FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — There are a lot of things Cam Newton is feeling as he prepares to take the field Sunday to succeed Tom Brady as the Patriots’ starting quarterback.
Pressure isn’t one of them.
“That’s not pressure to me,” Newton said. “Pressure is when you’re looking at your children and you’re saying you’re 31 and you don’t know. You’re not ready to retire but nobody is calling your phone. That’s pressure. When you don’t have control of your destiny.”
That was the daily whirlwind the 2015 league MVP remembers being in after being released by the Panthers in March following back-to-back seasons marred by injuries.
“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’d be right now,” he said.
What is a big deal for him, though, will be becoming the first Black player in Patriots history to be the Week 1 starter at quarterback during a time when the country is having a wide-ranging discussion on race.
It was just four years ago that Jacoby Brissett became the first Black quarterback to start for New England in 2016. He started the second game of the season while Brady was serving his four-game suspension for his role in the “Deflategate” scandal. At the time only the Patriots and New York Giants hadn’t started a Black player at quarterback.
So it’s a milestone that isn’t lost on Newton as he prepares to play in his first NFL game since sitting out the final 14 games of the 2019 season with a foot injury.
A lot of eyes will be on him, including from his new teammates who will also be reveling in seeing Newton take the field.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said it’s a moment that not only has meaning for Newton but is something that could have an even greater impact on a generation of Black kids, including inside his own family.
“As soon as he signed I started thinking about things like that. I think about things like that all the time when I watch football,” McCourty said. “Different times where even (brother Jason McCourty’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 when you were in Pop Warner and things like that, a lot of kids had to be running backs or receivers.
“It was never thought of really to be a quarterback or if he was a quarterback. I feel like you were more told to run. To look up and not only Cam here but look at opening night tonight and (Patrick) Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, it’s special.”
Newton said he was once one of those Black kids who was inspired watching someone who looked like him play the position.
“Man, listen. And I say this proudly. When I grew up in Atlanta, Michael Vick was my hero. Still to this day, Michael Vick is my hero. I’m not too proud to say it,” Newton said. “Vince Young was my hero. 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, seeing those guys play, it’s the main reason I have this opportunity now.”
It’s why Newton says the journey to get to this point in many ways will make the football part of it easier.
“I just want to remind even myself that I’ve been here before,” he said. “This is my 10th season, so you talk about emotions, I’ve been playing in a lot of games in my life, a lot of opening days and a lot of first games of the year to a lot of impactful, meaningful games. At this particular point in my career I know how to control myself.”
That, and live in the moment.
“That’s my life’s motto,” he said. “Reward yourself but at the same time don’t be too hard on yourself that you can’t get to the next play, you can’t get to the next day and things like that, so it’s an ongoing process but yeah, I’ll be prepared.”
NOTE: The Patriots said that they have placed rookie OL Yodny Cajuste on injured reserve with a knee injury. Cajuste was drafted by New England in the third round (101st overall) of April’s draft out of West Virginia. He sat out practice all week.