Cam Newton is unapologetically different.
Bill Belichick is unapologetically…bland.
Their personalities are the complete antithesis of each other, but after a weird NFL free agency period, both men are left at a football crossroads. The idea of them as the NFL’s new Odd Couple could end being the best situation for both of them.
Newton is brash, flashy and audacious. His game-day outfits can make you wonder why anyone would allow him to come into a store with a debit card. And although years ago he revealed that how he wears his hair carries greater meaning, some people still aren’t fond of his style.
While you can question some of the trivial things about Newton, you can’t question his flashes of brilliance on the field. At his best, he transformed the way defenses had to gameplan for a quarterback. In his 2015 MVP season, he threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns while leading the Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 12 years.
He also added 636 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground while “dabbing” and “hittin’ dem folks” on his way to Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selections.
At a certain point, Newton was the leading representative of black culture in the league — even if he remained neutral on certain polarizing societal and political issues affecting black people.
Newton played with bravado and swagger. He had an edge rivaled by few in the league.
This style came with its own backlash, seemingly backed by the antiquated notion that an athlete—especially a black athlete—should stay humble (even meek), no matter his success, so as not to upset the status quo.
Belichick is obviously the complete opposite.
You’d be lucky to find an example of Belichick’s facial expression changing on the sideline.
He’s the same coach famously known for having the most mundane — and often condescending —press conferences in all of sports.
While Belichick undoubtedly has the best coaching resume in league history, the work culture he has created in Foxborough has left many former players resentful of his “No Fun League,” all-business atmosphere.
“They don’t have fun there,” new Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Cassius Marsh told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2018. “There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing happy about it. I didn’t enjoy any of my time there, you know what I’m saying? It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much.”
On the “Pardon My Take” podcast in 2018, Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson also sounded off Patriots culture.
“I just think that ‘The Patriot Way’ is a fear-based organization,” said Johnson. “Obviously, do they win? Hell yes, they win. They’ve won for a long time. Do I think people enjoy and can say, ‘I had a lot of fun playing there?’ No, I don’t. That’s just the God’s honest truth.”
Criticisms of Belichick’s coaching style aren’t only shared by players in the league. For many NFL observers, Belichick’s reign in New England represents a kind of establishment rule-of-law they resent.
Unlike Newton—who at his apex of relevance represented a fresh version of freedom and expression on the field—Belichick represents stale regulation and restriction.
The two are vastly different, but they have one huge similarity at this time in their respective careers.
Both have something to prove.
Belichick has the opportunity to show he was more integral to the Patriots dynasty than Tom Brady, by leading an injury-plagued Newton to the Promised Land and cement his legacy. For Newton, it’s a time to get back to what made him great earlier in his career and prove to the Panthers and the rest of the league that he can still be Superman.
There’s no question the two would have to adjust to one another. It’s hard to see Newton completely transforming the way he has played for close to a decade to fit The Patriots Way. And it’s almost impossible to see Belichick loosening his control over his milquetoast culture.
But it’s obvious they need each other.
And the inevitable culture clash that would follow might be just what the league needs.