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A football fable

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"In order to be successful, a football coach must be smart enough to have total command of all the sport's details and nuances, and dumb enough to think they're important."

Dick
Flavin

Once upon time, boys and girls, in the far-off football kingdom of Foxborough, there lived an all-powerful monarch. His name was King William the Grouch. King William ruled his subjects with an iron hand, and he was the master of all he surveyed. His success was due, in large part, to his army's field general, Prince Thomas the GOAT. For many years, they ruled the football world, with King William mapping out grand strategies to defeat all pretenders to the throne, and Prince Thomas implementing those plans to perfection on the field of battle.

Eventually, however, the two had a falling out. The king was convinced that the prince, who was the oldest general in the entire football world, was no longer young enough to do battle with his competitors, so Prince Thomas left the kingdom of Foxborough and fled to the principality of Tampa Bay. It is unclear whether he escaped by his own volition or was thrown into exile by the king. What is known is that the prince became a swashbuckling Buccaneer and, as such, presented a threat to King William's reign.

The king needed a replacement to serve as his general of the army. He chose Lord Cameron, known to one and all as The Lord of Fancy Hats. But a problem developed; once a week, Lord Cameron had to switch one of his custom-made hats for a helmet to do battle with the enemy and the helmet didn't seem to fit very well. It just didn't look as good on him as his other hats. As a result, he lost many battles and William the Grouch's kingdom began to shrink.

Tune into next week's episode of "As the Quarterback Turns" when we search for an answer to this burning question: If Lord Cameron is abandoned by William the Grouch, what will become of all those fancy hats he wears?

If equating the problems facing the New England Patriots with a combination fable and soap opera seems to trivialize them, one should keep in mind an observation of Lou Holtz, former head coach at Notre Dame and various other stops along the way. He famously said, "In order to be successful, a football coach must be smart enough to have total command of all the sport's details and nuances, and dumb enough to think they're important."

Of course, football is important for those whose profession it is; the same is true for all sports. For the rest of us, though, all it is -- or should be -- is entertainment. It's one thing to be caught up in the moment when it's third and five late in the fourth quarter of a tie game, but compared to the health of a loved one or the mortgage coming due at the end of the week, it doesn't matter a whole lot.

That being said, though, chances are that you remember how you felt just six months ago when, on June 29, the Patriots announced the signing of Cam Newton. Hope springs eternal, you probably thought, and the Patriots had hope for 2020. After all, Newton is football royalty; a former Heisman Trophy winner, former NFL Rookie of the Year, former MVP. What we didn't notice was that the one thing those honors all had in common was the word "former," which is another way of saying, "used to be," or maybe even "has-been."

Hope does spring eternal but in the NFL eternal means only until the next injury report.

It is a fact that Newton was a sensation when he broke into the league. Burdened by all the hype that went along with: winning the Heisman; leading Auburn to the national college championship; and being the number one overall draft pick in 2011, he did not disappoint. In his very first game with the Carolina Panthers, he became the first rookie in league history to pass for more than 400 yards (422) in his debut. He threw two touchdown passes and rushed for another. For the season, he set rookie records for yards gained passing (4,051), yards gained running by a quarterback (706), and for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).

For the next several seasons, it was all onward and upward for Newton and the Panthers. It culminated in 2015 when he was the runaway choice for MVP and the team went 15 and one in the regular season then went onto a Superbowl appearance (in which they were stymied by the Denver Broncos's defense, 24 to 10).

Then, the injuries began to pile up. A bad concussion in 2016; an operation on a torn rotator cuff early in 2017; another shoulder operation after the 2018 season, coupled with a broken foot. He missed all but two games of the '19 season while in recovery. While that was going on, the Panthers decided to put their future into the hands of a new, young quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Cam Newton, they decided, was damaged goods and therefore expendable. In March of this year, he was released. He is, after all, no kid, with 10 years in the league. But, to put things in perspective, he'd only been in the sixth grade in Westlake School in his hometown of Atlanta when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl.

Apparently a lot of other teams thought he was damaged goods, too, because Newton languished on the open market for three months with no bidders for his services. Finally, the Patriots, desperate for a quarterback, picked him up for short money -- $1.75 million, plus incentives.

He's turned out to be a great teammate, loved by both his fellow players and his coaches. He's been -- custom made hats and all -- accessible and cooperative with the media. But he hasn't been able to deliver on the field. Only five touchdowns with just two games left in the season just doesn't cut it. If you were the famously unsentimental Bill Belichick (aka King William the Grouch) would you have him back on the team next year?

And if not, what's to become of all those fancy hats?

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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