Peyton Manning vs Cam Newton: Can The Sheriff out-duel Superman?

This is the fourth Super Bowl appearance for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. It's the first for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Story highlights

  • Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning could be playing in the final game of his career
  • Broncos' cornerback Aqib Talib on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: "Super unique"
  • This is the largest age gap in Super Bowl history between the starting quarterbacks

San Francisco (CNN)We've seen a story like this before.

There's an aging quarterback in a Denver Broncos uniform who potentially could finish his career on top by winning what could be his final game, a Super Bowl.
Yes, Peyton Manning -- who, at age 39, will be the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history when he takes the field for Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, against the Carolina Panthers -- likely is trying to do just that. Manning won't confirm that Sunday will be his last game. But it sure feels that way.
    Manning isn't the first quarterback in Bronco history to try and do this, and that's no coincidence.
    His boss, John Elway, the Broncos' general manager and executive vice president of football operations, brought Manning to Denver in 2012. When he convinced Manning to play for the Broncos, Elway, according to ESPN, promised the future NFL Hall-of-Famer that he would do everything in his power to help him finish his career in the way he finished his.
    Now, it's Manning's turn.

    Could history repeat itself?

    Back on January 31, 1999, in Super Bowl XXXIII, Elway, then 38, earned Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors for guiding the Broncos to victory over the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, Elway was the oldest quarterback in Super Bowl history, and he rode off into retirement with his second championship.
    The same scenario could play out on Sunday with Manning winning his second ring -- the first coming with the Indianapolis Colts. Should he win Super Bowl 50, Manning would become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls with more than one team.
    "(Manning) doesn't need to worry or think about retirement now," Elway said earlier this week. "He's worked too hard to get where he is now. There's no sense in talking about whether he's going to end it now or not. He has plenty of time in the off-season to reminisce and look back. His key thing is to concentrate and stay in the moment. This is what he worked for."
    Denver head coach Gary Kubiak once was Elway's backup quarterback, and he recognizes Manning's opportunity.
    "I think that is special," Kubiak said. "It doesn't happen for just everybody. It's hard enough to get to this game, and when guys have an opportunity to go out that way, looking back at John's situation when we played Atlanta the second time... that was very special."

    Cam Newton 'could play any position in the NFL'

    Standing between Manning and history are the Panthers, and quarterback Cam Newton, 26, is the NFL's next big superstar.
    In many ways, this feels like one era is ending and another is beginning. It is the largest age gap in Super Bowl history between the starting quarterbacks and the first Super Bowl pitting quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall NFL draft picks, Manning in 1998 and Newton in 2011.
    Manning is a classic pocket passer. Newton, meanwhile, is redefining the position with his size, power, arm and speed. "Super Cam" has become a superstar this season, scoring touchdowns with his arm and his legs, at times doing front flips into the end zone. In the NFC Championship Game, a 49-15 win against the Arizona Cardinals, Newton passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for two more.
    "How many 6-6 quarterbacks do you see like him that are 260 that run like he does and throws like he does?" Panthers head coach Ron Rivera asked rhetorically. "He's different."
    Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib called Newton "super unique" and said he "could play any position in the NFL that [he] wanted to."
    "He's definitely a unique player," Talib said. "He's probably the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL right now."
    Newton has been in the league for five years, but this has been his breakout season. He is the first player in NFL history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing scores in a single season. No one has ever had more combined rushing and passing yards in his first five seasons.
    After the Panthers won the NFC Championship Game, Newton was asked to reflect on that five-year journey.
    "Long time it feels like, but yet we've still got a long way to go," Newton said. "I'm excited.
    "I said it then, and I'll say it now: It was a process. It wasn't going to be -- what did I say -- instant grits, quick grits. It was going to be a process like long-cooked collard greens. I think those collard greens are brewing right now. You can smell it from a mile away."
    Newton has led a Panthers offense that scored 31.3 points per game in the regular season, tops in the NFL. In their two postseason games, the Panthers are averaging 40 points per game.
    The Broncos' defense -- which led the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks in the regular season -- has a huge task on its hands in containing Newton.
    "It's amazing," Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "He's a special talent, a rare talent."
    "This league has the best of everything. I mean, you look at some of the great throwers in this league ... and then now you got a guy who's got a combination of everything. Not only beating people with his arm but with his feet, his ability to move around. He's also doing a lot of things on the line of scrimmage, which is very impressive to us as we prepare to play him. They've given him a lot of freedom. ... He is a top-notch drop-back quarterback, but he can run with it better than the rest of them."