Does Cam Newton have to want greatness?

Cam Newton may have enough natural ability to be successful in the NFL if he puts in the work. Bob Donnan/US Presswire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Every time the question came, I silently rooted for Cam Newton to have some fun.

It’s gallows humor, but the question is getting old.

“Do you want to be great?’’ the new quarterback of the Carolina Panthers was asked in about seven different forms during a 20-minute introductory news conference at Bank of America Stadium on Friday afternoon.

It’s a question Newton was repeatedly asked Thursday night, and in the weeks and months leading up to the draft.

I’ll tell you what would have been great. Newton should have said something like, “No, I really have no desire to be great. In fact, I’m shooting for mediocrity. I’m thinking I’d like to be some sort of combination of JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and David Carr. Heck, I think I could be worse than any of them.’’

None of that happened. Instead, Newton said all the right things.

"I'm saying it right now: I'm trying to be the best," Newton said. "I strive to be great."

Good answer, but I still think the question is borderline ridiculous. Does anybody really aspire to mediocrity and what does a “desire to be great’’ really mean?

Does it mean Newton’s got to spend the rest of his life in the film room at Bank of America Stadium except to come out to practice and play in games? Does he need to eat, drink and sleep football to achieve greatness?

I don’t think that’s really necessary. I think if Newton simply works reasonably hard at his craft, he’ll be just fine. The knock by a lot of media members and some anonymous sources as he went through the draft process was that Newton might not totally dedicate himself to the game.

Well, guess what? Everywhere he’s been -- high school, junior college and college -- he’s done enough to be great.

Yeah, you hear stories about some big-name NFL quarterbacks who spend massive hours watching film and do nothing but work out in their free time. Some of those stories are true and some might be a little inflated.

And sometimes being too driven can be counter-productive. I've been around a few intensely-driven people in my life (a baseball teammate in high school and a couple guys in my current business). They went around beating their chests, telling you they were great and telling anyone who would listen how they worked harder than anybody, even though that wasn’t really true. The reality is none of those people were great at what they did. Even with all their effort, they were only good and they never really made it big.

The high school baseball teammate came with the ultimate Little League father, always pushing, but ultimately burning out his son, physically and mentally, for life. Call it the Marv/Todd Marinovich system.

Heck, I think Newton comes with less concerns in this area than Jimmy Clausen, the quarterback the Panthers selected in the second round last year. Clausen seemingly has been groomed for greatness all is life, but I don’t think you can say he truly has achieved that.

Newton talked a lot about how he plans to put in the work in the NFL and that’s great. But he admits it will be a process.

"I understand it's not something that's going to be instant, like instant grits," Newton said. "It's more like collard greens. You've got to let it sit and wait. But at the same time it's going to be a fun process. I know that."

Newton has physical talents as good or perhaps better than any quarterback ever has come into the league with. I think that’s the most important thing to start with. No matter how much heart and desire you have, you’re not going to achieve greatness if you don’t have the physical tools.

Newton doesn’t need to go around telling the world he’s great or wants to be great. It’s a lot more simple than that.

All he has to do is go out and put in a reasonable amount of work, expend a reasonable amount of effort, have some fun, use his natural ability and it just might be easy for him to be great.