CHARLOTTE — After a big win, it’s not unusual for loud music to bounce off the walls of an NFL team’s locker room. It is a bit odd for it to be a pop ballad.
In the aftermath of the offensive explosion that buried the Miami Dolphins 45-21 on Monday Night Football, however, the Carolina Panthers cranked up some Adele.
As the media filed into the Panthers locker room, the British pop diva’s lost-love song, “Someone Like You,” played at a painfully high volume.
In one corner, the person responsible for the music choice danced in a silver bathrobe as teammates begged him to stop.
“That’s another thing they want to get on me about,” said quarterback and Adele fan Cam Newton. “But we aren’t going to have that. My music selection is pretty aggressive with the softness.”
It’s just the latest in a long string of playful oxymorons from Newton, whose post-victory press conferences often devolve into Yogi Berra meets Mike Tyson, with a bit of late-night lounge comedian thrown in — it was no coincidence that he ended his Monday Night postgame presser by thanking the media and saying, “I’ll be back here on Mondays and Wednesdays.” All he left out was the advice to “try the veal.”
Needless to say, the Carolina Panthers are having fun, from on the field displays of emotion to postgame antics, the team is a tightly-knit group, grinning their way toward the top of the NFC South.
“They should,” said coach Ron Rivera. “It’s an opportunity to have some fun, but it only comes when you’re winning.”
The team has been holding up that end of the bargain in recent weeks, making big plays on offense to go along with a defense that has been the best in the NFL all season long.
No one has played bigger, or had a larger smile while doing it, than Newton, who seems to draw energy from a positive atmosphere around him, whether from the crowd or teammates.
“He does,” said Rivera. “There’s something about when the lights turn on. It’s just who he is. He does play well — there’s just something about the stage. When he gets rolling, a lot of things happen off of that energy.”
There was his 69-yard run against Miami that set up a touchdown and ended with Newton doing his traditional post-first-down dance from his back, as he acted too exhausted from the run to stand. After the game, he joked about his “check engine light” blinking on late in the run.
His teammates knew just how to respond to the big play, in a way Newton could appreciate.
“The guys came up to me and said, ‘D.A. (34-year-old backup quarterback Derek Anderson) could have scored on that one,’” Newton said.
That’s not to say that Newton and the Panthers are clowning their way through the season. In fact, the team places as high a value on hard work as it does on enjoying the moment.
“Guys are just flying around, making plays,” Newton said. “Even though the scoreboard was what it was, late in the game, guys still had that laser focus.”
That included the quarterback. With the game well out of reach in the fourth quarter, Newton found Devin Funchess with a 32-yard dart for the receiver’s second touchdown of the game.
“That play at the end, everybody marveled at the throw,” Newton said, “but more important, it was just me and him being in sync on the same play. That’s a great characteristic — good DNA as champions.”
On Funchess’ first touchdown, a 28-yard pass right after halftime that saw Funchess take a screen and find a path to the end zone, Newton was the one who made the magic happen.
“One thing that really showed was some of his decision-making,” Rivera said. “A couple of big plays we had out there were decisions he made — audibles and checks he made at the line of scrimmage. His knowledge of what we’re trying to do is tremendous. His feel for the game is so good. An example was that screen to Funchess. He made the audible and the check. Next thing you know, touchdown.”
Followed, of course, by the dancing that conceals just how hard the team works.
And sometimes, he dances to Adele. Like most things with Newton, however, once you get past the laugh line, there’s a great deal of thought behind it.
“For us, going through the rigors of having all that testosterone built up, it’s OK to throw in a little ‘Irreplaceable’ by Beyonce or ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele,” he said. “All I’m trying to do is just tone it down, just a little second, so we can clear our minds and put a little heavenly voice in our hearts.”