In many ways, Cam Newton seems made for Los Angeles.
Like Magic Johnson in his prime, Newton at his best can smile, dazzle and throw all sorts of crazy passes. Newton is a star in the reality TV show that is the NFL, and L.A. has always loved its stars.
So perhaps it is fitting that Newton on Sunday leads the Carolina Panthers into the NFL’s most ancient proving ground – the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which likes to bill itself as “The Greatest Stadium in the World.”
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Easily the oldest venue in the NFL, the stadium is 93 years old and seats about 93,000 people for football. It was built in 1923 – 13 years before Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was born.
Three more fun facts about the L.A. Coliseum:
1. The evangelist Billy Graham drew the largest crowd ever at the Coliseum – 134,254 for the last night of a 1963 crusade. (Organizers allowed spectators to sit on the football field as well).
2. The Coliseum has hosted two Olympics – in 1932 and 1984 – and could be part of a third. Los Angeles is bidding for the 2024 Summer Games.
3. John F. Kennedy gave his 1960 Democratic National Convention acceptance speech at the Coliseum.
The original L.A. Rams played at the Coliseum from 1946-79, producing stars such as Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Roman Gabriel (the N.C. State star who became the NFL MVP in 1969 and later the Panthers’ first radio color analyst). Now the Rams have returned in a “back-to-the-future” sort of way for three NFL seasons until the Rams open their new stadium palace in Inglewood, Calif., in 2019.
This is the first of three West Coast games in a month for the Panthers, who also play at Oakland Nov. 27th and at Seattle Dec. 4th. The team plans to stay on the West Coast the entire week between the Oakland and Seattle games.
Newton spent several months in Los Angeles, Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the offseason filming his Nickelodeon TV show “All In with Cam Newton.”
“The weather was great,” Newton said of Los Angeles. “Lot of traffic. Other than that ... it was a pretty neat city.”
As for the stadium itself, the quarterback said: “I saw it for the first time this offseason. I took my all-star (youth football) team to Southern Cal’s campus. I was blown away by (the stadium’s) lineage, its prestige. ... And how old it is. ... Obviously No. 67 (Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who played his home games there for Southern Cal) always talks about how great it is. So I’m excited about it.”
Will Newton’s talk with Goodell help?
The game will be interesting in several ways for Newton, and the unusual venue is only one of them. After Sunday’s victory over Arizona, Newton complained vociferously that he wasn’t getting the same “roughing-the-passer’ calls when throwing the ball from the pocket that other NFL quarterbacks do.
“Enough is enough,” Newton proclaimed – he was especially inflamed about one low hit that was not flagged but later would draw a fine – and said he planned to talk to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about it.
Newton, the NFL’s reigning MVP, has enough juice that the conversation with Goodell happened only two days later. Newton said he wanted to “make sure I get my point across” with Goodell and thought he did so. And he had a good point, too – I think officials subconsciously treat Newton differently because he is so big and runs so often.
In front of the lens
The real proof as to whether Newton bringing attention to the issue made any difference will come when the Rams are – or aren’t – penalized for an iffy hit against Newton. The Rams are somewhat notorious for playing to the echo of the whistle – and sometimes beyond. As the St. Louis Rams, they had a major scrap with the Panthers when the teams last met in 2013. The Rams had five personal-foul penalties in that game and had one player (defensive end Chris Long) ejected.
For Newton, the Hollywood stuff is fine. He even revels in it sometimes. He was willing to skip a lot of his offseason to work on a TV show that was mostly about interacting with children and helping them fulfill their dreams, saying it was “interesting” to be “in front of the lens more than I have ever been.”
On Sunday, though, he would be happy to skip the spotlight – if he could direct the Panthers to a second straight victory in a stadium that is 72 years older than the team itself.
When is Cam starstruck?
While Newton comes to L.A. as a star bigger than any single player on the Rams, he also admits to being star-struck himself occasionally. When?
“Looking in the mirror,” Newton said Wednesday, prompting guffaws in the news conference.
“That was a layup,” he added quickly. “I’m just teasing.”
More seriously, he said he had been somewhat awed the first time he met Michael Jordan (the two have since become friends) and the first time he met actor Denzel Washington.
Said Newton of both Jordan and Washington: “They understand who they are and what they mean. ... They are always trying to be of service to other people. Hopefully I can be the same.”