SANTA CLARA, United States: A perfectly scripted duel between Peyton Manning and his heir apparent Cam Newton will captivate America on Sunday (Monday in Manila) as the Super Bowl celebrates its 50th anniversary with a quarterback showdown for the ages.
More than 100 million viewers across the United States will tune in to see if Manning can engineer one last masterpiece to lead the Denver Broncos to what would be an upset victory over Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
The 39-year-old Manning, poised to become the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history when the teams run out at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, will be a sentimental favorite for many.
The five-time NFL Most Valuable Player has arrived in this weekend’s showpiece after arguably the most challenging season of his 18-year professional career which included a mid-term slump that saw him benched as the Broncos starter.
Manning’s fourth Super Bowl appearance is also shrouded by the poignant knowledge that it may well his final game.
Speculation that the man known as “The Sheriff” may choose to ride into the California sunset after Sunday intensified after Denver’s thrilling AFC Championship game with New England.
Cameras caught Manning telling Patriots coach Bill Belichick that these playoffs might be “my last rodeo.”
In the face of daily questioning this week, Manning has consistently stated that he has not yet decided on his future.
“I haven’t made my mind up and I don’t see myself making a decision until after the season,” said Manning, who passed Brett Favre this year to become the all-time leader in passing yards at 71,940.
“Whatever cliche you want to use — I just want to stay in the moment, focus on the task in hand and concentrate on this week, added Manning.
The key to Manning’s hopes of adding a second Super Bowl ring to the one he earned with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 may well rest with Denver’s formidable defense.
The collective efforts of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC title decider, providing the foundation for Manning to guide Denver to victory.
But whether Denver’s vaunted defense can put the brakes on Newton and the free-scoring Panthers remains to be seen.
The Panthers demolished the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC title game, winning 49-15 against a side who had been expected to threaten them.
At the heart of the Panthers dominance this season — they carry a 17-1 record into the Super Bowl — has been Newton, whose scoring statistics have almost seen him redefine the role of quarterback.
The 26-year-old’s twin threat of passing and running ability — which includes a staggering 10 rushing touchdowns — has asked questions that few opposition defenses have been able to answer
Newton has no bigger admirer than Manning, who believes the Panthers quarterback possesses the skills and talent to be the face of the NFL for the next decade.
“He’s just had this incredible year,” Manning said. “What he’s done in the short time being an NFL quarterback, he’s been awesome. That’s the best word I can think of.
The admiration is entirely mutual.
Newton, who was eight years old when Manning was chosen as the No.1 pick in the 1998 draft, spoke reverentially about his veteran opponent.
“Anything the Sheriff says, you can probably ink it in gold,” Newton said when he was informed of Manning’s praise.
Newton’s exuberant celebrations and carefully choreographed end zone dances have not been to everyone’s taste, however.
He has faced repeated criticism from disgruntled opponents who accuse him of lacking respect.
Newton shrugs off the brickbats. Asked why he thought his celebrations upset some, he replied: “I don’t know. But I guess you’re going to have to get used to it, because I don’t plan on changing.”