Monday, February 8, 2016

Cam doesn't suck, and other Super thoughts

Some Super Bowl thoughts on a less-than-super night for my Carolina Panthers ...


Don't judge a jock by how he reacts in front of the media. I was a skeptic when the Panthers drafted Cam Newton back in 2011 because of his checkered past, but he has been nothing but an amazingly solid citizen in Charlotte. He gives big money and countless hours to altruistic causes -- way above and beyond what is publicized. He is especially fantastic with kids.

Cam also has grown to become an outstanding team leader. One example: During the preseason, when fans wanted WR Philly Brown to be sent to Siberia because he dropped a ton of passes, it was Cam who very publicly embraced him on the sideline after one particularly horrendous drop. Cam later publicly endorsed Brown. And Brown went on to have a very productive season, crediting in great part the faith his QB had in him.

In response to the one question Newton answered in full after the game, he talked about the team's many mistakes and included his own prominently in the statement. He didn't try to sidestep the blame.

There are many athletes who are very slick in front of the media but who are total scumbags. Newton is a notoriously sore loser. It is something he needs to get better at dealing with, but I would caution anybody against making knee-jerk judgments about a person's character based upon his deportment minutes after probably the most disappointing 4 hours of his life.

As for his play in the game, Cam obviously needed to take better care of the football under duress and he needed to at least try to recover that late fumble -- a play that no doubt will give a lot of fuel to his detractors for years to come. But considering how many passes were dropped, how poorly his line blocked, how many penalties his teammates committed, how his receivers couldn't get open and how poorly the running game did, I thought he did pretty well to account for 310 yards -- pretty much the team's entire total.

His fumbles occurred after complete blocking breakdowns, and his interception came on a pass that went right through Ted Ginn's hands, costing the Panthers a sure FG and possible TD.

Hell, if Jerricho Cotchery simply catches the early pass he bobbled, the Panthers have the ball near midfield and the Broncos' ensuing sack/fumble/TD almost surely never happens. It's a totally different game. 

Cam has become a lightning rod, in great part because of his celebrations during the season. I happen to have enjoyed them. They helped make a fun season even more fun for a Panthers fan. His giving footballs to little kids easily surpassed the Lambeau Leap for "cool factor."

But, as others have said -- and I have said myself -- if you are going to be so demonstrative in victory, you really should handle defeat with more maturity. And you absolutely have to expect to be mocked and derided when you fail.

Cam and his teammates dared opponents to keep them from celebrating: "If you don't like it, all you have to do is stop us." Well, the Broncos stopped them cold (when the Panthers weren't stopping themselves). Now Cam & Co. have to deal with the fallout.


Cotchery bobbled Newton's pass but then appeared at first to have hauled it in, only to have the officials call it incomplete. Coach Ron Rivera challenged the call, and I don't blame him. However, after seeing just one replay, I thought the call would stand b
ecause the ball appeared to have touched the ground when Cotchery first went down and then appeared to have shifted slightly before he could gather it in.

At the Panthers-watching party Robbie and I hosted, I was the lone observer among the 8 of us who thought the call would be upheld. That was based upon how I have seen the rules interpreted over the last couple of years. 

It was one of those deals where if it had been called a catch, the evidence wouldn't have been good enough to overturn it ... but because it was called a non-catch, the evidence wasn't compelling enough to change it to a catch. Rivera made this exact point during his post-game interview.

The rule sucks at it is written and interpreted, but the rule is the rule and everybody has to play by it. I actually get a lot more upset about the blatant interference and holding that refs let defensive backs get away with. Refs have no clue how to call interference, and they often are the biggest plays in games.

Finally, for all of my fellow Panthers fans whining about the call, all Cotchery had to do was make a clean catch of a perfectly thrown pass and we wouldn't be having this discussion. 

When the Panthers signed Cotchery before the 2014 season, my first thought was, "Why are they bringing in this fossil?" He actually became one of my favorites because he was the one receiver (along with TE Greg Olsen) who rarely dropped passes. 

Well, he had three drops yesterday, and each was huge. It was kind of a microcosm of the game for the Panthers -- just about everything that could have gone wrong did.


"Legacy" is one of the dopiest cliches in sports. Peyton Manning's positive legacy already was assured based upon his many achievements and his one championship. He didn't "need" this nearly as much as he "needed" the Super Bowl win over the Bears in 2007. 

He did next to nothing to help the Broncos win this game. They would have done no worse with backup Brock Osweiler or any of a dozen other NFL backups. Frankly, Newton had a far better game under far more adverse conditions. 

So kudos to Peyton for getting a second ring, and I highly recommend he get the hell out before he gets killed.


When my Panther buds and I talked in the days leading up to the game, I said my two biggest fears were that the offensive line wouldn't be able to keep Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off of Cam and that the receivers would revert to their pass-dropping ways. 

Unfortunately, both of those fears came true. 

Couple those problems with the multitude of other mistakes -- Mike Tolbert's fumble, Graham Gano's missed FG and the team's stunning failure to tackle a punt returner who was standing right next to 3 tacklers -- and the Panthers basically committed sports suicide.

Obviously, though, the Broncos' D deserves big-time credit, and Miller was an extremely deserving MVP.


