As Newton prepares to lead his team against the Arizona Cardinals in today's NFC Championship Game, his shady past at UF is just a tiny speck of dust on his rearview mirror. But it had a monumental impact on where Newton, the Gators and the Southeastern Conference are today.
Remember the quote from the iconic movie "It's a Wonderful Life." "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
Think about it: If Newton had stayed at Florida, Urban Meyer would probably still be coaching at UF, the Gators might still be the kings of the SEC and Nick Saban might not own the title of the greatest college coach of the modern era.
Or, perhaps more likely, Newton would have continued to get into trouble while playing for Meyer's renegade program and would have been kicked out of school. If that had happened, would he be one victory away from the Super Bowl today and the leading candidate to become the NFL's Most Valuable Player?
Let's look back and explore how a confluence of circumstances had enormous consequences on the future of college and professional football.
Newton, much to his chagrin, spent his two seasons at Florida backing up Heisman-winning cultural icon Tim Tebow. There were reports after the Gators won the 2008 national championship that Newton decided to transfer only after Tebow announced at UF's national-title celebration that he would return for his senior season and not make himself eligible for the NFL draft.
"[Newton was] sitting with his father on their living room couch in College Park [Ga.] when the news flashed on the television screen: Tebow was returning to the Gators," Sports Illustrated reported. "That was the final piece of information Newton needed — he immediately told his father he wanted to transfer."
But from all indications, Newton already had decided to transfer perhaps because of academic misconduct first reported by Fox Sports. Consider this: Tebow's announcement came on Jan. 10, 2009, but Newton already had withdrawn from school following the previous semester.
And this was more than a year after a much-publicized incident in which Newton was arrested and nationally lampooned for stealing a laptop computer and throwing it out of his apartment window when police arrived to investigate. Charges were dropped after Newton completed a pre-trial intervention program.
Even if the charges hadn't been dropped, it's not like Meyer was going to dismiss his future quarterback for a mere theft. The problem was that more serious allegations of academic misconduct were on the horizon — allegations that were out of Meyer's hands and would have to be dealt with by UF's Student Conduct Committee.
This is why, I believe, Newton made the prudent decision to transfer. As I reported a few years ago, if he had been expelled from UF for academic transgressions, it might have complicated his transfer to another school. According to intercollegiate athletic rules, students suspended for unethical academic conduct must appeal to the NCAA Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement to have their eligibility restored.
So Newton transferred to Blinn Junior College in Texas before UF's Student Conduct Committee actually had a chance to rule on his case. And the rest his history.
He led Blinn to the junior-college national championship in 2009, transferred to Auburn, won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. He became the NFL's No. 1 overall draft choice and now has his Carolina Panthers one victory away from the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the bottom fell out of Meyer's program after Tebow left in 2009. Meyer, the man, was undergoing personal and health issues. Meyer, the coach, was undergoing quarterback issues.
Newton was the prototype dual-threat QB for Meyer's spread, and if he would've stayed UF's offense might have been more dominant in 2010 than it had been under Tebow. As it was, Meyer tried to force dropback passer John Brantley into becoming a spread quarterback, and the results were abysmal. The Gators finished off a 7-5 regular season by getting demolished by FSU.
Meyer quit a few days later.
Meanwhile, five years later, the Gators are still trying to get back to national prominence. But what if Newton had stayed and the Gators continued to win big in 2010? Would Meyer still be coaching at UF? And would Saban have taken over the SEC if Meyer were still in the league?
We will never know, but what we do know is Cam Newton turned himself around after he left Gainesville.
He's gone from throwing stolen laptops out the window to firing TD passes in tight windows.
He's gone from a blunder-ful life to a wonderful life.
Each man's life touches so many other lives.
Strange, isn't it?
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