By: Andy Callaway
It’s the matchup so many wanted. the Sheriff returns to town, eager to lift his Broncos to a championship, while Superman brings his Panthers to football’s biggest stage riding an unprecedented wave of dominance.
One team has the experience and the grit, and the other has the star power and momentum.
In other words, it’s the young franchise built from the ground up versus a stout group of battle hardened veterans. It’s the league’s most explosive offense versus the league’s number one defense. And yes, it’s Cam Newton versus Peyton Manning.
After a nail biting thriller in Denver and a dominant performance in Charlotte, the Broncos and Panthers are set to square off in the Bay Area for Super Bowl 50.
The AFC and NFC Championships games certainly made two things very clear heading into Super Bowl Sunday. The Broncos defense is a force to be reckoned with, and while Peyton can still lead his team to victory, Cam Newton may just be the most dynamic player in the NFL.
From start to finish, Cam led the Panthers offense in steamrolling over the Arizona Cardinals’ defense, one of the best in the league. While throwing one pick, the Heisman Trophy recipient completed 19 of his 29 pass attempts for a whopping 335 yards and two touchdowns.
The other Heisman winner on the field didn’t fare quite as well. As Carolina’s defense shut down Carson Palmer from start to finish, the Panthers forced a staggering seven turnovers.
The offense that is now tasked with scoring against this stout defense had its own problems in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. After completing two first half touchdown passes to Owen Daniels, Manning struggled to move the Broncos offense in the second half, allowing Brady to bring his team to the brink of a very Patriots-like comeback, only thwarted by a failure to complete a two point conversion.
If that isn’t enough to cause an uneasy feeling among the Broncos’ offensive players headed into the Super Bowl, this same group is also tasked with outscoring Cam Newton.
While the Broncos will enter Levi’s Stadium with the league’s best defense, Cam and his squad on the Panthers offense are still likely to put some points on the board, so the Broncos will need to up their offense productivity to avoid repeating history.
And while the most recent season sits in the minds of fans, history is something that also weighs heavily on the minds of the Broncos faithful.
While Denver is now tied with the Steelers, Patriots and Cowboys for all-time Super Bowl appearances, their performances in the big game has by and large been a disappointment.
In 70’s and 80’s, the Broncos were crushed in the franchises’ first four Super Bowl appearances. However, quarterback legend John Elway finally pushed his team to back to back world championships in the late 90’s.
After taking down Tom Brady and the Patriots for the AFC Crown in 2013, Denver again returned to Super Bowl, only to be completely dominated by the Seattle Seahawks. Now concluding the 2015 NFL season, and possibly his career, it’s not Elway, but Manning who looks to lead his team to the Promised Land.
After sporting bright orange jerseys in every single Super Bowl defeat, perhaps the Bronco’s choice of white in this year’s Super Bowl will prove to be the real game changer.
While the Carolina Panthers are only appearing in their second Super Bowl in franchise history, they are certainly no stranger to disappointment in the big game, or like Manning, strangers to Tom Brady.
The Panthers appeared in their first Super bowl in February of 2004, having fought through the NFC playoffs behind the arm of Jake Delhomme, attempted to join the ranks of the few teams to win it all in their first Super Bowl appearance.
However, the arm of Tom Brady and the leg of Adam Vinatieri had a different outcome in mind. With a late drive down the field, capped off by a field goal as time expired, the Patriots got away with another incredible win, and Carolina went home eager to return.
Twelve years later, it’s no longer Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers, but Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. This new generation of Panthers has brought the franchise back to what slipped through their fingers nearly a decade ago.
As they say in the Carolina’s, all they have to do is “keep pounding,” and the Lombardi Trophy will be parading down the streets of Charlotte.
So who’s going to take it? Will Cam Newton lead his Panthers to victory, or will the Broncos defense put up a stand against the likely MVP and allow the Sheriff to end his career on the highest of high notes? We find out February 7th, for the historic 50th edition of America’s Game.