Gil LeBreton

Behold Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: the new face of the NFL

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is becoming the face of the NFL.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is becoming the face of the NFL. AP

The letters are faded, but the irony has not.

The toughest, tallest, most talking-est quarterback in pro football is standing at the Super Bowl podium, and on his left wrist is a yellow hospital ID bracelet.

The bracelet reads in capital letters, “FALL RISK.”

It’s what the nurses give you when you’re wheeled into the hospital after a major traffic accident and given something — maybe several cubic centimeters of something — for the anxiety and the pain.

But what it says isn’t all that matters, Cam Newton explained. He remembers the lunch hour accident 14 months ago in Charlotte. And he remembers looking at his favorite 1998 Dodge truck, flipped on its side with its roof flattened and glass and debris everywhere.

And Newton remembers thinking, “Somebody is supposed to be dead.”

Blessedly, Newton, who was wearing his seat belt, was able to climb out of the truck’s missing back window and crawl to the sidewalk. He had broken two small bones in his lower back but would return to the Carolina Panthers lineup just two weeks later.

“Obviously, I’m on somebody’s fantasy league team,” Newton told reporters. “And I think it’s the man upstairs.”

He still wears the yellow hospital bracelet as a reminder.

“I don’t wear it for a fashion statement,” Newton said this Super Bowl week. “It was a life-changing moment in my life.”

Fall Risk. It’s a reminder. And it’s also a metaphor.

As we were reminded Thursday, not every Heisman Trophy-winning young quarterback has been able to stand on his adult feet. Johnny Manziel has become an embarrassment to Texas A&M and to the NFL.

But Auburn’s Cam Newton, winner of the 2010 Heisman, has been steady enough and confident enough to leap into end zones and do the dab.

“You know what’s confusing?” Newton said Wednesday, finally stymied by something during Super Bowl week. “How can I reword questions I’ve been asked so many times?

“Golly. Nothing pretty much has changed since I saw you guys 24 hours ago.”

Newton was smiling. He has laughed and smiled often in front of the cameras and notepads this week.

It’s the face you had better get used to — the “face of the NFL,” for the next few years, as no less than Peyton Manning said.

And to those who might have viewed him as a polarizing figure — a brash opposite to Denver’s Manning — Newton’s friendliness and candor have been disarming.

He isn’t here to plant any racial flags, he said.

“I don’t even want to touch on the topic of black quarterback,” Newton said to one questioner, “because I think this game is bigger than black, white or even green.”

The stereotypes heaped upon African-American quarterbacks should be long over. Newton has erased the last archaic thoughts of them.

“I play to have a stage that people will listen to,” Newton said. “And I pray to God that I do right by my influence. So when you ask me a question about African-American or being black, it’s bigger than that, because when I go places and I talk to kids and parents, they look at my story and they see a person. African-American or not, they see something that they can relate to.”

Fall Risk. Young athletes, thrust upon a national stage, are all at risk of stumbling.

So why all the scrutiny on Newton, whose smiling image in the Carolinas has grown almost by the day? When he scores a touchdown, Newton doesn’t just dance the dab — he doubles-down by handing the football to an anonymous youngster.

Let the Super Bowl questions come, the quarterback sighed this week.

“The truth of the matter is when they see more of me, I don’t need to explain myself,” he said. “The more people see and hear what I’m trying to say, the more that they get me, and it becomes easier to digest.”

He has been more than easy to digest this Super Bowl week.

If he wasn’t on your fantasy team, he should be. You can ignore the hospital bracelet.

Cam Newton will be steady.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton@, @gilebreton

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