Blue Ridge Outdoors is based in Carolina. Our sister publication, Elevation Outdoors, is headquartered near Denver. Not surprisingly, there’s been some chatter between the two offices over this weekend’s Super Bowl matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.
The Broncos have won the Super Bowl before; John Elway led them to back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998. Once again, they’re in the Super Bowl with an experienced, Super Bowl champion quarterback: this time it’s five-time MVP Peyton Manning. Everybody knows, him. Everybody loves him.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are hoping to win their first-ever Super Bowl, led by electrifying young QB Cam Newton.
Everybody is cheering for Peyton Manning, the sentimental favorite who is likely playing in the final game of his storied career.
Meanwhile, everybody is criticizing Cam Newton for his endzone celebrations and playful, fun-loving antics.
Peyton has a Super Bowl ring. He has the numbers, the stats, and the experience to solidify his place in the Hall of Fame. Cam is the underdog, the emerging star fighting for respect.
But there’s something else going on here, too. Cam Newton himself hinted at it when asked about the lopsided criticism: “I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”
I’ll go ahead and say it out loud: People don’t like Cam as much because he’s black.Though only one black quarterback (Warren Moon) has been elected to the Hall of Fame in 50 years, Cam Newton might be the next. And we’re excited about that possibility. Here in the Carolinas, we have a helluva a lot more diversity than the Front Range of Colorado. And we’re pretty damn proud of that.
Mainstream fans may prefer the proven winner, the traditional, stay-in-the-pocket QB Peyton Manning —not the young upstart, the unpredictable scrambler who can run and throw. For a lot of reasons, Cam is dangerous.
And like it or not, right now Cam Newton is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. While he doesn’t yet have the experience or the numbers, he already has far superior skills. Cam is a more multi-dimensional, dual-threat QB than Peyton ever was.
A decade ago, Peyton may have been as good as Cam, but in 2016, Cam kicked Peyton’s ass. The stats back it up: Newton threw for over 3800 yards and ran for 600 yards (and became the first NFL player in history to throw 30 touchdowns and run for 10 in the same season). Manning had the worst statistical year of his career, throwing for only 2200 yards and nearly leading the league in interceptions.
That might be hard for folks in Colorado to swallow. They worship their QBs like gods (Exhibit A: Elevation Outdoors Magazine, which does not even cover football, has had a special department called “Elwayville” in its pages since it first rolled off the presses 7 years ago.)
We here in the Carolinas like our quarterbacks, too—even when they celebrate with dances instead of pump-fists.
We also like our quarterbacks playing the game straight-up, without performance-enhancing drugs.
Listen, I want to cheer for Peyton. I, too, am an aging athlete in the twilight of my career. I can certainly relate to his story line.
But the Peyton story soured for me last month when the human-growth-hormone scandal broke. Though one source has recanted, other sources stand by their statements, and the NFL is continuing its investigation. Meanwhile, Peyton has tip-toed around the accusations with even more acrobatics than a Cam Newton dab dance. Though he calls the accusations “complete garbage,” Peyton is unclear about his wife Ashley Manning’s involvement. He has not denied that his wife has been receiving shipments of performance-enhancing drugs. His reply: “That’s her business.” Ashley Manning has been completely silent.
More people are bitching about Cam Newton’s touchdown celebrations than Peyton Manning possibly cheating his way to the Super Bowl. If Cam Newton had been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, it would be dominating the headlines this week. But Peyton Manning has hired Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s press secretary who masterminded the propaganda campaign that led us into the war in Iraq, to manage the doping crisis public relations. Among Fleisher’s previous clients is steroid slugger Mark McGwire, who denied PED allegations for years before finally confessing.
If you think that Peyton Manning isn’t using his wife’s PEDs, then join my colleagues at Elevation Outdoors in cheering for him.
But if you want to root for a guy who earned his way to the Super Bowl fair-and-square—and, yes, with a bit of flair—join Blue Ridge Outdoors in pulling for Cam and the Panthers this Sunday.
Will Harlan is editor in chief of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and an award-winning journalist. He has written for National Geographic Adventure and appeared inSports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show.