By Dennis J. Freeman
Much like the way he deftly shook off defenders during the 2010-11 football season to lead his team to the BCS National Championship game, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton efficiently brushed off any negative vibe surrounding his pickup of the Heisman Trophy.
A study in class, dignity, sportsmanship and humbleness, Newton handled his moment in the sun as he had done all season in leading Auburn to a 13-0 record and the SEC Conference championship-with poise and the profound appreciation of those who played a part in his success.
As he went up to accept the Heisman Trophy, handed out annually to the best college football player in the land, it was clear the moment had finally caught up with Newton. Defensive backs had a much more difficult time tackling the 6-foot-6, 250 Newton. But this was the moment Newton had been waiting been for. This was the moment that would validate his nation-leading 49 touchdowns.
This was the moment that would cement his collegiate legacy after producing perhaps the single most dominant season by a player after becoming just the third player in NCAA history to run (20) and throw (28) for touchdowns in the same season. The moment was here and Newton froze, much like the way he would break defenders’ ankles as he made one scintillating play after another.
Newton gripped the podium as he would hold on to a football and stared downward, overcome by emotion. After going through the roughest and toughest conference in all of college football, including defeating 2009-10 NCAA champion Alabama at their house, Newton appeared to be at lost for words.
Perhaps he felt a breath of relief after going through a month of trial and error off the field and on it. Perhaps Newton felt the crush of his father not being in attendance at the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
In any case, winning the Heisman Trophy by a landslide vote probably felt like justification for Newton for the way he performed on the field. Performing the way he did, Newton had no peer during the season. There was no way runner-up Andrew Luck of Stanford would beat out Newton. Luck and his Stanford team failed to keep a 21-3 lead against Oregon and would up losing to the Ducks, who play Auburn in the title game, 52-31.
Oregon’s LaMichael James had his moments of spectacular play, but the Ducks’ near defeat to a lowly Cal team, didn’t boost his chances. The one player who played with the same kind of consistency all year along, was Newton. And he did it at a higher level than anyone else in the country.
So dominant was Newton this season that when defenders would blink, he would run right by them on his way to a touchdown or a big gain. If he didn’t run by them, Newton had the option of running through people or zipping the football in the air for a touchdown.
But Newton’s legend as one of the best college football players ever, if not the best, was tied into all the intangibles that make good players great and turn great players into the elite. He knew when it was time to deliver, and he did it flair. The Alabama-Auburn game is an excellence example as it embodied Newton body of work throughout the entire season.
At one point in the game, Auburn trailed 24-0. They trailed Alabama 24-7 at halftime. Newton, however, wasn’t fazed. He calmly led Auburn back to a 28-27 come-from-behind win on Alabama’s turf. The argument for Newton as college football’s best player is simple: he did against the best, week in and week out. Even more amazing is the fact Newton did what he did with a cloud of alleged improprieties allegedly involving people close to him hovering over his every move.
Newton was cleared of knowing about any wrongdoing and found to be eligible right before the SEC championship game. Newton went on to produce six touchdowns in front of a nationwide television audience against South Carolina. Much has to be admired of Newton for his handling of everything going on around him as chaos and confusion reigned. As a father, my heart skipped a couple of beats of joy as Newton’s name was announced as this year’s Heisman Trophy winner.
For all that Newton had to endure this month, winning the Heisman hardware proved that there are still logically, rational people in the world, who understand that taking away such a glorious honor from the most deserving person would have been shameful.