It was hard to fathom the amount of hype a high school kid named LeBron James had. We had never seen it before, and may not ever see it again. Could he live it up to it? Even the kid’s biggest supporters probably couldn’t have scripted a better first game. It’s the same thing with Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers first-year quarterback who seems poised to break all types of rookie records. Has their been a more surprising player through the first four weeks of the NFL season?
Both players have similar stories, and are one-of-a-kind physical talents who entered the NBA and NFL respectively with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The questions before their debuts centered more around could they survive rather than will they dominate. We all know how that turned out.
But which player had the better debut? We argue. You decide.
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Cam Newton is not supposed to win. If the prophecy’s correct, then the child shall have to pay for the sins of the father. Right? Wrong. Contrary to Shawn Carter’s beach chair wisdom, Newton is quickly excelling in the NFL, leaving naysayers scrambling to hitch onto the bandwagon. In a span of four weeks, Newton has turned the nation’s collective attention from his controversial past – plagued by poor decision-making and a Disney movie villain-esque father – to his unrivaled potential and limitless future. The NFL is no stranger to young phenoms though. It seems as quick as we build them up, we break them down. Ask Kordell Stewart. Ask Ryan Leaf. Ask JaMarcus Russell. So what makes this kid any different?
This is the point where I suggest you reassess your questioning. It’s not what makes Cam Newton different, but what makes him better. Gifted with lead-by-example intuition, explosive athletic ability, a high football IQ and uncanny resiliency, Newton is the proverbial whole package. But perhaps more importantly, he’s won in the face of adversity while doing it his way. Sit out a season? Yeah right. He’d rather dominate the JuCo leagues. Run Oregon’s defense ragged? Nah, he’s a sucker for late game theatrics. Supporters love what others hate about him: His showmanship, his tenacity. He’s Peyton Manning with Mike Vick’s flare, attitude and support – often wavering but always solid. The same things that make him vulnerable make him better. And what makes him better, may someday make him the best.
Any of this sound familiar?
I’m sure you’ll see where I’m going with this once you trade the football for an orange sphere. And I’m sure LeBron James sees too. After all, he came into the league with similar amounts of controversy and equal amounts of expectations and talent. James’ rookie season was one for the books with averages of 20/5/5 while being righteously snubbed from the All-Star squadron. It’s difficult to live up to the hype created by story-hungry media and idol-centric fans, but James did it. As great as his rookie season was, it pales in comparison to what Newton has accomplished through his first four games. Hypothetically, Newton could burn-out long before the 16-game season comes to an end but really: Can you assume that with any sense of sincerity? I didn’t think so.
It took Newton all of one game in the NFL to enter the record books. His 422-yard debut catapulted him past Manning’s rookie record and quieted the critics to a collective whisper. Destined to prove he was no one-game fluke, Newton then threw for 432 yards, entering the record-books for the second time in as many games. These numbers are awe-worthy for any player, let alone a rookie. And lest we forget, Newton is playing with the 2011-12 NFL equivalent of the 2003-04 Cavaliers: a bunch of past-their-prime veterans and non-blue chip prospects. His most reliable teammate is a 5-9 wide receiver on the downswing of his career. This should not be happening.
All respect to James but he was supposed to succeed, remember? He was the Chosen One (if you forgot – you could read his tattoo), the second coming of Michael Jordan. Newton, on the other hand, was a bust waiting to happen. Analysts couldn’t wait for him to take the field to scrutinize his every move – as they did at Florida and Auburn. His story is one for the kids with too much swagger and not enough guidance. He might not be supposed to win. But make no mistake about it: Cam Newton will not lose.