding off everything Cam, including the sideline photo they take while the game is still going on. Some people feel that’s disrespectful. But that’s Carolina. It’s who they are, and now he’s backed up by a defense that’s on one of the all-time turnover rolls. That defense is creating crazy, contagious, runaway momentum for both sides of the ball. It’s one of those rolls that a team gets on late in the season and you just can’t stop them.”

89 Chimes In

Former Panther receiver Steve Smith sent his old team, or at least his friends and fans in Charlotte, a shout out after the Panthers win over Arizona in the NFC Championship Sunday. Smith played on the Panthers first Super Bowl team 12 years ago.

Carolina’s Place In History

Observer columnist Scott Fowler asked the question this morning, about whether Carolina -- if it wins Super Bowl 50 -- is one of the greatest teams ever. So did Rolling Stone.

And we quote: “It's not at all unreasonable to ask: Are these Panthers one of the best teams in NFL history? The question might seem jarring, but think about it. If Manning's Broncos were 17-1, or if Tom Brady's New England Patriots were 17-1, would we hesitate to ask it? If Aaron Rodgers had the Green Bay Packers at 17-1 and heading into the mother of all football games, would we slow our roll lest we sound too frothy at the mouth?

“Carolina has spent four-plus months beating the (expletive) out of nearly everybody in its path, and its quarterback is playing as well as anyone at his position ever has. Newton passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores on Sunday – again, brilliance.”

What They’re Writing

A few samples from around the nation

Los Angeles Times: On one side, Denver's Peyton Manning. On the other, Carolina's Cam Newton. That makes Super Bowl 50 the first to pit two quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall. The Broncos and Panthers, top-seeded in their respective conferences, have played each other four times — in 1997, 2004, '08 and '12 — with Denver winning three of those...One person who could be in demand Super Bowl week: Chicago Coach John Fox. He led both Carolina and Denver to Super Bowls — but went 0-2 in those games.

Rolling Stone: We're all well-versed in the brilliance of Manning, a first-ballot Hall of Famer if ever there were one. And what is Newton if not brilliant? His decision-making in the Panthers' read-option running game smacks of never-before-seen understanding and expertise. This is a player – an MVP-in-waiting – who threw for 24 touchdowns and just two interception over Carolina's final nine regular-season games, which screamed football intelligence par excellence.

Dan Bickley, Arizona Republic: Eulogies are rarely pleasant. Our farewell to the 2015 Cardinals is somber proof. For the second consecutive season, their Super Bowl dreams died in North Carolina. Their 49-15 loss to the Panthers on Sunday was painful and embarrassing, a night when even the great Larry Fitzgerald struggled to catch the football. The Cardinals lost to a better team, to a better quarterback. But they did not bring their best game to the penultimate stage in football, and that will haunt them in the months ahead.

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