This matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers has some incredibly compelling story lines. Below are five reasons why this Super Bowl could be the best one ever.
This is must-see TV: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning could be playing the final game of his storied career. He even alluded to it after beating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. NFL Films picked up the audio of Manning telling Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, "This might be my last rodeo."
But we'll have to wait to see if Manning is riding off into the sunset.
"Yeah, I haven't made up my mind, but I don't see myself knowing that until after the season," Manning said. "Whatever cliché you want to use, but I kind of stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand and just deal with this week. That's what I've done all season."
According to NFL.com and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Manning has told close friends he expects Sunday's game to be his last. However, Manning's family members previously have said the contrary publicly.
"He's not said anything to me about it," brother and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning said January 27. "I think I kind of think like everybody else where you see this as possibly being the last game. I don't know if he knows himself or if he's thought about it. ... It'd be a good way to go out. I don't know if it is, but because of that possibility, I hope that he can win this game and if he decides to hang it up, go out on top."
Manning's dad, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, echoed Eli's thoughts.
"It's been a good rodeo, been 18 good years," Archie Manning said after the AFC Championship Game. "I don't know what's going to happen. I promise you he hasn't talked about it. Has not even brought it up."
Manning turns 40 in March, and there has been wide speculation that this season could be his last. A product of age and previous neck surgeries, Manning's numbers this season are a far cry from his Hall-of-Fame-worthy career stats. In fact, Manning had the worst season of any quarterback heading into the Super Bowl, according to FiveThirtyEight
Manning threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 10 games during the regular season. His health and arm strength have been concerns. He missed six games this season with a partially torn plantar fascia in his left heel.
But Manning showed in the AFC Championship Game that he has something left, throwing two touchdown passes. Before that game, he had only thrown for one score at Sports Authority Field at Mile High all season.
The time off may have helped Manning, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week.
"As we approach the time before he took the break off with his foot, and I watched him play, he wasn't playing healthy," Kubiak said. "I think getting back totally healthy (and) feeling really good physically and mentally has really helped him over the course of this past month."
Passing the torch?
In many ways, this feels like one era is ending and another is underway.
This is the largest age gap in Super Bowl history between the starting quarterbacks. Manning is 39 and is the oldest quarterback to start in the Super Bowl. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, in his first Super Bowl, is 26.
Their playing styles are very different, also a sign that they're from different generations. Manning is a classic drop-back pocket passer. Newton, meanwhile, is nicknamed "Superman" for a reason, and he's become a superstar this season. In the NFC Championship Game, Newton showed his ability as a dual threat, going 19 of 28 passing for 335 yards. He was responsible for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).
"He is one of those guys who is an awesome quarterback and he plays really well," Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "He sits back there in the pocket, orchestrates his offense and he keeps the chains moving with his legs and also making big plays. We have things in place to slow him down, but sometimes, you can't slow the train down -- you have to let it keep rolling. Just with Cam, you have to figure out a way to stop him, because he is very active."
Newton led the regular season with 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing) and became the first player in NFL history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing scores in a single season.
No one has more combined rush and passing yards than Newton in a player's first five seasons. He's the only player in NFL history to have five seasons with 3,000 or more passing yards and 500 or more rushing yards at any point in a career.
Simply put, the Broncos haven't faced a quarterback like Newton this season.
"He's one of a kind," Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. "You can't find another guy like him on tape. He could take off at any moment and score a touchdown with his legs. He can throw the ball 70 yards, score a touchdown with his arm. So, you know, one of a kind man. One of a kind."
There's another sign that times have changed. African-American quarterbacks will have started in four consecutive Super Bowls once Newton takes the field (Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII and Russell Wilson the last two years). The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams in Super Bowl XXII on January 31, 1988.
Cam Newton could do something incredibly rare
With a win on Sunday, Newton would join some rare company.
Should Newton and the Panthers come out on top of Super Bowl 50, Newton could end up with the "grand slam" of college football and NFL hardware: the Heisman Trophy, a national championship, an NFL Most Valuable Player Award (he's all but a lock to win; the announcement will be Saturday) and a Super Bowl ring.
Newton won the Heisman as well as the national championship in his one season at Auburn in 2010.
The only other player to accomplish all those feats? Marcus Allen, who played for the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Raiders. Allen won the national championship in 1978 when he was a freshman and won the Heisman in 1981. He was the NFL MVP in 1985. Allen was part of the Raiders' team that won Super Bowl XVIII in the 1983 season, winning MVP honors in that game as well.
