A litany of notes out of the championship games and heading into Super Bowl 50, including the Broncos GM on the Panthers QB, Carolina’s forgotten architect and why the respect card shouldn't be played again
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On one of the most diametrically different matchups in Super Bowl history, strategy, Cam-related celebrations, the forgotten Hurney, the “R” word, and appreciating a great football game, shall we say:
Elway on Cam. They’re sort of the same, right? John Elway, who did the desperation helicopter move on a Super Bowl run against Green Bay 18 years ago, and Cam Newton, who did the combo gymnast/Olympic dive touchdown run Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. Newton, essentially, is this generation’s Elway as a player, a dangerous runner with a great arm who seems ahead of his time. Elway: 6-3, 218 as a player. Newton: 6-5, 247 now. You’ve got to admit Newton reminds you of what Elway was in the nineties.
Before Elway left the Broncos facility in suburban Denver late Monday for Mobile, Ala., and the annual Senior Bowl practices to see the next class of NFL prospects, he considered the matchup we’re going to see in 12 days—and what he thinks of Newton as a player.
“There cannot be a matchup of more different players at the quarterback position than we’re going to see in this Super Bowl,” Elway said. “Peyton [Manning], obviously the classic quarterback type, and Cam, the tremendous athlete and strong-armed quarterback. I like him. I like how he plays. Great arm, great ability to make plays with his legs. I know he rubs some people the wrong way, but he’s got a love of the game, and you can tell he loves the spotlight and playing in the big games. I really like that about players—when they love to play in the spotlight, and thrive under the pressure. He does. It’s going to be a great game to watch.”
Enough of the debate over Cam’s celebrations. When I was seven or eight, I remember my father getting all goofy and negative over the long hair on The Beatles. My high-school-aged brother at the time told Dad to relax, it was just hair. That’s what this debate about Cam Newton posing and dancing and pointing for first downs and taking group photos during games reminds me of. He is having fun. He is hurting no one. His teammates like it. I’m not crazy over crumpling up opposing fans’ signs; seems over the top to me. But Newton celebrates out of joy because he is having fun playing the game. The NFL should be endorsing this and getting behind it wholeheartedly at a time when the public is finding so many things wrong with the game. Here’s the 2016 face of football having a ball playing it. Good. Keep it up.
Did the Patriots blow it with their late-game strategy? Trailing 20-12 with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter, New England coach Bill Belichick chose to bypass a 34-yard field goal to cut the lead to five in the AFC Championship Game at Denver. It was fourth-and-one. I understood why he went for it; I’d have kicked the field goal, because I knew I would be getting the ball back, and I would not have wanted to risk having to make a two-point conversion to tie the game. But it wasn’t a terrible call. And if you know Belichick, you know he often goes for it on fourth-and-short, from all over the field. New England, of course, got stopped. And those who are saying New England should have kicked a field goal on fourth down with 2:25 left, that’s absurd. If New England did that, and Peyton Manning made two first downs, New England never touches it again. The first one, with six minutes to go, is a good argument-starter, because the Patriots knew almost certainly they were going to get the ball at least once more. I repeat: Belichick’s no dope for going for it on fourth-and-one with Tom Brady the quarterback. I just would have taken the fairly sure three.
Many of you may not remember Marty Hurney. I credited him in my column Monday as the former Panthers GM (fired in October 2012) whose final two top draft choices were Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. The Panthers were going downhill when Hurney got fired, and there was no great outcry when it happened. But here’s who else Hurney brought on board who have helped the Panthers get to Super Bowl 50:
• Cornerback Josh Norman, in the fifth round in 2012.
• Running back Jonathan Stewart, in the first round in 2008.
• Center Ryan Kalil, in the second round in 2007.
• Tight end Greg Olsen, acquired in a 2011 trade for a future third-round pick.
Norman’s one of the best cornerbacks in football, Stewart a vital part of the Panther offense to this day, Kalil a Pro Bowl center, and Olsen the best tight end in Panthers history. And look: Dave Gettleman has done a terrific job in muffling the noise and doing his job and gather a slew of roster-building players, many of whom other teams didn’t want. This is not a screed to say Hurney should still be on the job and Gettleman not. It’s simply a nod to Hurney for doing a good deal of the construction for the NFC champions three years after he was fired.
We don’t hate your team. Again with the “lack of respect” storylines from the two Super Bowl teams. This time, Denver safety Darian Stewart said “without a doubt … that was disrespectful” when the Patriots chose to receiving the opening kickoff rather than defer their choice and receive to start the second half. The Broncos thought, Oh, the Patriots think they can score on us, do they? Well, that is utterly disrespectful! Stop the madness. Stop the madness once and for all. If the New England Patriots, with one of the best quarterbacks in history and the best tight end in the game and one of the best slot receivers in the game, don’t think they can score and don’t think they can jump out to an early lead on the road, well shame on them. What a ridiculous thing to get fired up about.
What a game. The more I’ve thought about the AFC Championship Game, the more I’ve thought what a tremendous game it was. Tom Brady, battling through a series of big hits and constant pressure. Manning, making enough plays to put up two big touchdowns early and trying to hang on for dear life. And the Denver defense, playing the kind of once-in-a-generation game that had such a big impact on football history. The chance for Manning to win a Super Bowl (and play in his fourth one) in his most vulnerable season is a great story. As is Brady converting on two fourth downs in the last 90 seconds, and coming within a two-point conversion of forcing overtime in a game the Patriots had no business winning. And I might point out one more thing: a one-armed Chris Harris Jr., playing so gallantly and effectively for the Broncos, being a vital part of Denver advancing to it second Super Bowl in Manning’s four seasons. Yes, I’ll remember this one for a long time.
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