Sunday, February 7, 2016

Super Bowl 50: The Fairy Tale vs. Destiny

The final game of the NFL season is just about here. It's Super Bowl 50, and just like a library- we aren't short of any narratives.

It's the Denver Broncos versus the Carolina Panthers.

The league's best offense led by the NFL MVP against a top ten Denver defense.

A record-setting legendary quarterback in what could be his last stand at championship greatness against a top ten Carolina defense.

Let all the dust settle, and the story that sticks is simple: fairy tale versus destiny.

Manning came to Denver in 2012 already a legend. Some doubted his arm strength at the time, and worried about his missed year due to neck surgery. The shadow of John Elway not only loomed because of number seven's two Super Bowl wins,but also because Elway is the general manager of the Broncos. While Manning stepped in right away and was a heartbeat away from taking his Broncos to the Super Bowl that year, the window for another ring was closing.

The next year saw Manning go one game farther, but come up short in a 43-8 blowout few expected when the league's best offense (Denver) faced the league's top defense (Seattle).

That had to be it, right? Not so fast. The next season saw Manning toss 39 scores with a very potent offense. But he came up short again to the his successor in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck.

Now in a roller coaster of a season, number eighteen isn't a sure thing like he once was. Numbness and an arm affected by injuries plague Manning, causing him to miss half the season. Brock Osweiler stepped in admirably and looks like the team's future. But while Manning may be looked at in general as a relic of sorts and a shell of his former self, he is Denver's present. For how long remains to be seen. Manning's football IQ is still there, and that along with the team's defense is what has gotten Denver so far. The team's path has been as certain or guaranteed  like previous seasons under Peyton, which gives them more of an underdog feel. Having him win one last Super Bowl on his last legs similar to Elway would be impressive and only add to his legacy. Riding off into the Denver sunset with the Super Bowl trophy would truly be a fairy tale, and even a pipe dream to some.

On the flip side, the Newton-led Panthers seem to be destined for greatness, but not right away. To have the regular season at 15-1 they did, and an MVP for number one and NOT win the Super Bowl would be seen as coming up short. There is no consolidation for not finishing strong after starting off so hot.

Don't like seeing this? Then stop him from scoring.

The franchise hasn't been to a Super Bowl since their loss in 2003 when Jake Delhomme was behind center. Even that appearance seemed more like a fluke more than anything. The 2015-16 Panthers definitely belong.

Coming into the season, expectations weren't too lofty for Carolina. The division was poised to be Atlanta's, even before Kelvin Benjamin was lost to injury. A sub-.500 record seemed par for the course, and anything more than that would be overachieving. Newton responded to the adversity by putting the team on his back offensively, making his teammates around him even better than previously thought. 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing) along with 4,473 yards offensively launched Carolina into the league's elite. People would wait until they lost that first game. As each week passed and the Panthers kept proving people wrong, they turned from overachievers to achievers of greatness.

That first loss would come to Atlanta on December 20th (20-13). It wasn't only surprising but dumbfounding. If Carolina does win the Super Bowl, their only blemish will have been to the 2015-2016 Atlanta Falcons?! That hurts me, and I'm not even a Carolina fan.

While the two signal-callers don't literally face each other, the symbolism is there. The two quarterbacks' styles and paths may differ, there is one narrative not present: good versus evil.

 "Let's quit it with all the 'black quarterback' talk."

Both Manning and Newton come off as strong presences, whether on the field or behind a microphone. Both have their share of endorsements. Newton has "the dab". Manning has, cute celebration. Some may frown on Newton's celebrating and view them as antics, but there is nothing wrong with them.

Football is a game engulfed in raw emotion. Some celebrations may be deemed excessive at times, while others are just letting loose after a great play. Long gone are the days of planned celebrations from Joe Horn and Terrell Owens. Hell, even something as simple as Antonio Brown humping a goal post drew a fine from Goodell and company.

But Newton's dance moves have been on full display this season, mainly because of how often he has reached the endzone. The former Auburn field general has made defenses full of talented, grown men look inferior. The first thing you hear when players get to the NFL is how fast it is. How scrambling quarterbacks like Michael Vick, Tyrod Taylor, RG3 and a handful of others have to adjust to the speed of the game. Newton used not only his speed, but his smarts and his arm to befuddle defenses week in and week out.

Bent out of shape over "Lights, Cameron, Action"? Then stop him. He's challenging defenses constantly. And if watching him have fun and enjoy the moment hurts defenses and fans of those teams so much, it's more an indictment on their level of play than it is on Cam's character.

And while we're at it, let's quit it with all the "black quarterback" talk. Yes, Cam Newton is black. But while you can celebrate his culture and what he stands for, he shouldn't be relegated to being known only as a "black quarterback". He's simply a quarterback, and a great one at that. The media's obsession over it is mind-numbingly stupid. How do you get rid of race discussions?

Stop talking about it. 

There's so much to love about this matchup. To focus on trivial things takes away from that.

Super Bowl 50 will come down to two things: the pressure Carolina's defense puts on Manning, and how Denver's defense adjusts to Newton. If Manning gets time and his receivers get open, it will be competitive. If he doesn't get protection, eighteen will be in for a long day and remind everyone about the Seattle disaster from two seasons ago. But even if Manning struggles, the "abort" button won't be easily accessible. Pulling the parachute on one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in what may be his last chance at winning the pinnacle of the sport? Yeah, right. Manning could throw eight picks in the first quarter and Gary Kubiak will look like this:

The Broncos can't stop a multi-threat quarterback like Newton, but they can try and contain him. Easier said than done. While having an impressive season, I see Denver finding no answer for Newton's abilities to improvise and keep plays alive- and that's hoping Newton's initial looks break down. I see Carolina winning, 38-27.

Carolina is favored to win and may be destined to do so. But Newton likely is not taking this opportunity for granted. Manning has been here before. While his body may be betraying him, his desire to win is still there. We either mark the beginning of Newton's legacy tonight, or watch Peyton ride off into the sunset on a majestic Bronco.

Just not in one, like OJ.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron