By CAM HUFFMAN for the Daily Telegraph
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Doctors have sidelined Robert Griffin III, canceling his trip to Beckley to serve as the guest speaker at the annual tip-off banquet for the Big Atlantic Classic. But tournament director Jim Justice has found a capable backup plan.
Coming in Griffin’s place — and joining a list of past speakers like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Terry Bradshaw, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Tebow, who have come to Beckley to talk with fans at the Big Atlantic Classic — will be Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
“We fell off a cliff there, but our farm manager in South Carolina came up with Cam, and we were able to get him,” Justice said Monday night. “He’s just a superstar beyond belief, so that’s really special.”
The announcement of RG3 as the speaker earlier this month created plenty of buzz throughout the state, and after talking to his close friend Dr. James Andrews, who performed Griffin’s recent knee surgery, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and, of course, Griffin himself, Justice was confident that the surgery would not keep one of the NFL’s most unique figures from making the trip to the Mountain State.
But two weeks into the rehab, Andrews decided it was a risk he didn’t want his patient to take.
“He’s doing good,” said Justice. “It’s not like he’s had a major setback. But he had both knees operated on, he’s on crutches, he’s two weeks into the rehab, and with so much to gain, and so much potentially to lose, they’re just afraid to put him on a plane because of blood clots and all of that.”
So with Griffin out of the picture, Justice and Andrews quickly started tossing around possible names as a replacement.
“Jimmy Andrews is my great buddy, and a great doctor,” said Justice. “He’s a superstar of superstars, and he just wouldn’t let me down.”
Another former Redskin quarterback, Joe Theismann, volunteered to fill the spot, but he had spoken at the Big Atlantic Classic before, and Justice wanted to find somebody who would be new to the crowd. He was also hopeful he could come up with an athlete who, like RG3, would appeal to a young crowd. So when Newton’s name came to the surface, the group made an all-out push to land him.
With help from Andrews and Auburn associate athletic director Tim Jackson, the Big Atlantic Classic was able to get a commitment from Newton, whom Justice said was back at Auburn, where he won a Heisman Trophy and a national title, working to finish his degree.
The similarities between Griffin and Newton are staggering.
Both won the Heisman Trophy — Newton in 2010 and Griffin in 2011 — both are young star quarterbacks in the NFL and both play on a team that has plenty of followers throughout West Virginia — Griffin in Washington, D.C., and Newton in Charlotte, N.C.
“RG3 obviously would have been great,” said Justice. “And we tried with everything we had. But it just didn’t work out.
“Cam is also a great superstar, and going back to get his degree after his second year in the NFL is admirable.”
Newton, who led Auburn to the 2011 BCS Championship, before becoming the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, was named the NFL Rookie of the Year by both Pepsi and The Sporting News in 2011 and made a trip to the Pro Bowl after setting a record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14.
In two NFL seasons, the Atlanta native has thrown for 7,920 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 1,447 yards and 22 more scores.
Newton’s appearance will be Sunday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. Dinner will begin at 12:30 p.m., with the program involving Newton beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets for the dinner and the speaker are $40, and balcony seating for those who just want to hear the speaker will be sold for $7.50 for adults and $2.50 for students. The doors will open at 1 p.m. for those ticket holders.
Tickets can be purchased at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, online at www.beckleyconventioncenter.com or by calling 1-888-695-0888.
Justice said he hopes most who have already purchased tickets will want to come out and see Newton, but there is a refund plan in place for those who don’t.
“This was beyond our control, but anybody that wants a ticket refund for whatever reason, we absolutely want them to come to the (Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center) and we’ll refund all their money,” said Justice. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”
— E-mail: chuffman@