Saturday, September 8, 2012

0 comments Jelisa Castrodale Has Made Me Overly Defensive

Jelisa Castrodale has written a column about Cam Newton for Her main statement, that Cam Newton is the closest thing Charlotte has had to a superstar is true, but I am overly-sensitive and there are some things that I find wrong about the column. The adulation for Newton that is being spoken and read after just one year in the NFL is a bit much for me. I still want to see more from him before I start to crown him a super star.

There are little things about this column that make slightly irritated. Small little shadings of the truth that draw my ire. It is almost like Castrodale wants us to believe there wasn't interest in the tiny town of Charlotte for the Carolina Panthers team prior to Newton's arrival. It's not like Charlotte is a tiny market either. Yes, Charlotte is considered small market team, but according to the 2011 census Charlotte is the 17th largest city in the United States by population. By population, there are 21 NFL teams who play in cities with smaller populations than Charlotte. So the idea that Charlotte isn't a big city and is a small market is a bit false. Regardless, I understand the perception, but the idea Charlotte is small isn't the only issue I have with this column, even if the main point is probably accurate.

It used to be one of my go-to conversation starters, whether I was holding my carry-on in a Midwestern airport or waiting for a lunch order at a West Coast taco truck. If I saw someone wearing a Carolina Panthers t-shirt, I'd always ask "So what part of North Carolina are you from?" The answer was typically a town that was, like, three Cracker Barrels from my own.

North Carolina is just such a small, down-home state! I'm glad someone who lives in North Carolina like Jelisa Castrodale apparently does is so eager to feed the stereotype that everyone knows everyone and we judge distance based on how many southern, weight-gain inducing restaurants are nearby.

Lately, when I see teal-tipped jerseys, they're on the backs of newly-minted Panthers fans or — even more likely — new fans of Newton himself.

These people, the newly-minted Panthers fans, can go to hell. I don't invite you, I demand of you. Get off the bandwagon. We don't need you around if you don't remember Randy Fasani and are over the age of 25 years old.

Yes, Newton has raised the profile of the Panthers team, but you still saw Panthers jerseys around the state prior to Newton's arrival. Quarterbacks are naturally more popular players than most other positions, but there were still plenty of Panthers fans wearing Smith, Beason, Delhomme, or Peppers jerseys prior to Newton's arrival.

He's also the first legit leading man to come out of one of the mid-'90s expansion franchises, Carolina and Jacksonville.

I know "leading man" is being used in terms of quarterbacks. I would potentially argue the popularity of guys like Fred Taylor and Steve Smith made them leading men. Perhaps not nationally, but in terms of fans of these teams. Anyway, I digress, and I do get what Castrodale is saying. She's thinking nationally. I think people are crowning Newton's ass a bit too early. He's played one season in the NFL and he's already being called a "leading man" and referred to as a franchise player or one of the ten best quarterbacks in the NFL by some "experts." Let's allow him to play two seasons in the NFL and then we can start throwing out overly-excited superlatives.

Since joining the league in 1995, the Panthers have one Super Bowl appearance but have had zero back-to-back winning seasons.

They do have three NFC Championship Game appearances since 1995. The list of teams that can brag about this in either the NFC or AFC is shorter than you would probably expect. Yes, the Panthers team hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons, but the team has experienced some success in a relatively short period of time.

They've been around the same amount of time as the Backstreet Boys, but have significantly less hardware to show for it.

This is a comparison that is reaching ever-so-desperately to be clever. Again, they lack hardware, but are fortunate to have experienced some success in a short period of time. They have as many playoff wins in their team history as Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans, and more than the Cincinnati Bengals. These teams have been around for longer than the Panthers have. So again, the team is fortunate they have had some success in a short period of time and while they haven't been an overly-successful team, they have had more high points than Jelisa Castrodale is acknowledging. So I would argue they have pretty good hardware for having been around for 17 years.

Until Nike put "Newton" above a No. 1, the word seen most frequently on the back of a Carolina jersey was a bright orange "CLEARANCE" sticker.

Again, another bad attempt at a joke that is factually incorrect. Carolina had just as many overpriced uniforms with the player's name and number on it as other NFL teams did. You could pay $100 for a Steve Smith jersey at any time over the last decade. Hell, Jimmy Clausen jerseys used to be $85.

