BREAKING NEWS: The NCAA has ruled Cam Newton eligible. Technically the NCAA ruled him ineligible for one day and has reinstated him. Another post is upcoming.
Auburn, Ala. – The wayfaring journey of Cameron Jerrell Newton has turned for home: From College Park and Westlake High to Florida and Auburn with a Texas junior college in between, and now back to Atlanta for Saturday’s SEC championship. It should be one of the happiest stories in the history of the sport, but its hero has gone missing in plain sight.
Auburn’s coach was asked Tuesday when the best player in college football might again be made available to the media, something that hasn’t happened for two weeks. Said Gene Chizik: “I’m going to stay on the path of commenting directly on his play.”
A reporter noted that SEC rules call for every player to be available for interviews after the title game and asked if Auburn would comply with league policy. Chizik: “I’m going to stay on the path of making comments on the championship game or the previous 12 games.”
More intriguing was how often Chizik, in the course of a 33-minute briefing, mentioned his best player by name — once. (He called him “Cameron.”) Asked by this correspondent if playing such a massive game in his hometown might heighten the pressure on Newton to an unbearable level, Chizik didn’t even deploy the third-person singular, meaning “he” or “him”, in his response. He went plural, both in the first and third person, all the way.
Chizik: “We’ve had a lot of big moments to get to this point, in my opinion, as a team and individually … We’ve all kind of been here before at some point in the other games. I think that’s big for us, and I think that’s big for our players individually. I’m hoping that this would not be any different. They don’t give me any reason to believe they’ll respond differently.”
Weird. You cannot take two steps in the Loveliest Village of the Plain without hearing or seeing some mention of Cam Newton. (See the example above, photographed outside Momma Goldberg’s Deli — home of the “Pastrama Momma” — on Thach Avenue.) No serious discussion of college football can commence anywhere in these United States without lip service being paid to the irresistible Tiger quarterback. Yet it’s as if the man who coaches Newton dare not speak his name.
Given the twists in this tale, Auburn’s skittishness is understandable. Since the first ESPN report on Nov. 4 that the former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond (formerly of Valdosta) had been told it would cost serious money for Newton to play for the Bulldogs, the Tigers have awaited the next shoe dropping. Who knew Newton’s story housed more shoes than Imelda Marcos’ closet?
We’ve heard from two more MSU voices, the ex-players Kenny Rogers and Bill Bell. We’ve been informed by FoxSports.com that Newton left Florida under suspicion of cheating. We’ve heard, via Mark Winne of Channel 2 Action News, that Newton’s father Cecil has admitted to someone that he sought money from Mississippi State. The air (and airwaves) became so charged it wasn’t clear if Cam Newton would play against Georgia on Nov. 13 until he took part in the pregame Tiger Walk, leaping and shouting and high-fiving, and entered Jordan-Hare Stadium, pausing to kneel at the goalpost.
Newton was great that day, greater still against hated Alabama in Tuscaloosa last week. The Tigers trailed 24-0, won 28-27. Asked if Newton’s performance had been “one for the ages,” Chizik again took the big-picture tack: “At some point we’re going to have a chance to breathe and look back and realize how monumental that was … I don’t know how many teams in the course of history would have been able to do that.”
Win Saturday and Newton’s team will play for the BCS title in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. That is, however, a long way off — plenty of time for more investigative work, more allegations. Newton will surely have to break his silence when he wins the Heisman Trophy, which is announced Dec. 11, but even then the man of the year in college football is apt to remain a man of mystery.
On Tuesday, the tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who’s from Lassiter High in Marietta, spoke of and essentially for his quarterback. “Business as usual for Cam is basically straight goofball,” Lutzenkirchen told reporters. “He’s always joking around, always messing with everyone. That hasn’t changed at all throughout this year.”
As for Newton himself: The son of a preacher is holding his peace. Asked if the most valuable and visible Tiger was planning to address the media, a helpful Auburn staffer pointed to the entrance of the Athletic Center and said: “He’s going to walk through that door … and keep on going.”