NEW YORK -- In this less-than-palatable Heisman race, some official or another failed to grasp the obvious when reserving space for Saturday's ceremony: The player some would call the best buy of 2010 humbly accepted the trophy in the Best Buy Theater Saturday night on Times Square.
Nearby Christmas shopping did not pause on Black (Humor) Saturday.
"I've put up my defense mechanism," Cam Newton said.
Maybe in the end, that's all Auburn's quarterback could do was hold out, er, throw up his hands and laugh. Here was a 21-year-old-kid-turning-man carrying the weight of a flesh-peddling dad, an opportunistic conference rival and the tawdry legacy left by a former winner. The 45-pound Heisman Trophy he won Saturday night was a feather in comparison.
Is Cam Newton guilty of anything? Everything? Watching that mega-watt smile on Saturday, it seemed that the scales shifted from skepticism toward legitimacy.
Perhaps comically so.
"My parents," Newton said during his acceptance speech, "do a lot of things behind the scenes that go unnoticed."
Yeah, about that Cam. You might want to rephrase. Suspiciously absent, of course, was the man who made it all, in one way or another, possible. Dad Cecil Newton elected not to come here saying he'd be a "distraction." The Atlanta-area pastor had already accomplished that much, don't you think? This year's race leapt off the sports pages into the national debate because Cecil reportedly solicited upwards of $200,000 for his son's services at Mississippi State. Then Cam reportedly told Bulldog recruiters that his dad had chosen Auburn for him because "the money was too much."
When asked specifically about that quote, Newton said Saturday, "It's very inaccurate right now."
One-hundred five of this year's 886 voters had enough doubt to leave Newton off their ballots. That's not an overwhelming number historically despite the posturing by some voters who cited the "integrity" portion of the Heisman's mission statement. Those who did vote for him were, as they say, at Auburn, "All In." Newton's 24 second-place votes were the fewest by a winner in approximately 40 years. You either loved or hated him.
It says something about the family structure that for the second straight year the Heisman winner's father was not present. The dad of last year's winner, Mark Ingram, remains in prison. Last year was a celebration with Ingram's mother, relatives and coach (Nick Saban) all mingling with reporters. On Saturday, Newton was escorted in and out of the post-ceremony press conference by a security detail of eight. No mother, no brothers, not even an appearance by Auburn coach Gene Chizik. How's that for a defense mechanism?
"When I embraced my mother [after the ceremony] I really didn't want to let go," Newton said. "It's been hard for me, but it's been extremely hard for her just to see what her son has been through. I wanted to hug her the whole night to make her feel at ease knowing it's over for this particular moment of our lives."
The future is another matter. While Newton packs up his Heisman for shipment home, Reggie Bush has promised to ship back his award. Bush said earlier this year that he would voluntarily return his 2005 trophy after USC suffered crippling NCAA penalties. Bush was found to have essentially competed while ineligible during that season. The BCS already is on record as saying it will vacate USC's 2004 title once the school's appeal of the penalties becomes final. In late August, the Football Writers Association of America vacated that '04 title and asked that its Grantland Rice Trophy from that year be returned.
Asked if he ever envisions having to return his trophy, Newton told a reporter, "Two letters for you, my friend, 'N-O.'"
The legitimacy of the Heisman winner, though, is in danger of becoming a year-to-year proposition.
On the biggest day of his athletic life, it couldn't be surprising that Newton was upstaged a couple of times. Earlier in the day, that same FWAA left him off their All-America team, clearly sending a message by picking two other quarterbacks -- Heisman fourth-place finisher Kellen Moore and Michigan's Denard Robinson.
The second man ever to throw and pass for 20 touchdowns each in a season then was reminded of his former teammate who did it first. Minutes before Newton accepted the award, former Florida teammate Tim Tebow Tweeted that Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had become the Gators new coach. The Sunshine State is where this sometimes tawdry episode began. Newton transferred from Florida after the 2008 season, according to Foxsports.com, at least in part because he faced possible charges of academic fraud.
If we can concentrate on football long enough, this was a magic night reflecting a magic season. There will be other Heisman winners, maybe even better football players although that's hard to believe after watching Cam for a season. Sadly, the ultimate take away from this barely month-old drama is Cecil's sick pimping of his son. That's one of the few things we know happened for sure in this case, or at least the NCAA told us so. Making it doubly insidious is Cecil Newton's title as pastor. He is, supposedly, a religious man.
Our country is filled with enough morally lapsed clerics and fraudulent TV evangelists. Cecil Newton's actions suggest he be added to that list of religious reprobates. To barter your own flesh and blood for money should make us all want to throw up in our mouths a little. If Cam didn't know about it, as he says he didn't, almost makes it worst. Bush and family had their hands out. Cecil Newton, it would seem, was acting as an independent contractor.
Mississippi State is not blameless. The timeline suggests it sat on this story for at least a month, until, suspiciously, Cam committed to Auburn. Where to begin laying blame in StarkVegas? There are three former Bulldog players who all basically claimed they were trying to protect their alma mater by reporting Cecil's solicitation. All that put Auburn in a full defensive posture these past few weeks. While that magic season played out, the school and its fans hoped it wasn't all ripped apart by a reawakening of a dark legacy. It is more than a coincidence that their school is No. 2 in both the coaches' poll (currently) and NCAA major violation cases (all-time).
In the end, the NCAA felt it had to do something three days before the SEC Championship Game. It declared Newton eligible because it had no choice. Basically, there is no bylaw to govern this unique case. Anything short of eligibility would have sent various lawyers into various bunkers for a legal battle from hell. The lead actors in this production -- the SEC, Auburn, NCAA, even the BCS -- didn't want that.
Chizik never wavered from setting that square jaw of his and steadfastly proclaiming publicly and privately that is quarterback was clean.
On Saturday, then, those scales had to tip in favor of Newton if only for a night. Legitimate winner? We can only hope the Best Buy remains a theater.