If you are looking for drama during Saturday night's Heisman Trophy ceremony, you might as well turn the channel to TNT. Rather than create an awkward situation with Auburn quarterback and presumptive Heisman winner Cam Newton live on Saturday night, ESPN landed an exclusive interview with Newton Thursday afternoon at a hotel in Orlando. The interview aired during the Home Depot College Football Awards Show Thursday night, and ESPN officials said they will re-run clips of the interview on other ESPN entities over the weekend, including during the Heisman Trophy Presentation (which airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN and ESPN3.com).
In an interview with SI.com, ESPN's Chris Fowler discussed his 20-minute interview with Newton, which took place at 2:30 p.m. inside a conference room at the Disney Boardwalk Hotel in Orlando. Speaking with the GameDay and Heisman host, Newton discussed his father's input in his recruiting process, among other topics. "At the end of the day, whatever has been done, whatever has been said, that is my father and I love him unconditionally," Newton told Fowler. "But during this recruiting process he pointed out key things that I really didn't see until he said it. The proximity from home. I was in a place in junior college where I could not see my family for a long time. I didn't think of it at the time because I was young. Also, he pointed out the great coaching staff, senior leadership. He pointed out so many things, the fans support. There are a lot of things we talked about. He was bringing up a lot of decisions, a lot of situations. But at the end of the day I was still the one making the decision."
Fowler said Newton answered all the questions he posed. "In my opinion, he provided [answers] with confidence and clarity, saying he told the NCAA that he had done nothing wrong," Fowler said. "He spoke very loudly about what he had not done."
ESPN will still interview the winner and finalists during its Saturday night presentation, with college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit interviewing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore together and Newton and Oregon's LaMichael James jointly. Fowler will interview the winner (presumably Newton) on stage.
"I think it is important that people understand the context and purpose of these shows and not to look for "Gotcha" type questions in that format," Fowler said. "Yes, we needed to pose these questions and hear your replies and if we do that at a better forum for everybody, it will not be the focus of the interviews on Thursday and Saturday, and it will not be. He was forthcoming."
Added an ESPN spokesperson: "We will obviously discuss the issues surrounding Cam Newton within the telecast and run clips from our interview with Newton. Since he addressed it with Chris Fowler, we feel presenting clips from that during the Heisman is the best way to tackle the issues during the Heisman telecast."
Fowler and reporter Tom Rinaldi were both working on getting a one-on-one with Newton for some time. On Wednesday, Rinaldi was assigned to cover the Urban Meyer retirement story. "As the person that would have been on the stage with their player asking these questions at a very uncomfortable moment, I felt I was pretty persuasive in the need to do it outside of that situation," Fowler said. "They understood, and they understand our principles and that we would have been obliged to it. I think once they understood we were serious about having to do that, regardless of how it looked for anybody, they made a very wise choice."
Fowler said Auburn set no conditions on questions for his interview with Newton. "Auburn tries to protect their interests, and we let them know they can't do that for anyone," Fowler said. "I let them know that we had a rough time limit -- about 20 minutes, which was practical for our show --but there were no conditions on questions."
Asked if he is precluded from asking Newton about the investigation during the actual ceremony, Fowler said, "Am I precluded? I don't know I am precluded by anybody other than I think I would use my judgment. I think ESPN will weigh in on that but my judgment is he has answered the questions that have been most on people's mind in a forum he agreed to do. Any interview after winning that award is not the appropriate time to rehash those questions. I would say anything related to the investigation or relating to private matters between he and his father, that would not come out there. It was our intention to have that stuff addressed at a better forum. "I think we have a keen understand of the type of show this is. The texture is a little bit different than almost anything else we do at ESPN. The hour is not about our opinions or editorializing. It is about presenting four finalists and interviewing the guy who takes home the trophy. We take that seriously. This is the 17th year I have done it and if you watched our shows, they have a very different tone than most of our programming and I think the occasion deserves it."
On Thursday, two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin told SI.com that he did not think Newton should be asked about any allegations during the Heisman Trophy ceremony. "The fact of the matter is he is one of the four that are here and at this point in time, there has not been anything so that he's ineligible," Griffin said. "So, to me, that [questions] should be off limits. I don't know that it would be, but personally, I think it should be. I know there will be a lot of talk especially if his dad there. It's a sticky situation."