Friday, November 29, 2013
Don't mention the 'A' word around Newton
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton refers to the University of Alabama as that "other school'' or that "particular school,'' among other things.
He won't use the "A'' word no matter how hard you try to entice him -- unless, that is, he's using it to name the state where his beloved Auburn resides.
But if the top-ranked Crimson Tide (11-0) defeats the No. 4 Tigers (10-1) in Saturday's 78th renewal of the "Iron Bowl,'' Newton will be donning Bama colors for arguably the most uncomfortable picture of his football career.
"I told him if Alabama does win, I'm going to bring up my national championship jersey and all of the [national championship] rings and he's got to take a picture wearing all of it,'' said Panthers rookie safety Robert Lester, who won three titles at Alabama.
Panthers teammates Cam Newton and Robert Lester faced off against each other in the 2010 Iron Bowl, with Newton's Tigers coming back to beat Lester's Crimson Tide.
Of course, if Auburn wins, Lester will have to wear Newton's 2010 national championship jersey and ring for a snapshot.
It's rivalry week in college football, and that means the school pride comes out in NFL locker rooms more than ever. It makes for one of the more entertaining weeks of the year as players make wagers -- although Newton insists he doesn't gamble.
Newton and Lester are looking for a year's worth of bragging rights just like those that will be playing in the big game at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"It's going to be a great game, and the best team will win,'' said Newton, which only means Auburn in his world. "And don't be surprised. It [won't be] a fluke. There's no such thing as flukes.''
Don't tell that to Lester. He won the "Iron Bowl'' three times, his only loss coming in 2010 with Newton as the opposing quarterback. He doesn't hesitate to call that a fluke, reminding Auburn was down 24-0 in the first half before Alabama "gave it away.''
That game is referred to by some as the "Cam-back'' because Newton rallied Auburn to a 28-27 victory with three passing touchdowns and one rushing. The Tigers, ranked No. 1 at the time, went on to complete an undefeated season and win the national title against Oregon.
"He was bragging about winning the national championship, and I was like, 'You know, Cam. We basically gave it to you,' '' Lester said with a smile. "That's the only year we didn't win it. He didn't like that too much.
"But it's the truth. We won it three times and he won it once.''
Lester doesn't hesitate using that this week or any time Newton brags about Auburn. He also doesn't hesitate to bring out a picture a fan sent of him tackling Newton in the 2010 game.
"When he was in college, it was unheard of for a safety to be able to tackle him by himself,'' Lester said. "Anytime I get [ribbing], I bring it up here and show it to him. Whenever we got our rings from last year, I brought it up and showed it to him.''
Newton only played one year at Auburn, but that's all it took for him to realize how big the "Iron Bowl'' is. Bama fans know how big Newton was in the rival game because that is the only time in the last five years the Crimson Tide has lost it.
Since Newton left, Auburn has lost 42-14 (2011) and 49-0 (2012).
That doesn't stop Newton from whispering "War Eagles'' almost every time he passes Lester in the locker room or on the practice field.
"It's been going on year around,'' Lester said. "I think I was the first Alabama guy to be here, and he was waiting on me to give me crap about it.''
Don't look for Newton and Lester to watch the game together.
"I don't think he wants to watch the game with me,'' Lester said. "I talk a lot of crap.''
Newton actually is outnumbered by former Bama players. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula quarterbacked the Crimson Tide from 1984-86 and was Alabama's head coach from 2003-2006. He was 2-1 in the "Iron Bowl'' as a player, 0-4 as a coach.
He was fired one week after his fourth "Iron Bowl'' loss, which might explain why he doesn't get into the rivalry week like Newton and Lester.
"I've moved on,'' Shula said.
Newton and Lester haven't.
"Every time he walks by me saying 'War Eagles,' I definitely have to respond back with 'Roll Tide!' '' Lester said. "He brags about his one [win], and I tell him to calm it down because I've got three.''