Here is the essence of the problem with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's histrionics in the aftermath of losing: The job of an NFL quarterback is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer.
"You have to have enough conviction in who you are as a person, that you really know what's best for everyone that you can set the pace, not just react to it," explained former quarterback-turned-ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer. "When something is happening that you need to take care of, you have to change the environment as if you were the thermostat, not just measure it like a thermometer.
"Self-awareness is a big thing because you have to know yourself well enough that you can be true to who you are as you deal with guys who may not always like you or agree with how you do things or even how you live your life."
The problem right now for Newton is not that he takes losing so seriously, it is that his blood runs like mercury, and mercurial quarterbacks don't really work at this level. Or think about it this way: How many Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks do you know who constantly let losing get to them in such a public way?
Tom Brady? No. Troy Aikman? No. Joe Montana? No. Eli Manning? Are you kidding?
Manning is a case study. Here's a quarterback who has been ripped apart like pulled pork at different times in his career (that's the joy of playing in New York) and yet has never let anything get to him, at least publicly. The result is that in the most intense moments, Manning is at his best. He has won two Super Bowls (and five road playoff games in those two campaigns) largely on the strength of being impervious to the ups and downs of the game.
"When you're the quarterback, you can't let the public or the other team see that anything gets to you," said fellow quarterback-turned-analyst Phil Simms, who was the first New York Giants quarterback to win a Super Bowl. "Your teammates are looking at you to show them the way and if you're frustrated, they're going to let doubt creep in … it's everything you do. How you walk, how you talk, even how you dress."
In August, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway talked about how he attempted to get up as quickly as possible after getting hit.
"I never wanted my teammates to see I was hurt, and I never wanted the other team to think they were getting to me," Elway said.
This is not to say that you can't seethe at certain moments. Brady is notorious for being demanding. Simms used to get on center Bart Oates when it was appropriate. That's part of the job. Just three weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers got on wide receiver James Jones after an interception against the Chicago Bears – the same Jones who pulled in a key first-down grab from Rodgers that sealed Sunday's victory over the New Orleans Saints.
But where Newton is getting off course is moping like a 15-year-old who got pulled out of a game. Doing so in such a public way inverts the leadership role. Rather than Newton leading everyone else, others are trying to get him out of his funk. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith intuitively understands this, which is why Smith continues to get upset with Newton's antics.
And nobody seethes like Smith. This is a man who once said that if he had to go through his mother to win a game, mom was going down. Smith, who tussles with opponents and teammates alike, said that without the faintest hint of a smile.
That stone-faced look would serve Newton well, especially after last Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons when Newton had a key fumble at the end. That play eventually allowed Atlanta to get the ball back instead of Carolina being able to run out the clock. That triggered Newton's latest sour reaction.
"That's hard, especially if you're not playing good and I'm an expert at that from times in my career," said Dilfer, who helped the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. "I know the saying that guys don't really follow a guy if he's not playing well, and to an extent that's true. But even if you're not producing big numbers at quarterback, and numbers are really overrated, you have to know that you're doing something to help the team win on Sunday."
It may only be keeping your team out of a bad situation or getting your team out of a bad play at a critical time, but you have to find something. It may be how you work Monday through Saturday and that's a critical thing. You don't know how much guys are watching you throughout the week, seeing how you react to the media or seeing how you handle playing poorly."
Or, more specifically, seeing how you control your temperature in the face of a heated moment.
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