I have spent an interesting “Day before the Draft” in New York so far, talking with Cecil Newton and Deion Sanders about Cam Newton but not talking to Newton himself – who strangely turned an NFL “media availability” session into a “media unavailability” session. (My full column about the day is here).
Let me explain that a little. My alarm went off at 3:45 this morning so I could pack and catch a 6:15 a.m. flight from Charlotte to New York. My goal: go to an NFL event featuring about a dozen of the top draft prospects, who were going to play flag football and promote physical activity with a bunch of New York public-school youngsters before submitting to questions from the media.
All went well in terms of the travel, and I arrived before the event began at 9:45 a.m. at Chelsea Waterside Park in Manhattan. Then Newton got there and some other big-time draft prospects like Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Newton, though, was the star. The kids followed him around like the Pied Piper. He delighted them by playing quarterback for both sides in their touch football game, making sure to spread the ball around to everyone. He threw the football some with his 12-year-old brother, who was participating in the clinic and has quite an arm, too.
While the clinic was going on, I spotted Cecil Newton in the crowd. Cam’s controversial father couldn’t have been nicer once he found out I was from Charlotte – he was curious about our city, as I was about his family – but steadfastly refused to discuss the ongoing NCAA probe involving himself and his son. Fair enough. We talked for 10 minutes or so about Cam’s charismatic personality, his work ethic (“He can squeeze 10 hours of work into an eight-hour day,” Cecil Newton said) and his readiness for being the No.1 pick if that’s what happens Thursday (not surprisingly, Cecil said his son was very ready).
Then it came time for the “media availability” session. I’ve been to several of these before, and the NFL always makes whomever it invites to the draft available to reporters and broadcasters for about 20-30 minutes.
Every other draft prospect I saw stuck around and patiently answered questions – except Cam. He bolted toward an exit after signing a few autographs. I ran him down, told him I was from The Charlotte Observer and asked him to answer just a couple of questions. (The excellent broadcaster Mike Solarte from News 14, who is also here reporting on the draft, was right behind me with a cameraman in tow).
Cam said quickly, “I’m not doing any interviews.” Then he hopped in the backseat of a car that was revved up and ready to go.
Hmmm. It was very odd. I talked to one reporter who’s been going to these “Day Before the Draft” NFL media availabilities for about 15 years, and he said Newton is the only guy he remembers blowing off interviews.
(AFTERNOON UPDATE: I talked to an NFL source, who says that Cam Newton and his family did not accept any money or airline tickets from the NFL -- as a number of prospects have not this year, instead preferring to let the NFLPA pay for their trips in a show of solidarity. So Newton did not feel compelled to play by the NFL "rules" in terms of doing interviews Wednesday, the source said. On the other hand, he was apparently the only one of the top draft prospects who did not accept a nickel from the NFL who came out and played with the kids -- and you can bet those kids loved seeing him there and didn't care whether he did interviews or not).
Not that Newton needs to talk to me to prove anything – he’s already made his case for the Panthers. But it does make you wonder what he will be like in the NFL when he just threw three interceptions and it’s time to face the music. I still believe Carolina should pick him at No.1, but it was somewhat jarring.
In any case, then I found Deion Sanders, who has counseled Newton some during the past several months. Neon Deion said he believed Newton had been unfairly “ridiculed” and that the “hate” exhibited toward him had hurt him. He also said quarterbacks in general are “fragile dudes.”
But Deion also said he believed Newton would eventually win a Super Bowl as an NFL QB and that the Panthers will draft him at No.1, in part because Newton “puts butts in seats,” as Deion termed it.
I’ll have more from my interviews with Deion Sanders and Cecil Newton in Thursday’s newspaper and online, but wanted you to get a little flavor of it here.
AP Photo: Cam Newton, right, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell participate in an NFL predraft event, in New York, Wednesday, April 27, 2011.