Old is New Again in Santa Clara

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The NFL is set to begin the biggest game in the history of the league when all eyes focus on Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50.

It will be a display of where the league has come and it has come a very long way from where it started.

In the 1960s the National Football League received its biggest competition ever from the upstart American Football League.

For years the NFL was the league that everyone looked to as the top in football, in a sport that was yet to reach the heights it is today.

That role at the top of the hill was essentially only because there was no competition and fans had no choice but to watch the league.

Then the AFL came into the picture and gave fans a second option that was flashier and more cutting edge.

All of a sudden the NFL was beginning to suffer as the AFL took fans away and then began taking talent away.

Salaries sky rocketed for unproven kids from college as teams from either side of the battle waged war on getting the biggest names on their side.

They did that by paying larger salaries, even if they did pale in comparison for today, and eventually it got to the point where team began to suffer.

They couldn’t afford the new salaries and competition began to fall off in both leagues.

So the two leagues came together and decided to end the competition between the two in the first and only time that the NFL has ever given in to competition.

The two leagues decided to merge and just before all of the details were hammered out they decided to hold a competition between the best of each league.

In 1967 the NFL-AFL Championship Game took place between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs at the L.A. Coliseum.

The game itself wasn’t considered that big of a deal by anybody no matter what side they sat on.

The main game for both leagues was the one before the NFL-AFL Championship where both teams won the NFL and the AFL Championship in a league that both teams believed was better.

They thought that the teams they faced in their playoffs were better than each other and many of the fans thought the same thing.

The stadium was half empty when the game began and there weren’t that many people watching.football-sidebar

What unfolded though was a massive change in perception and in the sports world.

The Chiefs surprised most in competing with the Lombardi Packers and although the Packers won the game it was an eye-opening experience that gave the AFL some legitimacy.

What it has done since then was not seen by anyone when the first game played with no media attention and in front of half-full stadium.

That game that came to be known as Super Bowl I has led to fifty straight years where the game has grown to be the biggest single day sporting event in North America.

There is no media outlet that isn’t talking about the game now and tickets are impossible to find, unless you have over $3,000 to pay for one seat in the nosebleeds.

Among all of the media and the love of commercials, the halftime show, the Super Bowl parties, and everything else that goes with the Super Bowl there is a game to play.

Despite the new attention though Super Bowl 50 seems oddly familiar to the first version of the big game.

It will once again be held in California and will feature a young team that represents where the league is going against a team that represents the old school version of football.

The Carolina Panthers have the presumed MVP in Cam Newton who is the new style of quarterback and is leading a team that is both solid and flashy into the Super looking to win their first ever championship.

The Denver Broncos are led by their defence with the idea that defence wins championships and they do so to help out an aging quarterback who prefers to stay in the pocket and could be playing his last game.

If it were Super Bowl I the Chiefs would be represented by Carolina and the Packers by Denver.

It is more evidence that the more things change the more they stay the same as the same type of match-up highlights the biggest party in NFL history with plenty on the line for both teams.

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The Carolina Panthers came into the preseason with plenty of hope as a team with a great defence and an offence on the rise. Then during spring training they received the bad news that leading receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, was going to miss the entire season with a torn ACL. It seemed like that was going to be the end for the Panthers as they had nobody else to make-up for his production. Then came the emergence of Cam Newton as the best quarterback in the league and Benjamin became an afterthought to the season. Newton was entering his fifth season of his NFL career and was being watched closely as the representative of the new breed of dual-threat quarterback. He had been up and down so far showing signs of promise and signs of failure as he had many people wondering what he could do if he played a more consistent game. That consistent game came this year even without his top receiver as he showed how effective a dual-threat QB can be when he gets the freedom to play his game. He accounted for 45 touchdowns, 35 passing and 10 rushing, this year and brought something to the game that fans began to enjoy. He made football fun again with his constant smile and touchdown dances that became popular far outside the NFL. If he can keep this level of play or even if he takes a step back next year there is no doubt that Newton is the new breed of quarterback. The Panthers followed his lead and although the defence has been the backbone of the team for the last few years this is Newton’s team. They became a team that loved to play football and as a result they started the year among the multiple undefeated teams. Then they carried that streak into the end of the season with their first loss came in Week 16 to easily get them first place in the NFC. They continued their strong play into the playoffs where they put up 31 points against Seattle and 49 against Arizona to earn their spot in the franchises second Super Bowl. Now they travel to Santa Clara to try to take their first ever Super Bowl and have possibly the most fun out of any team in the biggest game that any of these players has been a part of.