But perhaps Newton's feats would be even more impressive, with his college accolades coming in the same season and his NFL honors also happening in the same year.
Actually, there's more: Before he arrived at Auburn, while in junior college Newton and his team won the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship.
Should Newton accomplish all this Sunday, perhaps the feat should be called, as CBS Sports dubbed it, a Cam Slam
"His confidence is through the roof right now," Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said. "He's playing extremely well."
No. 1 vs. No. 1
This is a fan's dream. The Broncos are the top seed from the AFC; the Panthers were No. 1 in the NFC. Carolina has the best offense; Denver has the best defense. This is as No. 1 vs. No. 1 as you can get for a Super Bowl matchup.
Additionally, there will be some history on Sunday. This is the first Super Bowl pitting quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall NFL draft picks against each other. Manning was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998, when Newton was 8 years old. After his Heisman and national championship campaign at Auburn, Newton was the top pick of the 2011 NFL draft.
An aging Manning hasn't carried the Broncos this season. The defense unquestionably has. This probably is the best defense Manning has ever had, and this will be Carolina's stiffest challenge yet.
Denver led the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks. The good news: With a unit like this, the Broncos don't need to score a ton of points on offense. More good news: The Broncos defense gave up more than 30 points just once this season, against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 15.
"I just think right now we're a one-of-a-kind defense," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We have a defense that has elite players on each level. You have great D-linemen, great linebackers and a great secondary. I don't know if they've faced a team that has elite players at each level."
But no quarterback Denver has faced this season resembles Newton. The Panthers led the NFL with 31.3 points per game during the regular season and averaged a staggering 40 points per game in their two postseason games. That starts with Newton, who is responsible for 79.3% of the Panthers' offensive scores this season.
"I think Cam's very important to who we are." Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "I think the big thing, more so than anything else, is these young men really rally around one another and Cam understands. He knows and his teammates know. ... It is a team game and we get the fact that Cam is a star."
The Broncos can't afford to be in a shootout with the Panthers; Denver averaged 22.2 points per game in the regular season. The Broncos also win nail-biters, going 11-3 in games decided by seven points or less.
With that type of success, they're confident that Manning won't have to carry them on his back.
"I think Peyton just needs to be Peyton," tight end Owen Daniels said. "I don't think he needs to do anything extravagant or crazy. We've got an outstanding defense. We've got a run game that has been outstanding the second half of the season.
"We've got to play well all around Peyton. That's a big thing for us. If we play well all around him, we're going to be just fine because we know he's going to do his job. He's going to put us in the right place in every situation. He's going to manage stuff at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't need to go out and be a superhero. We'll help him out. It's going to be a team effort like it has been all season for us. You haven't seen us light up the scoreboard offensively. It's been all team wins, all grind-it-out type of wins. I feel like it will be another one of those type of games. We're ready for it."
We've come a long way from Super Bowl I
On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The game was known as the "First AFL-NFL World Championship" and retroactively became known as Super Bowl I. It was broadcast on CBS (which had the television rights to NFL games) and NBC (which held AFL rights). Can you imagine that happening today?
No one could have predicted how huge the Super Bowl would become. Today, Super Bowl 50 truly is a global affair. This year's game will be televised live in more than 170 countries and territories and will be broadcast in nearly 25 languages. In the United States, more than 100 million viewers tuned in
for last year's game.
It's also evident in the way Super Bowl I was treated after the game was over. This sounds crazy today, but neither CBS nor NBC saved a tape of the broadcast. It took months to complete, but NFL Films recently was able to locate all 145 plays from the game and restore the footage. In January, Super Bowl I re-aired for the first time on the NFL Network.
Now, the big game isn't just limited to TV sets. Super Bowl 50 will be streamed live across desktop, tablet, smartphones and connected TV platforms such as Xbox.
The progression of the Super Bowl moving to the big time is reflected in its entertainment
as well. Super Bowl 50's halftime show headliners are Coldplay and Beyonce. Super Bowl I's halftime entertainment: the University of Arizona and University of Michigan marching bands.
A ticket to Super Bowl I ranged from $6-$12, according to Sports Illustrated
, and even then, there were empty seats. For
Super Bowl 50, tickets are selling for an average price of around $5,000 and the price is on track to be the highest for a sporting event in U.S. history
"This year's Super Bowl is on pace to not only be the most expensive Super Bowl, but the most expensive event, topping things like the Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing match and The Masters," Chris Leyden, analyst with SeatGeek, told CNNMoney
on January 25.