On Sunday night, an estimated worldwide TV audience of 200 million will turn their attention towards Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California as the Denver Broncos meet the Carolina Panthers for the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl 50 (kick-off 11.30pm Irish time).
The milestone 50th Super Bowl is pitched as a battle between two outstanding quarterbacks with a 13-year age gap and at very different moments of their careers.
For Carolina, Cam Newton is the explosive young quarterback leading their offence while for Denver, 39-year-old veteran Peyton Manning is aiming to become the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl.
Ironically for Manning and the Broncos, the record he’ll beat with a win on Sunday currently belongs to John Elway, the man who brought him to Denver.
Elway, a two-time Super Bowl winner and Hall of Fame quarterback is now the Broncos General Manager and has orchestrated a return to the 'Big Show' for the second time in three years.
Elway was instrumental in enticing not only Peyton Manning to the Mile High City but also current head coach, Gary Kubiak.
A Super Bowl winner as an assistant coach with the Broncos, where he previously served as Elway’s backup quarterback, Kubiak will also become the first person in NFL history to reach a Super Bowl as a player and head coach with the same team when his side meets the Panthers on Sunday.
This game could well turn out to be Peyton Manning’s “last rodeo” before retiring, as he appeared to suggest to Patriots coach Bill Belichick at the AFC Conference Championship two weeks ago, but it’s only the beginning of the story for Newton and his fledgling career.
Super Bowl 50 marks the first time ever that two quarterbacks who were overall number one draft picks will face each other in Super Bowl and there could be even more records available to Newton in only his fifth NFL season.
If, as expected, Newton wins the NFL League MVP award on Saturday and follows that up with a Super Bowl victory on Sunday, he’ll become the first person to do so since 1999 when the St Louis Rams quarterback, Kurt Warner, became the tenth man in history to achieve it.
Sunday’s game also marks only the second time in NFL history that the No 1-ranked offence will face off against the No 1 defence in the Super Bowl.
Denver will hope that the last occurrence is a good omen as on that occasion the Broncos were the No 1 offence that were demolished by the No 1 defence from Seattle, back in Super Bowl XLVIII.
This time around the roles are reversed with Newton’s Panthers flying high offensively while the star of the show in Denver has been the collective Orange Crush defence.
Newton, in the form of his life, will undoubtedly prove an even sterner test for the Broncos defence than Tom Brady and his failing Patriots offensive line were in the AFC Conference Championship.
Newton has the ability to inflict serious pain on Denver both through the air and on the ground where he rushed for over 600 yards this season as the top-ranked rushing quarterback in the league.
These two teams last faced each other back in 2012. Wade Phillips, the Broncos defensive coordinator, has only matched up against a Newton offence on one occasion.
That was back in 2011 when Phillips was marshalling the defence in Houston during Newton’s rookie season in Carolina. On that occasion, Newton’s side ran out 23-13 winners.
While the debate on whether it’ll be the best offence or best defence who’ll win out on the day rages on, it’s worth remember that neither side are exactly lacking on the other side of the ball and don’t be surprised if the Super Bowl MVP emerges from those other units.
Denver’s wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demariyus Thomas have the ability to hurt any team if Manning can find a rhythm while in turn, Carolina linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis epitomise Carolina’s 'keep pounding' mantra and are arguably the real heart of coach Ron Rivera’s Panthers.
Special teams could have a big role to play at Super Bowl 50 too. Denver’s punter Britton Colquitt has been hugely effective for the Broncos in pinning opposition offences deep in their own half all season while for Carolina, wide receiver and punt returner Ted Ginn Jnr can be explosive in the open field.
This in itself might be an interesting matchup to watch given Denver’s difficulty to move the ball at times and the need to impose long drives on Carolina. Like most Super Bowl champions, the winners of this one will undoubtedly have strong performances across all three phases of play – offence, defence and special teams.
On a lighter note, despite being the home team in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos will actually be lining out in their alternative uniforms of white.
Having lost four Super Bowls wearing orange and with teams in white winning 10 of the last 11 Championships, one can forgive the Broncos for trying to get Lady Luck on their side. However, the optimistic Panther fan can point to the fact that Carolina’s only Super Bowl loss came while wearing white against the Patriots back in 2004.
For those who enjoy the more unusual superstitions it’s also worth noting that Beyoncé, who’ll appear on the Super Bowl half-time show alongside headliners Coldplay, has officially performed at the Super Bowl twice previously and on each occasion the team from the AFC Conference has won.
That bodes well for Broncos fans but it is clutching at straws a little and only time will tell if it is to be Denver or Carolina who gets to “put a ring on it” on Sunday!
Whether you’re tuning in for the ads, the pageantry or the live concert sandwiched between the actual game, let’s hope that the Panthers and Broncos trade blows throughout the game and serve up a high-octane shoot-out on the field to match the spectacle that Super Bowl 50 will undoubtedly provide.
With four of the last five Super Bowls coming down to literally the last play of the game in the early hours of the Irish morning, there may well be a few blurry eyes in workplaces across the country on Monday