Every year, the Super Bowl -- America’s most-watched sporting event -- garners so much attention that even the most obscure storylines make for headline press. From players’ clothing styles to coaches’ favorite food joints, the media never ceases to amaze in its sometimes absurd variety of questions that it pelts at the men playing in the NFL’s championship game. One story, however, that always makes the rounds is that of the matchup within the matchup -- the opposing quarterbacks. This year’s edition makes for an especially intriguing Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers could not be any more different from each other. Before getting into just how each player arrived at this point, first consider some basic differences between the two. The 13 year age difference between Manning, 39, and Newton, 26, will be the largest age differential in Super Bowl history. On top of this, Manning, the old soul, versus Newton, the next generation, will be a matchup of contrasting playing styles. With Manning’s old age making him a less mobile quarterback and Newton’s speed making him a dual threat player, each team’s offense will undoubtedly be driving down the field using completely different styles of play calling. Lastly, Manning’s and Newton’s career trajectories are on colliding paths. At this point, it seems like a done deal that this game, no matter the outcome, will be Manning’s last game. As for Newton, well, he’s just entering his prime and relishing the thought of winning his first Super Bowl.
Where this story really begins, however, is five years ago, in 2011, when an injured Manning was on his way out of Indianapolis while a then-baby Newton was preparing for his foray into the NFL.
Newton began his collegiate career playing for the Florida Gators in 2007. His first two seasons saw him mostly warm the bench. However, in 2009, while still backing up then-starting quarterback Tim Tebow, Newton decided to transfer to Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas. Making this decision marked the beginning of Newton’s rise to stardom. Considering that his Florida career was marred by several bad experiences -- including disciplinary consequences for a stolen laptop charge and a lack of playing time -- Newton’s time at Blinn was really an opportunity for a rebirth. And it was indeed a rebirth.
In his lone season playing for the Blinn Buccaneers, Newton was a stud. He scored 22 touchdowns while passing for 2,833 yards and rushing for an extra 655. His standout season made him more than qualified to enter a major Division I program. He subsequently signed with Auburn University, where he would continue his success as an elite pass-thrower.
As with Blinn, Newton only played one season with the Auburn Tigers. In that lone season, he led his team to a 13-win season and a National Championship trophy. Oh, and he won the Heisman Trophy, too.
At Auburn, Newton also honed in on his very liberal playing style, one that has given him a reputation that most consider to be fun-loving and free. As a Tiger, Cam coined his “Superman” touchdown celebration, which has gone on to define his career, both on and off the field. For the most part, his style of play has received much praise and has never been seen as detrimental to the quarterback position -- a position that’s typically associated with calm, cool, collected, and most importantly, conservative players.
“I am a fan [of Cam Newton’s play style] because he’s more entertaining to watch than just some player sitting back and throwing the ball. He hasn’t revolutionized the position, but he’s definitely bringing more excitement to it,” senior Dean Scattini said.
Scattini echoes the general consensus regarding Newton’s reputation today -- a reputation that’s known for having a flashy flare with a chip-on-the-shoulder-type of attitude.
In his fifth NFL season, Newton has finally come into his own. With a regular season that saw him throw 35 touchdowns and run for another 10, Newton is likely choice for MVP honors this year. The one thing missing, though, is the Vince Lombardi Trophy that he’ll be playing for this Sunday in Santa Clara.
As for Manning, well, he couldn’t be any more different, as we’ve already established. Despite a lengthy career that’s spanned 18 years and 17 full seasons, Manning’s tenure in Indianapolis ended in 2011. So, we’ll start there, just like we did with Newton.
The entire 2011 season saw Manning sit out due to multiple neck surgeries that tried to repair a bulging disk, among other issues as well. As loved as Manning was by his Indianapolis fans, his days playing for the Colts organization were numbered. After suffering a two-win season in Manning’s absence, the Colts had their sights set on the future. A future that did not include Peyton Manning.
In the following NFL draft, the Colts selected Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, making Manning an afterthought. Eventually, the Colts’ “old” quarterback -- otherwise known as The Sheriff -- was cut by the team, and for the first time in his career, was a free agent.
The searching process for Manning was indeed a difficult one. He was contacted by nearly half of the teams in the league, and maintained especially close contact with teams such as the Redskins, Dolphins, 49ers, Titans, and Broncos. He sought out the advice of old coaches, friends, and family. Ultimately, however, Denver was the fit for him.
“There really isn’t one [reason for coming to Denver]. I could have pictured myself on any of those other teams. But what it came down to is, this just fit. It felt right,” said Manning at an introductory press conference in March of 2012.
Since coming to Denver, Manning has only added to his Hall of Fame Résumé. In his four seasons with the team, he’s thrown over 17,000 yards and 140 touchdowns, including a record-setting 2013 season where he threw 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns.
Considering that this year’s Super Bowl will likely mark the end of Manning’s storied career, it’s no surprise that most fans are rooting for The Sheriff despite his somewhat subpar performances as of late.
Senior Will Lowdon put it simple when discussing Manning’s legacy and how his final game would define it. “You can’t not root for Manning. How could you not want to see his career end on a high note?”
Allegiances aside, we, as fans, are pretty darn lucky to have this Super Bowl matchup.
In the black and blue, we have “Superman” Cam, whose deadly combination of speed and pocket-presence make him a nightmare for defenses, and in the orange and blue, we have “The Sheriff” Peyton, whose already Hall of Fame career can be capped off by a win for the ages in what would make for one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history.