There is no doubt that this team begins and ends with Cam Newton in terms of leadership and attitude but he is one half of the reason they are in Super Bowl 50. That other half was the Panthers defence which is one of the best in the league ranking 6th in points allowed throughout the season. They are led by the man in the middle, Luke Keuchly, who is the fastest linebacker sideline-to-sideline in the league. They have only been boosted by the emergence of Josh Norman as the best cornerback in the league this year. He has repeatedly shut down the best receivers in the league and has been a big part of the league’s best turnover defence. The defence is going to be an important part of this team for the Super just like every defence in championship games. What will make the difference though is how Newton can handle the spotlight in the biggest game of his life. From everything he has been through so far it doesn’t seem like it will be a problem as he seems to enjoy the spotlight. He will be the difference on offence as he spreads the ball to multiple receivers including his favourite target Greg Olson and Ted Ginn Jr. who will need to play a big role in the offence as well. The Panthers have come into many of their playoff games as the underdogs that couldn’t handle the new experience and for the most part they have proven everyone wrong. The biggest issue comes after their divisional playoff win against Seattle which raised some eyebrows. The Panthers put up 31 points in the first half and shut out the Seahawks before allowing 24 points in the second half and being shut out themselves. It was a concern heading into the conference championships but one that was unfounded as they performed better. Still it is something to watch as their offence can be shut down and their defence can be beaten. If the Broncos look to see what the Seahawks did they might be able to figure some things out especially with the great defence they have put together. The Panthers are the new version that teams will try to build on in the future but the question remains of whether or not they can put together a complete game in the biggest game that most of these players have ever been a part of in their careers.

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Much like the Panthers the story of the Broncos season came under centre where Peyton Manning prepared to lead Denver back to the Super Bowl. To start the year there was little doubt that they were going to be a team to watch in the AFC and when they began their season that thought became much more realistic. The Broncos went 7-0 to start the season but then the wheels began to fall off and everyone pointed to the quarterback for the problems. Manning was not playing his best football and eventually he was replaced for the first time in his hall of fame career. Brock Osweiler took over the team and got them back to winning while Manning sat and recovered from injuries. Then as the season was winding down the Broncos had a chance to take over first place in the AFC and Osweiler was not getting it done. In came Manning who helped to march the Broncos downfield for a game winning touchdown to give the Broncos first place. That drive was far from dominated by Manning as the running game was the star but the presence of the veteran seemed to calm things down. For the first time all game the running attack was working and it seemed to be a result of having a veteran presence under centre. Manning continued that role throughout the playoffs as he never took over a game but seemed to do just enough to get the Broncos the points they needed. Thanks to that ability and the performance of the defence helped the Broncos return to the Super Bowl for the second time since Manning became their starting quarterback. What the Broncos hope to do now is show up on the big stage unlike the last time they were in the Super Bowl. At Super Bowl XLVIII the Broncos were on the wrong end of a 43-8 drubbing that has gone down as one of the most one-sided championships in NFL history. They will try to remedy that by taking the win and giving Manning a second Super Bowl in what could very well be his last game in the NFL.

The last time the Broncos were in the Super Bowl the team was all about Manning and his transformation of the offence. He had made the Broncos one of the best offences in the league and they charged into the Super Bowl unprepared to compete when they weren’t able to get that offence going. Their defence was simply not good enough to help the offence out and so the Broncos took the big loss. Things are almost opposite of that year this time around as the defence is the real reason why the Broncos are here. With Wade Phillips now at the helm the Broncos took on a different defensive attitude with a great rushing attack. It has been led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware who were able to get to the quarterback a total of 18.5 times this year. That pressure has made life easier for everyone else on the defence and although they don’t turn the ball over as much they make life miserable up front. They will look to pressure and contain Newton to make sure he doesn’t take over the game. The biggest focus of the game will be on offence though where Manning needs to keep the ball out of the hands of the defence, Carolina ranks first in turnover stats at +20, if the Broncos have a hope of competing. He will also need to step up and show at least a little bit of the old Manning to take over the game. Playing the games he has lately where he just plays to not lose and leads one or two key scoring drives won’t cut it against Carolina. He will need to take over the game at points and drive the team to the endzone more than just twice. If he can and he can show some signs of the old hall of fame version of himself the Broncos will have a very good shot of winning the game. He will be the one watched more than any other player but he is used to that pressure and if this is his last game he is sure to leave everything out on the field. There seems to be no doubt that the defence is going to be the main reason for a Broncos win but Manning needs to be a part of it if they want to take home another Super Bowl and send Manning out on top.

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