On Sunday Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina Panthers played in Super Bowl 50, giving Newton the chance to add the final achievement to his MVP season by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in the history of the franchise. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as the Denver Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10.
While the loss is still on the mind of many Panther fans, it’s important to realize Newton’s statistics this season have been more than impressive. However, there is another statistic not many are talking about. On Sunday night, Newton joined Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson as the only black quarterbacks to ever start a Super Bowl.
While this is not as big of deal as it was when Williams quarterbacked the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1988, Newton’s appearance does mark a trend. This was the fourth straight Super Bowl in which one of the quarterbacks is of African-American descent. Before 2011, there were three total black quarterbacks in the preceding 46 games.
Black quarterbacks are not new to the league. There are the greats like Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon. In recent years, there have been staples such as Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick, along with newcomers Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor. All of these players and more have had varying levels of success, as would be expected of any quarterback.
The stereotype with black quarterbacks over the years has been that they are talented for one reason: their ability to run the ball. Along with that came the stigma of their inability to stay healthy throughout the course of a career, or even a season. Case in point: Michael Vick, a player drafted in 2001, has only had one year in which he stayed healthy.
Throughout his career, Vick was considered by many to be the best African-American quarterback of his time, and he only made the playoffs as a starter in three seasons. His record as a starter in the playoffs is 2-3. For a career that has lasted over 15 seasons, that is quite a disappointment when it comes to postseason play.
Another black quarterback who was viewed as a rising star was Vince Young. After a few promising seasons, Young was injured both physically and mentally and his stint in the NFL is often forgotten among football fans.
Lately though, black quarterbacks have become less dependent on their legs and more dependent on their arms, which is closer to the mold of a “prototypical quarterback,” according to many analysts. This is true of Bridgewater and Winston.
With a larger amount of willingness to recruit and play black quarterbacks at the college level and an increased draft percentage at the pro level, there has been more opportunities for black athletes to play quarterback. That said, the ratio of quarterbacks based on race is significantly one-sided. At the end of the 2015-16 regular season, the ratio was 27-5 in favor of white quarterbacks.
That said, the newfound success of African-American quarterbacks should not be overlooked. And what’s interesting is, statistically, Newton may have the opportunity to be viewed as the best of the bunch. Not just of today’s NFL stars, but the best African-American quarterback ever.
While Newton plays the quarterback position, he is built like a defensive lineman. Newton is 6-foot-5 and almost 250 pounds. He is large, quick, elusive and hard to tackle, which allows him to be put into the “running black quarterback” category by some, thus overlooking the one really important statistic: his ability to stay healthy.
In Newton’s first five seasons in the NFL, he has started 83 of a possible 85 games, which is unheard of for black quarterbacks. Since 2000, only Russell Wilson had a higher percentage of games started.
Another aspect that really sets Newton apart is his progression is this year in particular. While most quarterbacks of any race tend to get beat up over time and statistically fall off, Newton has steadily improved, his passing being the most obvious. Newton led the league this season in total touchdowns, throwing 35 of them, rushing for another 10 and tossing only 10 interceptions.
He’s done it all with a makeshift receiving core as well, making Ted Ginn Jr. and an aging Jericho Cotchery look like all-stars, while his star wide out, Kelvin Benjamin, missed the season with a knee injury.
But what’s most impressive about Newton’s play this season isn’t recorded in the statistical data. It’s how much fun he is having, despite many attempts to cut him down by sports personalities and media outlets alike. Newton is playing with the passion and excitement of a young Brett Favre, without throwing all of the interceptions.
Whether it’s the post-touchdown dabbing, the post-game pictures or his overall demeanor, many have tried to poke at something to make him out to be the bad guy — the guy who showboats too much. The guy with no respect.
How about instead of tearing the man down, the world just says it as it is: he’s the guy who enjoys playing a game for a living. The guy who’s wide grin is so infectious it makes even the traditional football fan crack a smile.
And most importantly, the guy who over the next couple of years could rewrite what it means to be a quarterback in the NFL, regardless of skin color.
Column by: Colin Tate, Sports Reporter