This is not a return to the scene of the crime for Cam Newton as much as seeing the culprits in question – Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware last February and a group of other Denver Broncos defenders who bludgeoned him in Super Bowl 50.
This one happens in Denver, not Santa Clara, Calif., and is just the season opener, not a title game.
“Lots of folks desire to make it a rematch,” Newton said. “It ’s not a rematch. It’s simply our next competition.”
What a Belichickian type answer from a man who, often, is anything but.
Perhaps the most intriguing limelight is the one on Newton, who for a transition, is maybe primed with a 27th birthday recently in the books, a Super Bowl trip in his rearview mirror and an MVP trophy on his ledge.
Losing a Super Bowl regularly changes a quarterback, or any player, more than winning it. Regret, the realization of coming so far to find only emptiness and an eternally sense of something lost can humble or humiliate, can cause missteps or motivation. Or it can be all of those matters at precisely the same time.
This is Newton’s league. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and in complete command of precision and throwing skills there is little he isn’t capable of. He was the overwhelming motive Carolina Panthers taken a 17-1 record into that Super Bowl, including a lopsided NFC championship game success.
Yet Denver stifled him and stuffed. Newton went 18-of-41 in the Super Bowl, with no touchdowns, two lost fumbles and one pick.
And zero touch Superman routines or celebratory dances, dabs.
The most memorable play of that Super Bowl was Miller charging up in the first quarter to Newton and tearing the football from his arms, forcing a fumble the Broncos recovered in the end zone, good for six points and a tone setter.
“That play did it,” Marshall said. “That play rattled him. We got like that in his head. We got in his head.”
Miller would complete the game with six tackles, 2½ sacks, two forced fumbles and Super Bowl MVP honours. His offseason comprised a contract dispute, an appearance on “Dancing With the Stars” and a star character on the latest “Madden” video game commercial. Maybe it was becoming a daddy. Maybe it was only natural. Perhaps it’s a misreading of the guy and nothing will change.
For instance, is Newton going to tone down some of the on-field parties because someone this proven doesn’t need to call extra attention to himself? Or will it be business as usual? Do the Panthers want him eschewing flair and the passion that frequently fueled his brilliance? He always said he was just having fun. Why discontinue that?
He declined to tell the Charlotte Observer how much of the Super Bowl he saw. It would be understandable if he never needed to see any of it but was driven into it because he playing the Broncos back to back.
“That’s a personal question,” he said.
Last season was a charmed one for Newton and the Panthers. They started 14-0. There were nine double-digit victories. Cam found the perfect balance of throwing and passing. Until it didn’t come together when he needed it….
Maybe Newton is more concentrated than ever; fully aware of both the minimal margin for error permitted to winning the Super Bowl and the gut-punch emotion that comes from losing it.
As much as anyone, it’s Cam Newton who could, if he continues to develop, dominate the game over the next half-decade.
He called the focus that Thursday’s opener supplies something “you dream about as kids” and declared he understood, regular season or not, his performance in the face of the bullies who knocked him down in the Super Bowl would help shape how others see him.
“This is the sort of game that you pretty much establish your heritage,” Newton said.
The next phase of Cam Newton’s profession – Super Bowl or bust – is here. Recognizable adversary. Maybe a new start.