By Mark Schiff
As the Bud Light advertising blitz will gladly remind you, every Super Bowl has its story. The Panthers lost in crazy fashion in their previous Super Bowl against the Patriots, while the Broncos’ Super Bowl history is marked by Hall of Famer Terrell Davis lifting the team to victory, John Elway going out in a blaze of glory and five other games that ended in deep embarrassment and misery.
We’re still almost two weeks out until Super Bowl 50, but the story lines that will define the Super Bowl are beginning to take shape. Here’s an early look at the narratives surrounding the biggest sporting event of the year.
Will Peyton Manning go out on top or will Cam Newton take the torch?
Win or lose, almost everyone believes that Super Bowl 50 will be Peyton Manning’s last NFL game. Manning is indisputably one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, but his playoff history is checkered. Having pulled back up to .500 with his win over Tom Brady in the AFC Championship, Manning is now 13-13 in the postseason, and a career-ending victory over the Panthers would soften one of the only blights on his resume (consider how a 1-3 record record in the Super Bowl would look, compared to 2-2).
On the other sideline, Panthers quarterback and presumptive MVP Cam Newton looks ready to assume Manning’s mantle as NFL royalty. By the end of his first season, Newton had already led two college teams to National Championships, won a Heisman and picked up a Rookie of the Year award. But it wasn’t until this year (or even the second half of this year) that he fully put his talents together and delivered on the promise of the mobile, athletic NFL quarterback. And if Cam can win an MVP and a Super Bowl in the same year (something that hasn’t been done since Kurt Warner’s breakout 1999 season), Newton would assume his place in the ranks of football’s all-time greats, all before his 27th birthday.
How will Wade Phillips try to stop Cam?
Denver’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been instrumental in the team’s success this season, and the game he called on Sunday was absolutely brilliant, as the Broncos were able to flummox the Patriots precisely because they laid off the blitz. Bill Belichick, possibly the greatest NFL coach ever, was baffled.
Cam Newton provides an entirely different set of challenges for the coaching staff than Brady. Newton’s mobility will force extra players in the box (something Denver didn’t have to do against the run-averse Patriots), but his threat to throw it (and accurately) makes him a matchup nightmare. The on-field showdown between the NFL’s best defensive unit and its best player is one of the most compelling aspects of the Super Bowl.
This one’s for Pat
Should the Broncos come out on top in the big game, we already know what Denver general manager John Elway is going to say on the podium. Since buying the team prior to the 1984 season, Pat Bowlen has been among the best owners in all of sports, something all Broncos supporters should be grateful for as the team heads to its seventh Super Bowl under his stewardship. With Alzheimer’s disease forcing Bowlen to cede control of the Broncos to President and CEO Joe Ellis in the summer of 2014, Denver’s fans and players will undoubtedly be keeping him in their thoughts over the next two weeks. The fact that Denver is again competing for a championship, even with the restructuring, is just another mark of Bowlen’s excellence.
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.