The man is an absolute class act, and I'm thrilled to have him as Panthers coach. 

Since dumping Rivera so he could promote his incompetent buddy Bob Babich to Bears DC, Lovie Smith has been fired twice to cement his "legacy" as a loser. Karma's a bitch.


Led by Newton, Luke Kuechly, several fine defensive linemen, WR Kelvin Benjamin and many other outstanding performers, the players who make up the Panthers' core are either young or in their prime. I like to think they'll be back, hopefully as soon as next season.

Still, one never knows in sports.

Eons ago (it seems), I was a huge Dolphins fan. My boys lost their first Super Bowl in 1972 but Larry Csonka, Bob Griese and the No-Name Defense came right back to win the next two -- including the one that capped the only undefeated championship season in major U.S. pro sports history. 

A decade later, Dan Marino followed up his record-setting second pro season by losing the Super Bowl to the 49ers. The loss stung, but Dolphin fans were sure Marino would lead them to many future titles. Reality: Marino never even got to the Super Bowl again.

So while I happen to think the Panthers do have a championship in them, they still have to prove it and, obviously, still have to improve.

As I have gotten older, I have become much better at enjoying the journeys rather than obsessing about the destinations. I try to remind myself of that with the basketball team I coach as well as in several other facets of life, and I definitely did enjoy this Panthers season. 

I have faith they will keep pounding. But even if it turns out that this was as good as it gets for this particular group, the 2015 Panthers gave me many memories that I will recall fondly for the rest of my days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Two super teams, one Super prediction

In late December, after the Panthers lost to the Falcons to fall to 14-1, my son Ben asked who I thought would lose next: the Panthers or the girls basketball team I coach, the Scholars Academy Eagles.

"The Panthers," I said.

Ben was surprised by my response. I'm a huge Panthers fan and a second loss would knock them out of the playoffs. Did I really think that would happen before my team, which was only 5-0 at the time, would lose?

"Yeah," I said. "I'm guessing the Panthers will lose one game next September or October before my girls start our 2016-17 season."

Even my son, a tough critic, had to admit that was a pretty good answer.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong answer.

On Tuesday, we put our 12-0 record on the line and pretty much got run out of the gym by a quicker team. It was the same team we had defeated in last year's semifinals, but this time our outstanding center, Celeste, was home sick with a cold. Without our shot-blocker -- not to mention one of our best shot-makers -- we wilted in the second half.

Of course, I'm not certain we would have won even if we had Celeste, as we did lose to that team by a single point last season. We are a very good shooting team for this age group but made hardly anything Tuesday, and that very well might have doomed us even if our center had been healthy.


Meanwhile, the Panthers have not lost again since their setback in Atlanta. They ended the regular season by crushing the Bucs -- sending Lovie Smith into the coaching abyss -- and then scored impressive victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals, teams many regarded as the two most dangerous in the league.

All of that good work has put the Panthers into the Super Bowl against the Broncos. Oddsmakers have established my heroes as 5 1/2-point favorites ... and although I won't place any bets, I certainly would side with the Panthers if I did.

Yes, I'm a fan, but I'm pretty objective as fans go. (Three decades of sportswriting does that to a guy.) I simply see Carolina as the superior all-around team: far more dynamic and balanced offensively, and every bit as impressive defensively. While Cam Newton has matured into being the best quarterback in the league, 106-year-old Peyton Manning hopes to keep his body in one piece for one last hurrah.

The Broncos' strength is their outside pass rush, but even that could end up working in the Panthers' favor. If DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller get caught a little too far upfield trying to get to Newton, he will run wild into the middle of the field. If the Panthers can do a decent job of keeping those great linebackers off of Cam -- and I think they will -- it could end up being yet another lopsided Super loss for the Broncos.


As for my Eagles, we got to experience one of the things I really like about sports: the quick turn-around.

Wednesday, one day after having a less-than-stellar performance and suffering our first loss, we played extremely well in a dominant 36-10 victory.

Celeste was back to anchor our defense, our leading scorer Sholeh found the touch that had abandoned her the day before, our top outside shooters Ritika and Olivia each swished a 3, and our defense was active and effective.

Plus, the 5th-grader we affectionately call "Rookie" had her best game -- stealing the ball several times, setting some great picks and scoring on three confident, aggressive takes to the hoop. On the third, she used a hesitation dribble to beat her defender, drove, scored and got fouled for an "and-1." The girls on the bench went wild, not just because Rookie made such a nice move but because we had worked on hesitation moves just two days earlier in practice. Which made the bald, old coach pretty happy, too!


So I was wrong about which team would lose next. But if you ask me the question again ... I'll STILL say next season's Panthers.

I'm not a big believer in an undefeated team "needing" to lose in the regular season to be more psychologically prepared to win in the playoffs, but I do agree with my athletic director that sometimes a loss will re-focus a team.

We have 7 games to go -- 4 in the regular season and then, hopefully, 3 in the playoffs -- and I'm confident this group will run the table.

And the Panthers ... well, a loss Sunday ain't gonna happen.

Yes, I know most of America is rooting for Peyton Manning to go out a champion, but he's got his ring. The Bears helped assure him of that. It's our turn, now.

Panthers 30, Broncos 16.