Ever seen a cow close-up?


Beginning Monday, I will devote several days to answering your questions. I hope it will be fun. However, I’m going to finish out this week with a topic I’ve been avoiding: football, Cam Newton and Auburn University, my alma mater. I have avoided this, because you already know that while I decry the inflated importance of college football in the cable-television era I seem powerless to resist what Keith Jackson used to call “the color and the pageantry,” particularly as it relates to that grand ol’ football factory where I came of age. Anything I might say could rightly be discounted as the bias of a “homer.”

Besides, my related opinions have been in the record for years, both in the blog and in the comic strip. I often have ranked on the hypocrisy of the NCAA and have pointedly criticized Auburn’s drift toward an athletic department with a vestigial university attached. Other than tired old rants, I felt I had nothing to add. However, this week, in The Opelika-Auburn News, the daily newspaper where I began my own career as a reporter fresh out of college, there appeared two stories that you probably have not seen. Together, they illuminate a larger picture and illustrate my ambivalence about the whole situation.

Auburn’s offensive coordinator is a respected individual named Gus Malzahn. Since his recent arrival at Auburn, Mr. Malzahn has worked to create a highly innovative and complex offensive scheme. (Bear with me; I’m going to try and keep the ESPN boilerplate to a minimum here.) After a season or so of mixed reviews, that system bore fruit this year in spectacular fashion. The Tigers will be playing the University of Oregon Jan. 10, for the title of “national champion.” To keep Mr. Malzahn from jumping ship for any one of a number of attractive job offers, Auburn this week increased his salary to over $1,000,000 a year, making him one of the highest paid assistant coaches in the nation. It is not my purpose here to criticize Mr. Malzahn for taking advantage of his opportunities. However, it is an acknowledged fact that his offense would not be nearly so successful without the talents of a certain junior-college transfer named Cameron Newton.

Cam has not done so badly either. You may have seen him on The (Nissan) Heisman Trophy Awards Show Saturday evening. He won. Or you may have seen him on David Letterman Monday night, where he read “The Top Ten Things Cam Newton Can Say Now That He Won The Heisman Trophy.” Oh, yes, Cam has become quite famous.

The other story in the The O-A News (as we insiders call it) detailed the compensation Mr. Newton received for appearing on Mr. Letterman’s show. He was given a check for $200. NCAA regulations forbid him to take the money, of course, but he could donate it to the charity of his choice. Mr. Newton gave the money to Wrights Mill Road Elementary School, where he has been a volunteer mentor of “at-risk” children since the summer, when he walked in unbidden, offering his time and saying his dream was to some day open a day-care center. Now if you were to read this sort of thing on the Internet (kind of like you’re doing now), you wouldn’t believe it, but from everything I know it’s true.

All during this eventful season, Mr. Newton has shown up once a week at the school to encourage and befriend the children who need it most. I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, but if you think of Mr. Newton as a recalcitrant thug who is flaunting the rules of civilized sport for his own advantage, I think you’d be mostly wrong.

I have already failed. I had intended to wrap up this entire topic with a crisp, concise post. It’s been anything but crisp, and it’s gone on far too long. I am going to finish with a special Saturday post, wherein I’ll address some of the less-than-flattering publicity Mr. Newton has received.