Your rooting passion in Super Bowl 50 likely derives from whether you prefer the possibilities in the story’s opening chapters or a happy ending. At least if you live outside of the Carolinas or the Mountain West it does.
Peyton Manning led the NFL in interceptions for most of 2015 despite playing in just ten games. A month or so ago, he carried a clipboard for Brock Osweiler. For Christmas, he received a big bag of slime from Al Jazeera. Now he seeks both redemption from earlier big-game losses and to end his career with an exclamation point. Storybook endings don’t come better than that. Just ask his boss John Elway.
For all his career, Peyton Manning prayed to the gridiron gods for a great defense. They belatedly answered his prayers. But they did so in a manner as cruel as the game they lord over. They gave Peyton Manning his defense. They took away his arm. Irony always factors into a good story.
If Peyton Manning hopes to avoid looking like a doddering King Lear to close his book, Cam Newton seeks to prove that he, like Prince Hal, now strides as a man worthy of the throne he seeks to ascend to. The Panthers quarterback entered the world 4,796 days after the Broncos quarterback. In ways good and bad, it shows.
“When I became a man I put away childish things,” C.S. Lewis quipped, “including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” That’s Cam Newton.
The reigning NFL MVP entered the NFL winning a national championship and a Heisman Trophy at Auburn and concluded his rookie season receiving Rookie of the Year honors. Between then and now, he looked like a head case wasting his talent. His demonstrative first-down gestures when the scoreboard showed his team way behind, the aloof appearances with towels covering his head or headphones over his ears, and incidents such as delaying the team bus in 2012 after sulking in the locker room after a loss to the Atlanta Falcons all painted a picture of a brat rather than a field general.
Then, at 26, Cam Newton happened. He threw 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions despite relying on one of the weakest receiving corps in the NFL. His childish antics now strike as childlike—an enthusiastic six-foot-five, 250-pound kid infecting his teammates and fans with a love for the game. Winning always reorients our assessments.
Whereas Father Time inflicted uncounted cruelties upon Peyton Manning this season, he bestowed upon Newton experience that washed away the immaturity of youth. Cam’s happening. Peyton happened. At least that’s the way Newton wants this one to play out.
So, tonight, we watch a great story unfold. An old gunslinger walks off into the sunset authoring an amazing comeback story, embodying football’s command that we get up after getting knocked down. Or, a young gun introduces himself to America on the grandest stage imaginable, promising many jaw-dropping scenes to follow. Do you love the anticipation of what comes next or the coda wrapping up what came before in a neat, fulfilling conclusion? The way you answer the question can’t help but influence who you cheer for.
Either way, we shut the set off with an amazing story to go with, one hopes, a great game.