With some exceptions (cover your ears, Julius Peppers and Steve Smith) the Panthers' roster has been stocked with prospects who didn't pan out or last-gasp veterans who showed up in Charlotte to see if they still had anything to offer,

We will get two examples of this. Otherwise, I feel this is somewhat incorrect. Most NFL teams have prospects who don't pan out or have players joining the team at the end of their career. The idea Carolina can't be singled-out concerning this phenomenon doesn't fit Castrodale's narrative. The 1996 Panthers team had veteran players, but they weren't last-gasp guys, but older players who still had talent left. Guys like Sam Mills, Kevin Greene, Stephen Davis and Eric Davis are veterans who were quality players who could contribute when they joined the Panthers. Every team has a history of players who have joined that team late in their career or drafted players who didn't pan out. It's not like this is exclusive to one team. Unfortunately the reality the Panthers aren't the only team to experience this doesn't fit in with the narrative Castrodale wants us to follow.

The current Panthers roster is stocked with quality players who were drafted and developed by the Panthers. So these "some exceptions" that Castrodale speaks of pretty much consists of the entire current roster. The current team's depth chart has one player on offense and one player on defense who were drafted by other teams. The current Panthers have every first round pick since 2002 (except for Jeff Otah, who was just waived) on the roster. They aren't an elite team or any more impressive than another NFL team, but they don't have a bunch of old guys and have done a good job through most of their history in drafting early round prospects.

The narrative Castrodale wants us to follow that the Panthers couldn't get their shit together until Cam Newton showed up just isn't true.

Rodney Peete and Vinny Testeverde are your old sofas.

Rodney Peete started for one season after a 1-15 season and Vinny Testeverde started because Jake Delhomme got injured for the entire season and David Carr was too scared to play quarterback and was "injured." It's not like they wanted to trot Testeverde out there for seven games in 2007, but they had to due to injuries. Anytime an NFL team has to use their third quarterback in a season, most likely it isn't going to be a guy fans will want to remember years later.

He also pushed Carolina's offense from last place in total offense in 2010 to seventh in the league last year, a difference worth 2,102 yards, 201 points and four more wins.

No offense to Newton, but an average quarterback could take a team with two really good running backs, an above average offensive line, two above average tight ends and Steve Smith to at least middle of the pack in offense. I'm not taking anything away from Newton because he had a huge hand in the offense moving up to 7th in the NFL, but he also had help, specifically helped drafted by the Panthers front office...which again destroys the narrative the roster was littered with has-beens and prospects who haven't panned out until Cam arrived.

After being drafted, he didn't walk off the Radio City stage and into the arms of a built-in fan base, one that covers the country like a 3G coverage map.

The Carolina area was desperate for a superstar and there is a certain built-in fan base in Carolina for the NFL. This isn't Jacksonville. Even if there are a lot of transplants in the Charlotte area, there is still a large fan base for the Panthers team and there has been for quite a few years now. Again, it fits the cute narrative that Newton saved football and turned the entire area on to the NFL, but it just isn't true. It's more fun to make up narratives that fit your point rather than accept the narrative you want to be true isn't true.

Charlotte has been known for NASCAR than its football, although "guys going around in circles all afternoon" could describe either the Coca-Cola 600 or Carolina's pre-Newton offense.

I think Castrodale means the pre-Rob Chudzinski offense since he is the offensive coordinator. Contrary to popular belief, I'm pretty sure Newton doesn't call the plays on offense and Chudzinski was smart enough to build the offense around Newton's strengths. He deserves nearly as much credit as Cam Newton gets.

Newton is building an identity by giving the Panthers one, and what he's capable of doing on the field will only give him more opportunities off of it,

What? You mean on-field success can breed endorsement opportunities and increase your profile as an athlete? Why hasn't anyone else ever talked about this?

wrapping himself in cashmere on a magazine cover or out-Manning-ing Peyton Manning.

No one can out-Manning-ing Peyton Manning. No other quarterback, not named "Eli" has the right mix of competency and goofiness.

But whatever he does, we'll be watching.

And then he will get all of the credit. I like Cam Newton, and I agree he's a star the Charlotte area needs, but it isn't like he took a perennially awful team who has never sniffed the playoffs and has single-handedly made them a very good team.