Why did Cam Newton *actually* get benched by Ron Rivera?

In an NFL season filled with bizarre moments, plays and stories, the opening to the Panthers-Seahawks Sunday Night Football game might take the cake. Carolina took the opening kickoff and then, without any fanfare or notice, backup quarterback Derek Anderson walked onto the field for the opening series while a healthy Cam Newton stood on the sideline watching.

Coach Ron Rivera later revealed that he benched the reigning NFL MVP for the start of the game because of a dress-code violation, specifically for a failure to wear a tie. Whether Newton was benched for a single play or a single series was initially unknown — Anderson threw an interception on that first play and after a quick Seattle field goal, Carolina got the ball back again and Newton was back in his usual spot. (Rivera later revealed the suspension was for the first offensive series of the game.)

Ignoring the hilarity and irony of Cam Newton getting a dress-code violation — no, strike that, we can’t ignore it. Newton is, according to my Word Of The Day calendar, a Beau Brummell. (He was a 19th century “arbiter of British fashion” who became famous for his flashy duds.) For news conferences, Newton has dressed like Mr. Peanut wearing a T-shirt bought from the MOMA gift shop. He owns a camouflage tuxedo, ideal for blending into the dangerous environment of parties at The Plaza thrown by Anna Wintour. Newton has literally stuck a feather in his cap. Overall, he dresses like a 1950s traveling salesman who’s part of a barbershop quartet that exclusively performs songs from Fred Astaire movies. So the idea that he could get a dress-code violation from anything but the back page of Us Weekly is staggering.

(USA TODAY Sports Images)
(USA TODAY Sports Images)

But fedoras aside, the decision to bench Newton in a crucial, must-win game against one of the best teams in the NFC is remarkable. Token suspensions are for Steve Spurrier players in a bowl game (although when he benched Rex Grossman in the 2002 Orange Bowl for missing curfew, Spurrier sat his star for six series). They’re what schools impose on their basketball players to assuage the NCAA. In the pros it’s almost unheard of.

We’re never going to really know what led to the suspension. I buy that the tie was the catalyst but can’t believe it was anything but the proverbial straw that broke the riverboat’s back. In the next 48 hours we’ll get different explanations both on and off the record and from a whole bunch of sources from the front office,…