By Jason Keidel
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A funny thing happened on the way to Cam’s coronation.
According to ESPN, the team entering the Super Bowl with the league’s MVP and coach of the year is 1-3.
Make it 1-4.
The top-scoring offense entering the Super Bowl was 10-11.
Make it 10-12.
The NFL’s top-ranked defense was 9-2.
Make it 10-2.
The public money went on the Panthers at an 80 percent clip. The line opened at 3 and ballooned to 6. The Panthers were perceived as the irresistible force facing their destiny. The Broncos were little more than roadkill on the Panthers’ path to glory.
This is why they play the game.
And while it must be tough to the point of agony to speak into a bouquet of microphones moments after losing a football game before 150 million viewers, it’s Cam Newton’s job. And like his performance on the field, his postgame presser was wanting.
It lacked class and grace, intelligence and elegance, all the things that made Newton so compelling all season. His hallmark glee and radiant smile went the way of the wishbone offense.
Newton exhumed the old notions that he’s a front-runner, full of smile and sizzle when he wins, but a brooding, pampered, pouting celebrity when he loses. Towel wrapped around his head. Scowling at reporters. Maybe it was just a bad moment, as we all have. Or maybe he’s still maturing.
Newton said all season that if you’d like to take a giant eraser to his trademark ebullience, simply stop him from scoring.
Peyton Manning now has one touchdown pass in two Super Bowl wins. It italicizes Don Shula’s eternal football maxim — the final score is the only stat that matters.
We can dispense with all the bad, big-game sobriquets. We can now forever squash the notion that Peyton is not the best QB in the family. With all due respect to Eli, Peyton is the bust beaming from Mt. Rushmore. Peyton is the name that beams from the top of every salient passing stat.
And kudos to an epic defense that produced an epic performance. For all the cozy, frontier-town metaphors surrounding the “Sheriff,” Von Miller was the one with the six-shooter, feared by his foes. Miller played like one of the hounds of gridiron hell. He was unstoppable in the playoffs. After terrorizing Tom Brady and his millisecond release, we assumed his final task, bringing the behemoth, Newton, to his knees, would be impossible.
We assumed the Broncos were a defense, a gridiron rocking chair for the old man to sit in for his final game, a courtside seat to his professional doom. Peyton was on an enchanted ride, but it was to end Sunday night, when the big boys rode into town to rip the badge from the Sheriff’s chest.
Maybe his stats aren’t sexy, but winning is. Everyone is in such a hurry to heave Manning from the Good Ship NFL. Has any Super Bowl winner in history ever been so rushed to retire?
Granted, Manning will never have a more glittering stage from which to exit. The script for the aging icon is never glamorous. Except for Manning’s boss, John Elway, and very few exceptions (like Jerome Bettis), the Hall of Famer is usually forced to retire, either by age, wage, injury, or edict.
Unless you dwell somewhere near Charlotte, it’s almost impossible not to smile for No. 18. He’d done it all, but there was a lingering sense that he had one more job to do, to swing those saloon doors wide open one more time, to win one more game, to complete the comeback from the four neck surgeries, the ignominy of being abandoned by the Colts, discarded as football carrion. One more ride toward the orange sun of Santa Cruz.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel