By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots handing the quarterbacking reins over to Cam Newton is, quite obviously, a significant step in franchise history. No team has ever been in the position to move on from a 20-year quarterback with six Super Bowl titles, three more Super Bowl appearances, and an unprecedented run of dominance atop the NFL.
Yet beyond just the Tom Brady factor, the first offensive snap of the season going into Cam Newton’s hands is significant because it will mark the very first time in Patriots franchise history that the Week 1 starting quarterback is Black. In fact, Newton will become just the second Black quarterback to ever start a game in Patriots franchise history. (Jacoby Brissett was the first, starting games in Weeks 3 and 4 in 2016.)
Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty said he’s excited to see this moment, as it was one of the first things that crossed his mind when the team signed the veteran quarterback.
“I mean, I think it’s awesome,” McCourty said. “As soon as he signed, I started thinking about things like that, and I think about things like that all the time when I watch football. And different times, with [twin brother Jason’s] son, he’s 4 now. And he looks at different quarterbacks and sees things, or I think of other young Black kids and growing up with the mindset of like, when you were in Pop Warner and things like that, a lot of kids had to be running backs or receivers. You were never thought of really to be a quarterback. Or if you were a quarterback, I feel like you were more told to run.”
Newton was asked about his new place in Patriots history, and he did not downplay its significance.
“Yeah, it’s a big deal. It’s really a big deal,” Newton said. “I understand who I am. I understand being an African-American in this time, today, we have to be stronger and more — you know, sticking with each other more than ever now. And yet this is a great feat to achieve. But yeah, at the end of the day, we’ve gotta make sure we’re using our platform for positive reasons, and that’s what I want to do. I want to prove to people that there’s more to a person than just what you see on the outer level. I’m a person who got second and third and fourth chances in my life, and yet through it all it should always be about what that person’s about, not how or what that person looks like. And as long as I have this opportunity to impact and empower the community — whether it’s the Black community, whether it’s the white community, whether it’s the, it doesn’t matter what community it may be — I just want to do my part as a good Samaritan on earth.”
Newton will hardly be the only Black starting quarterback in Week 1 around the NFL. The opening night game features Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson at QB for Kansas City and Houston, respectively. Lamar Jackson of the Ravens is the reigning NFL MVP. Dak Prescott will be starting his fifth season as Dallas’ No. 1 QB. Russell Wilson is a perennial MVP candidate for the Seahawks. Kyler Murray was the No. 1 overall pick for the Cardinals in 2019.
It wasn’t always that way, though, and Newton reflected on what it was like growing up in Atlanta and having Michael Vick as someone to try to emulate on the football field.
“Man, listen,” Newton said. “And I say this proud, like, extremely proud. When I grew up in Atlanta, Michael Vick was my hero. Still to this day, Michael Vick is my hero. Right? I’m not too proud to say it. Vince Young was my hero. Right? Randall Cunningham was a person that I knew, I didn’t get to really see him play growing up, but those types of athletes — Donovan McNabb, African-American quarterbacks. Like seeing those guys play, it’s the main reason why I have this opportunity right now. Daunte Culpepper, a lot of them. I don’t want to not mention people who did the right thing.
“But when I look at myself right now, there’s so much that I have to do in a sense, right? And not only just to protect our community, but more or less, as a father. My kids just came here in town today so I’m even more excited just to live up to their expectations. Yeah, they’re not at an age right now where their expectations are high or they know who their dad is or what their dad does. It’s more or less sooner or later when they get to that age and they’re well-hip to understanding who your dad is and how he did certain things. I want them to know I did it the right way, I was myself throughout this whole time, I did right by people, I was good to people, I was a respectful young man. And through it all I think I just love that and want to make the most of it. I know I just keep saying that, but I can’t stress it enough.”
McCourty shared his excitement for being a part of this moment, giving credit to the many Black men who paved the way for the current generation.
“I think it’s an honor,” MccCourty said. “It’s something that none of us should take lightly, because of the history of our country and different things that have happened — whether it’s Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell. All of those different men who were in front of us — you know, Jim Brown — who have set great examples, have really paved the way for you guys to report on something like that or for me to be in a game that involves that has really been set in front us by the men who have traveled this path and have really done all of the hard work. And I think it’s cool for us to reap some of those benefits and still try to push different things forward.”
"Through it all, it should always be about what that person is about, not what that person looks like." pic.twitter.com/FHod5I8OAY
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 11, 2020
Newton has spoken multiple times this summer about prejudices he’s faced throughout his life and throughout his career. He’s stated he has set out to just be himself and let that change people’s minds, and he’s grateful to have landed in such a high-profile spot after an offseason where it seemed like nobody wanted him.
“And this is coming from a person like listen, like two or three months ago I was questioning a lot of things. So right now, as I’m looking at the Gillette [logo] and the iconic logo for the Patriots like … how can I lose? You know what I’m saying?” Newton said. “I was at my house just working out every single day, just for a moment. And God’s put me in this position that I will not take for granted. I prayed countless nights, I meditated countless days, I had so much counsel from my supporting cast, from friends, family, loved ones, that just were like, ‘Man, keep going, keep going.’ I couldn’t go to the grocery store, I couldn’t pick my kids up from their daycare without people saying something.
“And yet now, and just to answer a question I was previously asked, you’re talking about pressure? That’s not pressure to me. Pressure is when you’re looking at your children and you’re saying you’re 31 [years old] and you don’t know – like, you’re not ready to retire but nobody is calling your phone,” Newton continued. “That’s pressure — when you don’t have control of your destiny. So for me, I’m elated, I’m excited, I’m all that and a bag of chips because I knew that if God didn’t show favor over me, man, who knows where I would be right now? And yet through it all, I’m going to smile through it because I’m going to love this whole moment.”
Newton made it more than clear that despite his strong sense of confidence on and off the field, he remains grateful for what he considers his “fourth chance.” It’s not one that he’s looking to squander.
“I just got rewarded another chance and I’ve got to do right by it,” he said. “So yeah, I’ve got to do right by this opportunity, I’ve got to do right by my community, I’ve got to do right by my children, I’ve got to do right by the Black man that sees me that I’ll never meet. But I’ve also got to do right by the white man that sees me that I’ll never meet, too, but looks up to me and thinks so highly of me. So throughout it all, man, that’s me, and I’m going to make the most of it.”