After rallying Auburn to an epic 28-27 comeback victory against hated rival Alabama on Friday, Cameron Newton pranced around the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium with one hand over his mouth.
The scandal-scarred quarterback looked as if he had something to say after throwing three touchdown passes and running for a touchdown to lead his second-ranked team’s stunning comeback from a 24-0, second-quarter hole — the largest deficit Auburn has ever overcome to win. By re-lighting the Tigers’ flickering national-championship hopes, Newton burned his name into Iron Bowl lore in the 75th edition of this storied series.
But after Newton’s usual celebratory theatrics that included slapping high-fives with Tigers fans and blowing kisses to the crowd, he disappeared into his team’s locker room chased by several Auburn police officers who had tried to keep up with him after the game.
And with that, the smiling, fun-loving junior was gone for good and again silent, just like he’s been since Nov. 9, the last time he spoke publicly after the latest twist in what has become the biggest story of this college football season.
That was a day after it was revealed that he cheated academically three times while he attended Florida and faced potential expulsion from the university. It was less than a week after news surfaced that the NCAA is investigating allegations that a man sought $180,000 for Newton to attend Mississippi State.
Since then, the allegations have shifted to Newton’s father, Cecil Newton Sr., texting a Mississippi State booster and asking for $180,000 in three payments. The FBI has interviewed former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond about the matter.
But the Newtons have denied any wrongdoing and Auburn is so confident in its star quarterback that it continues to play him in what could be a BCS title run, despite the risk that his father might have violated NCAA rules if he indeed solicited money for his son.
Not that the Tigers haven’t taken chances before.
Remember, this is Auburn, which played loosely with the rules in the past, as evidenced by its seven major violations. So if everything is fine, why aren’t the Tigers making Newton available to the media, especially after his historic heroics Friday in which he essentially struck the Heisman pose for most voters?
“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” Auburn wide receiver Emory Blake said.
Give credit to Blake for at least being honest about Newton, who also completed 13 of 20 passes for 216 yards and ran for 39 yards against Alabama’s physical defense. His teammates are apparently in denial about Newton and why he’s not talking to the media.
“I don’t know what’s going on with that,” Auburn tailback Michael Dyer said.
“I have no idea about any of that stuff,” Auburn defensive lineman Zach Clayton said. “That’s between him and the coaches.”
So, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, what’s the reason for Newton’s silence?
“I don’t know,” Malzahn said. “You’d have to ask somebody else that. Don’t ask me.”
How about Kirk Sampson, Auburn’s assistant athletic director for media relations? He initially claimed to be the sacrificial lamb for Newton’s media absence and said it was his decision that Newton not talk.
He then backtracked and declared that he is only “part of the decision-making process.”
“I don’t know what the official explanation would be,” Sampson said.
So let’s get this straight: Only Blake knows why Newton isn’t talking to the media. That’s pretty impressive for a 19-year-old sophomore.
Regardless, it’s not like Newton will address his cheating at Florida or the pay-for-play allegations involving him if he ever does talk again while at Auburn. He hasn’t in the past, so why would he now?
But Newton’s silence is telling, fair or not, at least in the eyes of the rest of college football, which is watching him and Auburn’s every move with a Heisman Trophy and a national championship at stake.
It’s why many wouldn’t be bothered that Alabama students threw Monopoly money at Newton before the game and that there were signs that read, "War $cam Eagle Pay 2 Play."
How Newton handles the coming weeks will be interesting. It starts this next week with Auburn playing No. 18 South Carolina on Saturday in the SEC championship game. Does he break his silence then?
Or will he wait until the usually feel-good Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 11? It will be must-see television at the least because it’s broadcast by ESPN, whose website was one of the first to report on the Newton pay-for-play allegations.
And with all the controversy surrounding Newton, it’ll be tough to peddle his redemption story — how he’s blossomed since being arrested for buying a stolen laptop while at Florida. Just like it will be difficult for Auburn to endure more than a month of questions about him leading up to the BCS title game if it wins the SEC championship.
On second thought, maybe Newton ought to keep his hand over his mouth.