All the talk pre game was how the Carolina Panthers were waltzing their way to their first Super Bowl victory. It was little wonder, you’re talking about a team who went through the whole of the season with just one loss, who had scored more points than any other side in the NFL and that’s before you consider the mercurial talents of their quarterback Cam Newton. He doesn’t just have superb placement of the ball, he is athletic and can run that ball too.
Phenomenal as their season has been, the beauty of the conference system in the NFL is that they walk into the final with only videotape evidence of the side they’re due to play. And you can watch play after play, but essentially there is no substitute for actually playing a team.
And heading into the historic Super Bowl 50 that was going to be the slight problem for the Panthers. Because for all their success, they hadn’t come up against the defense of the Denver Broncos. And that defense was the best in the NFL this year, in fact it was one of the highest rated in the NFL ever.
Speaking to two time Denver Broncos Super Bowl winner Byron Chamberlain ahead of the game that for him was going to be the thing that could pull Denver through. Cam Newton is incredible and you have to stop him, but once you do, the rest of their offensive would not threaten the defense.
He wasn’t wrong. Early on in that first quarter, Von Miller took out the great Cam Newton, showing the speed that he has against other teams to get to the quarterback and ease him of the pressure of having the ball to throw. At the same time, Peyton Manning connected on his passes. Nothing spectacular, but sometimes all you need to do is do your job.
Denver came out hard and strong. And they knew they needed to. If they were to be in with a chance of winning this game they had to stay close to the Panthers early on. All season they had been starting fast and hard and tearing defenses apart. The Broncos were not going to be another statistic for the Panthers. Except they didn’t stay close. They went 10-0 up.
The Panthers came back, and in the way you’d expect a flying move to score their touchdown early in the second quarter as Stewart dived over the pack to score. Suddenly the game seems back on. Score stays locked for a while until Broncos score a field goal and open up the gap again.
It becomes a bit of a swing back and forth on the pitch and while Manning seems in the game early on, Kony Ealy’s intercept (and he’s a big guy so to intercept and run the ball is no mean feat) shows the vulnerability in an ageing pass. Is this the comeback Carolina have been waiting for?
No. The reality is the Panthers really aren’t playing well and frankly the Broncos should be more up. But it’s a Super Bowl final, they can’t all be classics can they?
After the razzmatazz that is the half time show where Coldplay the headline act get steam rolled by Beyonce and Bruno Mars, it’s onto the second half. Broncos should score another touchdown in the third but end up with a field goal and push the gap to 16-7.
With every minute that passes the belief in the Broncos fans and players grows and grows. It seems they might waver when Panthers reduce the deficit to 16-10 early in the fourth but actually it’s the last time they bother the scoreboard. The Denver defense are relentless, with every play they become stronger and then Von Miller makes the move which seals his MVP claim – stripping Cam Newton of the ball (again) and the Panthers Quarter Back seems to hesitate in pouncing on it. Broncos don’t and guess what, they’re on their way again. Another touchdown for the Broncos and with the clock running down, the Gatorade tipped over Gary Kubiak, they know, they’ve done it, they’ve won the Super Bowl. Actually they’ve not just done that, they’ve won Super Bowl 50.
Did they stun people? Yes. Did they believe they could do it? Hell yes. And so did two times Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora. He said the defense could win it, that was Denver’s real strength, and he wasn’t wrong. He also said ‘Anything can happen in football’ and he’s so right. For all the success of the Panthers heading into this game, it’s now just down to one game, to sixty minutes and if you’ve come this far then any team can win.
Broncos fans will tell you they’re not just any team. Well any side with three Super Bowl wins isn’t any team. They are passionate about their team and passionate as a family. The post match celebrations were as much about Pat Bowlen, their owner, with bad health stopping him from attending, than Peyton Manning. He is behind a lot of the heart of the team and was in many people’s minds.
What is asked next – is this Peyton’s last stand? More than likely, but as a true competitor he hasn’t announced this yet. Like Richie McCaw after New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup in 2015 he wanted this moment to be about the team and I think Peyton thought that too. Time to celebrate, time to reflect and then say it was the fairy tale ending.