GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cam Newton walked onto the field, hours before the game, headphones on, rocking his head back and forth to an apparently delicious beat.
Then, he stopped suddenly and bent down. He touched the grass. It was a quick brush, as if he were saying: I'm here. It's real. This is it.
Newton arrived on the college football scene and his greatness was sealed with a Heisman Trophy. The national championship game against Oregon? It was more about redemption. It was personal.
Newton wasn't great in this game won by Auburn 22-19. No one was. Somewhere, TCU was shaking its head in disgust. The Horned Frogs could have taken either one of these teams. A supposed track meet never happened; instead, we got a wheelbarrow race. The Oregon offense, for most of the night, was physically outmatched. The Auburn defense was in full beast mode but gave up a late score.
Newton was error prone and sloppy at times, more War Beagle than War Eagle. He didn't look like the best player in the country.
But he won. He won. And this night was about him.
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Near the same spot where he reached for terra firma, after the game, as confetti fell around his head, and teammates danced nearby, Newton raised his hands high and smiled. He looked more relieved than ecstatic. He did a victory lap and went into the stands.
But it seems nothing comes easy to Newton. He seriously injured his lower back late in the game. As he left the field, he grabbed his lower back with his right hand and walked with a noticeable limp.
It's unknown how bad the injury is, but it didn't look good.
Initially, the Auburn staff wanted Newton to get the back X-rayed immediately, but Newton went to speak with the media first. Other players already were on the podium talking when Newton arrived. After taking a handful of questions, he went via cart to a different area of the stadium to have the back examined by medical personnel.
"I don't want [anyone] to feel sorry for me," he said, "because throughout this year [no one felt] sorry for Auburn. We got the last laugh."
His career -- and life -- will go down as one of the more interesting turnaround stories in college sports history. Because of a misguided father with an alleged hand out, Newton's life went under a microscope. There were the stories about his past, other unproven accusations, and he faced a nation of smirks. Since the SEC sometimes stands for Send Extra Cash, many assume Newton and his dad were in on the alleged con together.
The father was convicted by the NCAA. The son was found guilty by a public whose confidence in the integrity of the system has been stripped bare.
This isn't to portray Newton as a victim. We'll never know his entire role in the sordid affair. But his story, in many ways, is essentially American. The allegations. The comeback. The winner. The champion.
If Mike Vick or Eliot Spitzer or Bill Clinton or Ben Roethlisberger or Brett Favre or Tiger Woods can be resurrected, why can't Newton?
"We really appreciate Cam [for what] he went through the whole season and things that were being said about him," Auburn's Michael Dyer said. "He kept his head up and played great games. He kept us winning. He ran hard tonight. He came out there and he just played Auburn football. He is the Auburn man and we learned a lot.
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"Tonight, I kind of picked it up for him because I knew he was in pain and hurt and the frustration. But he still played. He didn't quit. He didn't have any reason. He [didn't] say, 'My back hurts so I couldn't do this or that.' He just said I'm going to suck it up and keep going and he kept fighting for us.
"Our whole town and nation, we really appreciate what Cam Newton does for us."
Newton finished 20 of 34 for 265 yards and two scores. He was intercepted once and was sacked twice. The Oregon defense was able to slow Newton and that Auburn offense.
In the game, you saw some of Newton's brilliance. Some throws were very accurate and his speed is incredible for a player so big. Newton looks like he could play power forward in the NBA. He ran around Oregon defenders. He also ran through them.
You also saw the weaknesses. He missed a wide-open receiver late in the game on a play that could have blown the contest wide open.
If Newton returns next season it would be a miracle, and he will leave as one of the more prolific players in SEC history. He became only the 14th player in NCAA history to win the Heisman and a national championship. He has a school-record 51 touchdowns.
He'll be remembered as a great player, a legendary player who found trouble, and escaped it.
In other words, typical American story.