Cam Newton has done it. He's made the Patriots the feel-good story of the NFL season. A team you can fully root for again. And yes, I said again.
This will be a tough-to-comprehend origin story for millennials and Gen Z kids who don't understand that many of us wanted the Patriots to win the Super Bowl at one point (especially in early 2002). I imagine it's like being a kid who's watching the The Clone Wars for the first time and is struck that Anakin Skywalker was actually a kind-hearted soul at one point.
But it's true. We once cheered for the Patriots.
In fact, one of the coolest moments in Super Bowl history didn't happen during the game. It happened prior to kickoff. The Super Bowl had a tradition of introducing individual players from either the offense or defense of the participating teams before the game. It was part of the pageantry of the event. But the New England Patriots changed things forever right before Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.
The offense for the high-flying St. Louis Rams -- aka The Greatest Show on Turf -- was introduced to the Superdome crowd. The Rams had won the Super Bowl two years earlier and were heavily favored to win another, with the Patriots supposedly serving as a minor annoyance before we got into the discussion of whether the Rams were one of best teams (if not the best team) in NFL history.
I will never forget what happened next. Pat Summerall, who was calling the FOX broadcast, said, "And now ladies and gentlemen, choosing to be introduced as a team, here are the American Football Conference champions, the New England Patriots."
My friends and I were crammed into a bar on Paradise Road in Las Vegas, right across from the UNLV campus. All the chatter that you would expect in a bar before the Super Bowl went silent, as the Patriots came together and were introduced as a team. It was highly symbolic. This was months after 9/11. And here was a team called the Patriots who bucked NFL tradition. AT THE SUPER BOWL. I had never seen anything like it. The league had reportedly asked the Patriots to follow tradition, we later learned. Bill Belichick, along with veterans Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi and Lawyer Milloy, remained steadfast. And I loved it. This cemented the Patriots as Cinderella darlings for just about everyone else at the bar, too. (Full disclosure: I was never going to root for the Rams anyway. Not after the way they left Los Angeles in 1995.) There was one Patriots fan at the bar wearing a Steve Grogan-era ringer T-shirt with an old-school Pat The Patriot logo. We gravitated to him. Cheered with him. Held him close after the Rams tied the game late in the fourth quarter. And then kicked off a celebration with him when Adam Vinatieri booted the game winner in the final seconds. It's a celebration that still remains a little fuzzy to this day, but I'm told we had a great time at the New York New York piano bar.
Then, of course, things changed. The Patriots (and other Boston-based sports teams) won way too much. Spygate and Deflategate happened. In what seemed like an instant, the scrappy underdogs became out-of-touch heels who still thought they were the good guys. Kind of like what John Cena did in the WWE before he went on to Hollywood.
But if Cena walked into a WWE arena now, the (virtual) crowd would pop huge. I would pop huge. And now I'm going crazy for the Patriots. And it's because of Cam. Well, mostly. Some of the softening of the Patriots' image occurred on draft night in April. When the Patriots were on the clock and the broadcast went to a shot of Belichick's home cam, we were introduced to the coach's dog, Nike, who was set up like a team decision-maker at a table that looked like one our grandparents would gather around to play bridge. Contrast that with the brash, hotshot coaches out in the Arizona desert or hills of Los Angeles, living like Instagram models in their fancy chateaus.
Back to Cam, though. He's one of the most maligned NFL superstars of all time, in my opinion. A player who never seems to be given the credit he deserves. I mean, this is a former MVP who was performing at a high level as recently as 2018, and yet nobody was willing to trade for him this offseason. Instead of pursuing Newton, the Bears gave up a fourth-round pick for Nick Foles, who hasn't had a ton of success aside from his magical playoff run with the Eagles a few years ago.
People mock Cam for his attire. And again, I'm not sure it's what I would wear. Mostly because I couldn't pull off that kind of swag. But the thing that stands out to me more than any wardrobe decisions is the fact that he was voted a team captain despite getting relatively little time with his new team in an abbreviated camp. He has the respect of his teammates. They see the work. Hell, I see the work. If you followed Cam's journey on Instagram this offseason, his workout montages brought back memories of Rocky IV. If I can change and you can change ...
What really cemented it for me was watching Cam out there being Cam in Week 1. If you are going to wear a yellow suit to the game, you had better deliver. He did. Cam ran for the first touchdown of the game (one of his two rushing TDs in the 21-11 win over the Dolphins) and instead of celebrating with his usual Superman pose, he flashed the Wakanda Forever salute to honor the late Chadwick Boseman.
There was one play on Sunday that was particularly revealing, in that it showed me I was not only all-in on Cam, but also the Patriots. Wide receiver N'Keal Harry fumbled the ball away near the goal line late in the third quarter, costing the Patriots a chance for a touchdown. I was livid. And sure, I do have some fantasy shares of Cam Newton, but I had a visceral reaction you would expect from a Patriots fan in that moment. I wanted this so much for Cam, to the point that I wanted the Patriots to win the game. And believe me, the symbolism of beating the Dolphins -- the team that played a big role in ending the Tom Brady era by beating the Patriots in Week 17 last season -- was not lost on me.
I have seen Cam do things over the course of his career that I thought were damn near impossible. But getting everybody invested in the Patriots again -- in a positive way -- might be his biggest feat yet.
ONE MORE THING ...
Allen Robinson, who isn't happy about his contract situation, deserves to get paid as a member of the Chicago Bears. That is a very popular opinion. It's not popular to say he's a top-five receiver in the NFL. Which he is. I know you'll start throwing out names like Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins. They're are all great, no doubt. Weird, though: They all have played with quarterbacks who are either locks to make the Hall of Fame or are displaying the promise to one day be included with the all-time greats. Hopkins dealt with his share of poor QB play earlier in his career with the Texans, but his last two QBs (Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray) are among the brightest young stars in the game. The starting signal-callers for the teams Robinson has played for since entering the NFL in 2014: Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky. His college quarterback was Christian Hackenberg. Two of those three QBs are out of the league and Trubisky's issues are well-documented. Yet, Robinson led the league in receiving touchdowns with 14 in 2015 and he's coming off his second season with 1,100-plus receiving yards. So how about we put a little respect on Robinson's name? If ARob were playing in New Orleans or Atlanta right now, you wouldn't even question this take.
And if you want to start throwing around names like Tyreek Hill and JuJu Smith-Schuster, your argument is over before it even starts. They also play with great QBs, although JuJu did suffer through some rather Bortles-like quarterback play after Ben Roethlisberger got hurt early last season. Mike Evans is close, but I'm still going with Robinson. I'm sure my guy Chris Godwin would politely defer, too.
My hope as a Bears fan is that the team will lock Robinson up for the rest of his career. I'm not going to be too upset, though, if he moves on to a different situation as a free agent in 2021 and proves just how good he really is.