Cam Newton has led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. Dan Wetzel brought this point up initially on his podcast, but it’s worth fleshing out how successful Cam has been and at how young of an age and where a Super Bowl victory would place him in whatever hypothetical athletics pantheon one wishes to create.
Newton won the Heisman trophy and the National Title at Auburn, as arguably the most irrepressible force college football has seen. He won the NFL MVP award this year. Winning out with one loss in the modern era would place the Panthers in the discussion for greatest Super Bowl champion of all-time. One could also throw in the JUCO national title at Blinn College. With a Super Bowl ring, Newton will have proven himself as a dominant player and consummate leader at every level.
The scary thing is he’s only 26. Looking for comparables puts him in some rarified company.
There’s no true parallel in football. Marcus Allen won a national title, a Heisman, a Super Bowl, and an NFL MVP before 27. Impressive, to be sure. Though, it happened in four different seasons. Allen’s 31 carries as a freshman were hardly pivotal to USC’s split national title in 1978. Tony Dorsett won three of the four within two seasons, but only won ROY in 1977. It’s hard to equate running back play with quarterback.
Joe Namath was AFL player of the year and won a Super Bowl before 27. He won a national title at Alabama in 1964. But, he did not finish in the Top 10 in Heisman voting.
In basketball, Michael Jordan was the NBA’s best player, but had not yet won a title before 27. Tim Duncan never got Wake Forest past the Elite Eight. The only players to win all four before 27 were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. The former went on to have one of the NBA’s greatest ever careers. The latter was an all-time great, but had his prime ruined by injuries.
Baseball offers no equivalent “amateur” competition. Mickey Mantle had four World Series wins and two MVPs before 27. Willie Mays had one of each. One imagines both would have been successful against college kids. Ditto for hockey. Bobby Orr had three NHL MVPs and two Stanley Cups before 27. Wayne Gretzky had SEVEN NHL MVPs and two Stanley Cup wins. Both were playing professionally at 18.
Soccer is more convoluted, with various leagues and a relative lack of parity. Lionel Messi had four Ballon ‘dOrs and three Champions Leagues by 27, but no World Cup. Maradona had the World Cup, but nowhere near the club success. Pelé won the Silver Ball at the 1958 World Cup as a 17-year-old, but was injured as the world’s best player in both 1962 and 1966.
One could throw in individual sports, though it’s not really the same thing. Jack Nicklaus won an NCAA Championship, two U.S. Amateur titles, and six majors before age 27. Tiger Woods won three U.S. Amateur titles, an NCAA Championship, eight majors and five PGA Tour Player of the Year awards before 27. In tennis, there are too many precocious players to bother mentioning.
It’s not certain how Cam equates to those players in other sports. He has a long way to go to catch all-time greats in his own. Not to mention one who just lost to Old Man Manning and the Bronco defense.
But, special, transcendent sports talents don’t come along that often. That’s what we may be witnessing here. How social media reacts to his dancing should not be the lede.