By Ted Fleming
The words that have been used are beyond comprehension. Stunning, was in one headline. The first line in another story said sting, as in “This one’s going to sting for a while.” And this was from the local media who thought the Panthers loss to the Falcons was one for the ages.
Stunning loss seems a bit oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Stinging seems more closely associated with a bee than a football outcome. Maybe it is a bit moronic to repeatedly use an overused adjective or phrase. More to the point, if an overused word or phrase was to be used, heartbreaker could have been one choice because it was, or “letting one get away” would have been spot on. We, being the media, have a tendency to be hyperbolic when writing about sports. It is an inherent flaw in our character.
The Carolina Panthers were on absolutely no one’s radar to make it to the Super Bowl. A modest prediction would have been a playoff appearance considering quarterback Cam Newton was coming off a season that was–here it comes again–one for the ages. The problem with the high hopes is that Newton had really never faced adversity before, at least not like this.
Newton is still a baby in NFL terms and the Panthers won just six games in 2011. Six. That might get you into a championship game in the United Football League where the entire schedule lasts eight weeks. A .500 record would have been a great accomplishment; going 9-7 would have had Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx scrambling to find a date on his calendar to schedule a ticker-tape parade whether the playoffs were calling or not.
This is not all Newton’s fault as some would attest. The learning curve from one successful year at the collegiate level to taking over a very flawed team at the highest level of professional sports is not as easy as the fiction writers who wear sports hats make it seem. If fans were to really believe that, Newton should have won the Lombardi Trophy and MVP just because he was able to step on the gridiron.
The Panthers are going to be good. Maybe sooner than later, and Newton is the key to how soon they succeed. But to call one loss more devastating than another in the brief career of a 23-year old is pure folly.
The media was very critical of Newton’s late game and post-game performance after the Giants game. Count me as one of them. But I don’t believe in beating a dead horse, either. The Panthers are still a team trying to find its way after a long stretch of mediocrity or worse having just four winning seasons in their first 17 years of existence.
Newton cannot pick up a newspaper without seeing a story slamming him nine ways to Sunday or his head coach second-guessed to the point where he now seems more culpable in the loss to the Falcons than Newton was in the Giants embarrassment. The constant barrage has to have an effect on the team. It might eventually become an “us against them” mentality in the clubhouse, and it won’t be about the next opponent.
Tragedy and controversy sells and some of those fiction writers can take a relatively insignificant topic in the grand scheme of things and turn it into something you might possibly see in the Enquirer. Feel good stories? Those are reserved for a local television outlet that have to report the entire day in sports and cram it into a four minute time slot.
Panthers’ fans with a modicum of common sense know that the Super Bowl is not won on any regular season Sunday. They also know that the Panthers are still a few steps from hanging out with the elite. They have a nucleus in place and they will grow together.
There will be bumps, there will be embarrassments (see the Giants on Thursday Night Football) and there will be great strides, too. Now all the media needs to do is stop being so melodramatic.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.