While Cam Newton is undoubtedly the most polarizing figure in Super Bowl 50, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning will show up in California riding a much different narrative arc.
At age 39 and in his 18th NFL season, Manning may be playing his last NFL game in this Super Bowl. This season he has been injured, benched and frequently intercepted, but he has now returned to lead two playoff victories.
Manning indicated to New England coach Bill Belichick in a postgame conversation Sunday that this year might be his “last rodeo.” So Manning will be a sentimental favorite for a lot of people in this Super Bowl.
I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera Wednesday if he thought much of America would be rooting for Manning to win one last championship. Said Rivera: “Probably. Which is fine. He’s had a tremendous career. ... I’m kind of hoping there are a whole bunch of Panthers fans and Raiders fans who are thinking otherwise though.”
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As for Panthers players, they aren’t the least bit sentimental about Manning.
“We don’t really care if this is his last game,” Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said. “He’s played what – 18, 19 years? He’s had enough, you know what I’m saying? It’s our turn.”
Safety Tre Boston reached for a pizza analogy when I asked him if he would feel guilty if he intercepted Manning in his final game.
“So if a man has the last piece of pizza in the world, are you going to take that last piece?” Boston asked. “One of y’all got to live! One of us has to win, and I’m not trying to lose. It’s you and that one man. You gonna live or not? I’m trying to win. I don’t care who you are.”