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Associated Press/Photo by Mark J. Terril

Cam can

Sports | Auburn's scandal-embroiled quarterback charged through tumult to title

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

Cam Newton is extraordinary. College football's sportswriters stated as much when they awarded him this past season's Heisman Trophy in a landslide vote. But the Auburn quarterback's on-field dominance tells only part of the story. Newton was not only brilliant as he carried the Tigers to an undefeated season and National Championship; he was brilliant amid scandal.

That ability to shut out media noise, public scrutiny, and NCAA investigations sets Newton a cut above most athletes in similar circumstances. The distraction of scandal has typically derailed sports stars in their championship hour. Not so Newton, who overcame swirling rumors of improper payment propositions to pass for 265 yards and two touchdowns and rush for another 64 yards in Auburn's thrilling 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS title game. Newton engineered a game-winning drive in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter that covered 73 yards and ended in a go-ahead field goal as time expired.

On the talk show circuit in the following days, Newton credited a throng of committed supporters for carrying him through tumult to title. Among that throng, his father Cecil remained a staunch defender of his son's innocence. NCAA investigators believe Cecil Newton attempted to shop his son to Mississippi State for a six-figure dollar amount. In an effort to avoid completely overshadowing his son's athletic accomplishments, Cecil Newton did not attend the Heisman Trophy award ceremony in New York last month and was reportedly not in attendance for the national title game-though post-game photos suggest otherwise.

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Very few athletes have emerged so rosy from a scandal-soaked championship moment. See below for a look at a few who have tried.

Tonya Harding

The Olympic figure skater drew heaps of public scorn and criminal inquiry in 1994 when her ex-­husband and bodyguard conspired to take out her toughest competition, hiring a man to whack skater Nancy Kerrigan in the knee. The attack prevented Kerrigan from skating in the U.S. championships, helping to secure Harding's place on the U.S. Olympic team. But subsequent revelations of Harding's knowledge of the attack pressed the U.S. Olympic Committee to seek her removal from the team. Through threat of litigation, Harding managed to preserve her spot, but the pressure of the scandal appeared too much to bear as she stumbled to an eighth-place finish at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer.

Eugene Robinson

On the day before Super Bowl XXXIII, the Atlanta Falcons defensive back received the Bart Starr award for "high moral character" from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But that same night on the way back to his hotel, Robinson was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. Though he was released in time for the game, the media frenzy surrounding the incident left Robinson shell-shocked. The Pro Bowl safety was beaten badly on an 80-yard touchdown pass and later missed a critical tackle as the Denver Broncos disposed of the Falcons 34-19.

Tiger Woods

Four months after revelations of rampant marital infidelity had destroyed his public image, the world's best golfer emerged from hiding to face the media and compete in the 2010 Masters Tournament. He surprised most analysts with a strong fourth-place finish. But the rosiness ended there. Woods failed to win a single event over the golf season for the first time in his career and relinquished his world No. 1 ranking in late October. His money list rank of 68th ended a stretch of 13 consecutive years in the top four.

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