|Newton found himself under pressure from the AFC defense in Hawaii. (US Presswire)|
The intensity immediately caught my eye. Pro Bowls aren't known for rushing the passer or trying to get the quarterback down -- especially not the 2012 version -- but there was no denying that the AFC players went hard after Carolina quarterback Cam Newton late in last year's game.
The only sack of the game came against Newton, as did most of the pressure. All the other quarterbacks sat back, no intensity with the pass rush, and completed pass after pass. Players did the tap-and-stand moves on the line with the other five quarterbacks in the game.
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Newton was rushed. Why?
Was there a reason for this? Was this like Michael Jordan's first NBA All-Star Game when guys like Isaiah Thomas froze him out? Newton, after all, was a big-time rookie fresh off a record-breaking season.
I mentioned that theory to Newton this summer.
"It is what it is," he said, barely looking up from the stool in front of his locker.
Curiosity got the best of me. So, after polling players who were there over the past several months, I now know why Newton had to deal with that type of heat -- including being slung down in the third quarter by Antonio Smith of the Texans after one pass and being sacked on a hard spin rush by Denver's Von Miller.
The reason: Newton dissed some of his brethren at the Pro Bowl.
According to several players in the game, some from both teams, Newton's standoffish, diva ways made him enemy No. 1 in the eyes of some of the players.
"He was a total ----hole," one AFC player said. "Who did he think he was? He acted like the big s---. Here he was at his first game and he acted like he was the star. Guys didn't like that."
The Pro Bowl is a laid-back game, one for relaxing, spending time with your peers and unwinding after a tough season. The resort where players are housed is for them and their families only to prevent fan interference.
So when Newton turned down one player's request for an autograph and a picture for his kids at a function, it angered the player.
"Who the hell did he think they were?" said one player. "The only people around are families. He knew that. Yet he big-timed the guy by saying 'now's not the time.'"
That player said Newton did the unthinkable and even dissed Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
"That's the godfather there," one player said. "Can you believe he did that?"
Said another player: "It didn't matter who it was, he didn't care about anybody but himself."
Lewis denied that he was dissed when asked through Ravens PR man Kevin Byrne, but other players confirmed that it happened. A handful of other league sources confirmed that Newton was aloof and isolated much of the week in Hawaii.
That's fine, but the perception of some of his peers is that he crossed the line between being shy and being a prima donna. That led to some of the defensive players on the AFC team going a lot harder when Newton came into the game.
The tape showed that. Not only did Smith throw him down and Miller sack him but others seemed to amp their intensity up when Newton was taking the snaps. Miller also threw him for a loss on a designed run for Newton. It appeared Richard Seymour and Geno Atkins also played harder and faster when he was in the game.
It wasn't a rookie thing either. When Cincinnati's Andy Dalton played the second half for the AFC, there was no elevation of the intensity for the NFC defensive line.
Some league personnel who have watched the tape noticed the same things I saw as it related to Newton.
Through a team spokesman, Newton declined to comment for this story.
"Look, it was his first Pro Bowl, so he should have come and acted humble," one AFC player said. "But he didn't. He acted like he was better than us."
"Cam's in his own world," one NFC player said. "He's a young guy and learning, but he better change. They started rushing him. We were like, 'what are they doing? This is the Pro Bowl.' They didn't attempt that with the other guys. They went after him. He better learn soon. You don't want to go out there and get hurt at the Pro Bowl."
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