he matchup between the two quarterbacks in this year’s Super Bowl could not be any more perfect, even if it had been written by a Hollywood scribe. Seriously, I am pretty sure I have seen this exact scenario play out in many movies, most of them westerns, throughout my life. The aging gunslinger stirs himself for one last fight and who does he meet? The up-and-coming kid who seems primed to take his place. Come to think of it, isn’t that plot of the John Wayne movie “The Shootist”?
Thankfully for Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, no one is going to actually get shot in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday, but the showdown is the same. Manning’s best days are behind him. But, once upon a time, he was arguably the best quarterback in a league where being the best at that position makes you the top star in the game. (Don’t believe me, just look at who shills for the most companies.) Newton is the brash upstart. A Heisman Trophy winner who has taken his fair share of criticism during his five years in the league, but who appears to have finally put it all together. All of that wonderful athletic ability with some much-needed maturity has made Newton arguably the best quarterback in the game today. At the very least, he was the best quarterback this year and, really, that is all that matters right now.
So the story line is set and the bright lights are ready to shine on both men as they try and win the big one for the first, or last, time. If you’ve been reading along with these columns of mine, then you know I predicted Manning was done months ago. He continues to prove me wrong. But, from what I’ve read after he helped the Broncos past the Patriots in the AFC championship game on Sunday, this might very well be his last game. And wouldn’t it be perfect for him to go out on top? He has labored for close to two decades, playing on some great teams, carrying some mediocre ones and he has destroyed his body in the process. What would be a better finale than seeing the aging quarterback holding the Lombardi Trophy at the close of Super Bowl 50?
Of course, not all Hollywood movies have happy endings. Newton seems like the perfect foil to upset Manning’s march into the sunset. Just as the bartender finished off John Wayne in The Shootist, Newton could be the one who sends Manning off into retirement with much less fanfare than he would get should the Broncos win. The rub here, as you know if you’ve been watching the playoffs, is that Manning is not exactly carrying Denver. No, the Broncos are a defense-first team who only require Manning to be good enough not to give the game away. So, while it is nice to picture the game as a showdown, the real test will be Newton against Denver’s defense. Maybe Cam past the Orange Crush version 2.0, or maybe he can’t. Maybe Manning will return to the form of a few years ago for one more game and finish with the storybook ending. Or maybe his career finishes with him on the sideline, watching helplessly as the Panthers blow out yet another playoff opponent. Who’s to say just what will happen? That’s why you watch, right?