AUBURN, Ala. — The TMZ cameras caught Peter Berg at an interesting moment. (www.camnewtonheisman.com)
The “Friday Night Lights” director, put delicately, appeared to be enjoying some night life in Hollywood recently when the paparazzi caught him on the sidewalk.
The subject turned to college football, and Berg, colorfully and somewhat slurred, encouraged the group to keep an eye on Auburn’s quarterback.
“Right now, I watch a dude, Cal What’s-His-Name.” he said emphatically and erroneously, adding to the video’s viral charm.
Yes, it seems like every college football fan is talking about Auburn quarterback Cal er Cam Newton these days.
And why not? Multiple publications have declared him the winner of the halfway Heisman, a fictional midseason pole position for the sport’s highest honor. Newton’s numbers suggest it isn’t a pipe dream that he could be the first Auburn player to take home that hardware since Bo Jackson in 1985.
In his first year with Auburn, Newton is already challenging school and SEC records. He leads the league in rushing with 862 yards, the only player other than Jackson in school history to rush for at least 170 yards in four games.
Newton is on pace to shatter the SEC’s single-season quarterback rushing record of 1,006 yards, set in 1963 by Auburn’s Jimmy Sidle, who was also the last quarterback to lead the league in rushing.
But Newton is a passer too. He is second in the SEC in pass efficiency and has accounted for 25 total touchdowns (13 passing, 12 rushing), which, with five regular-season games yet to play, is one shy of Pat Sullivan’s school record.
“No. 2 is one spectacular football player, and I am not one to go out on a limb, but everybody in the world sees it,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s not like I’m telling anybody anything new.”
No, but the hype is just starting to catch up to his production. Although Newton has sidestepped repeated questions about the Heisman — “You can throw that out the window,” he said recently — Auburn has subtly made a push for its star quarterback.
Newton participated in a first-of-its-kind Monday teleconference this week geared toward national media, repeating his redemption story on a broader platform.
ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports posted Internet articles that chronicled Newton’s untimely departure from Florida, re-branding at rural Blinn (Texas) Community College and reemergence at Auburn.
Auburn fans have joined in on the Newton push. Tri-colored signs have appeared at games with the Obama-like phrase “Yes We Cam” affixed to Newton’s smiling mugshot.
A fake Twitter account — @CameronNewton — touting hyperbolic “facts” about the quarterback has risen in popularity, mirroring the Chuck Norris Internet meme. (Did you know as a child, Superman was asked who he wanted to be when he grows up and he said “Cameron Newton”?)
Mainstream media aren’t immune to putting Newton in a different class. ESPN’s Joe Schad tweeted during the Arkansas game that the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton “looks like the kid parents complain is too big to be the same age.”
Even coaches are flummoxed at how to stop him. LSU’s Les Miles suggested invisible 12th defenders.
“If I could have a spy no one could see, a guy on the field that didn’t count, that would be a great answer,” he said.
Newton has evoked all sorts of comparisons, from Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor to former Texas standout Vince Young to his one-time mentor at Florida, Tim Tebow.
It’s the final one Newton likes the most. Like Tebow, Newton has a palpable connection with the crowd.
After beating Arkansas, Newton finished a TV interview and bounded toward the sideline and the remaining Jordan-Hare Stadium faithful, waving a white towel while standing on the brick wall surrounding the field.
“That’s just something that you give and you get,” Newton said. “You feed the crowd, and the crowd gives you this type of energy that gives you the ability to feel like you can do anything.”
So far, it seems like he can.