Scott Fowler

Cam Newton crash offers reminder of what matters

A car crash has a way of stopping time.

Tires squeal. Metal bends. People get hurt. And we all suck in our breath and get reminded of what a gift a human life really is, and how silly 95 percent of the things we worry about really are.

Cam Newton had a car crash Tuesday afternoon, one block from Bank of America Stadium. His truck and another car collided. No one, thank God, was killed.

The news spread like news does these days, via smartphones and social media. The NFL world hoped, prayed and tried to break the Internet, all at the same time. Twitter promised us that either 1) Newton was absolutely fine or 2) he had broken both his legs.

The truth was somewhere in between. Tests at a Charlotte hospital showed that Newton had two transverse process fractures in his lower back and no other internal injuries, the Panthers reported.

The Carolina quarterback managed to get out of his truck on his own. In one picture taken by Observer photographer Todd Sumlin that quickly went viral, Newton was on the ground, grimacing but obviously conscious.

That photo didn’t mean everything was OK, but it sure made me feel better when I saw it. I bet you felt the same way. Whether you like him or feel like the Panthers could do better at quarterback, Newton is one of us.

So can we leave aside at least for a couple more hours the questions about whether he will play Sunday against Tampa Bay in Charlotte? Let the man get out of the hospital first.

I honestly don’t care if Newton plays in that game or not, and not because backup quarterback Derek Anderson already beat the Buccaneers once this year.

I care about the fact that Newton is alive and that the other guy in the collision didn’t sustain life-threatening injuries, either. I’m sure we don’t know all that happened yet and that accident reconstruction people will sort it all out.

Many longtime Charlotteans flashed back to Jan. 12, 2000. That was the day the Charlotte Hornets’ Bobby Phills crashed his black Porsche and was killed after a team practice.

He was driving too fast, speeding on his way to meet teammate David Wesley for a late breakfast at a local pancake house. (Wesley denies to this day they were racing).

The Hornets retired Phills’ number – and it was recently raised back into the rafters at Time Warner Cable Arena in a touching ceremony. There were all sorts of other tributes over the years. But there has always been a man-sized hole left by Phills’ death – in his immediate family and in the community.

Newton is Charlotte’s most well-known current-day athlete and likely its No. 2 most famous citizen behind Michael Jordan. It was only Sunday when Newton played his best game of the season against New Orleans, accounting for four touchdowns in Carolina’s startling 41-10 win.

Given Newton’s tolerance for pain, I imagine he will play again sometime this season. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo missed one game with a similar injury and is now playing again. Newton has already been coping with ankle and rib injuries – just add “back injury” to the list.

But if he doesn’t play until 2015, that’s fine, too.

On Tuesday morning, the Panthers’ suddenly rising playoff hopes seemed very significant.

By Tuesday afternoon, playoff talk seemed trivial. A car crash had stopped time. Let’s all try to use the extra minutes to remember what’s actually important.

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