Panthers head coach Ron Rivera didn’t get to talk as much about his team going 15-1 and reaching the Super Bowl as he has his quarterback’s reaction to losing it.
But during Wednesday morning’s NFC coaches breakfast at the owners meetings, Rivera stood up for Cam Newton while recognizing — as everyone else has — his quarterback handled the post-game press conference poorly.
At one point, Rivera even suggested that losing players in the Super Bowl should be exempt from such interviews, particularly if they’re going to be held in the kind of open rooms where the winning team is celebrating loudly as is the case. Rivera offered himself up to be the team’s lone spokesman until passions have cooled, though he has to know that’s not realistic as long as his league has a television network that lives for raw, emotional reactions and has a lot of offseason hours to fill.
“Because it’s him and because of the stage,” Rivera said of the reaction to Newton’s surly behavior and curt responses after the loss to the Broncos. “It wasn’t what people wanted, but it should have been what they expected. . . .
“Some of these guys aren’t going to be happy-go-lucky. Some of them are going to be upset and grumpy.”
Rivera wasn’t so much defending Newton’s behavior as his character, referring to the joy he spread through the season by giving touchdown footballs to small children and visiting hospitals and the like. But he also understands the pain of the loss will be turned into motivation for Newton next season, saying that was the topic of their initial meetings after the Super Bowl.
And while other high-profile quarterbacks have handled the losing more gracefully in recent years, Rivera also pointed to Archie Manning’s acknowledging his son didn’t as evidence that the emotion can burn so hot when a player falls short of the ultimate goal.
There’s also a part of Rivera that understands that a Cam Newton who gave canned, polite, bland answers after a loss might not be the same kind of player on the field, since the emotional exuberance is part of his game.
“Knowing Cam, probably not,” Rivera said. “The emotion drives him.”
And while that emotion might have flowed from him in a manner many didn’t approve of after the Super Bowl, it was also undoubtedly real.