Super Bowl 50 quarterback matchup features young hotshot vs. old gunslinger

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton answers questions Tuesday during a press conference in San Jose, Calif.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton answers questions Tuesday during a press conference in San Jose, Calif. AP

The look on Cam Newton's face pretty much told the story.

This was Thursday, the fourth straight day Newton — Carolina's 26-year-old star quarterback — had been tasked with facing the cameras and answering an assortment of questions about the Super Bowl 50 matchup against Denver.

And Newton — who walked onto the podium wearing his jersey, a skull cap, and black sandals and socks — had just been asked why he chose to don such footwear. He absorbed the question, chuckled to himself, shook his head and showed some restraint before answering.

“Why are you wearing jeans with shoes? It’s just comfort,” Newton responded with a grin. “I mean, we’re still at our team hotel, so it just gives you guys something else to talk about, you know? Especially (since), I told you, nothing has changed since 24 hours (ago). So if I see an article talking about my sandals and socks, that would be new.”

And since it's Super Bowl week, after all, the articles about it did commence.

But at least it was a question Newton hadn't been asked, which has been a rarity for him this week. That's what it's like to be your team's starting quarterback the week of the Super Bowl, something Denver's Peyton Manning — who has played in three of these games — knows all too well.

“Super Bowl week is special,” Manning said. “It’s unique, it’s different.”

Right down to the way everything is ramped up, from the hype to the praise — or fallout — that comes once finally ends.

“You still have to go through meetings, try to come up with any type of edge, because you’re still preparing for a team,” Newton said. “But all the festivities, the media, everything leading up into it, all you see is Panthers-Broncos conversations on TV, it’s hard not to just take it all in. I mean it’s hard.”

But at the end of the day, it's still football. And like any game, the winner will likely be determined by which quarterback plays the best. And if things hold true to form this season, that will be Newton, who has come into his own.

This year, the former No. 1 overall pick in 2011 matured into a bonafide MVP candidate, a man who used his superior arm strength and rare combination of size (6 feet 5, 250 pounds) and mobility (4.59 40-yard dash) to complete nearly 60 percent of his passes for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing 132 times for 636 yards and 10 more scores.

It was a season so good, he earned the respect of the legendary signal caller he'll be going head-to-head with on Sunday.

“I tell you, he’s just had this incredible year,” Manning said. “What he’s done in the short time being an NFL quarterback he’s been awesome. It’s the best word I can think of. He’s been a great passer, he’s been a great runner, he’s been a great leader. You don’t go 17-1 as a starting quarterback without being awesome and that’s what he’s been this year without a doubt.”

Manning, meanwhile, is a future Hall of Famer in the twilight of his career, a 39-year-old who finds himself back in the Super Bowl due to the Broncos' elite defense.

Two years ago, the Broncos made the Super Bowl thanks to an offense that set the NFL single-season record for points. This year, Manning battled injuries and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2,249 yards, nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

After the Broncos' 20-18 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, he was caught by cameras telling Bill Belichick that it might be his “last rodeo.” But this week, he said he has not discussed the end of his career with general manager John Elway because he is focused on this game, though he did note the toll injuries have taken on his body during his 18-year career.

“Certainly when you have injuries, when you have surgeries, the doctor sometimes will mention to you, whether you ask him or not, ‘Hey you are probably heading for a hip replacement at a certain time in your life,’” Manning said. “I said ‘Doc, I didn’t ask you if I was going to have a hip replacement. I didn’t need to know that right here at age 37, but thanks for sharing. I look forward to that day when I am 52 and have a hip replacement.’”

But for now, Manning says he feels good, and is sinking all his energy into finding a way to topple Carolina on Sunday. His legacy as one of the game's greatest quarterbacks is already secure, but a loss would drop his Super Bowl record to 1-3.

“I am not concerned about that,” Manning said. “I think you learn something from every game you play in, including all games, but certainly the Super Bowl. I was fortunate to be on all of those teams.

“We won one a few years back and obviously we didn’t win the one a couple years ago and we didn’t win one the second time around in Indianapolis. We got beat by the better team that night. You learn from it and it is not easy, by any means, because you put a lot of hard work into it.”

If the Broncos can somehow find a way to pull off an upset on Sunday, it is yet another lesson — like the goofiness and repetitiveness of questions during Super Bowl week — that Newton will learn this week.

Manning, the old gunslinger, is already aware of it thanks to two Super Bowl losses, but Newton, the young star, hopes to avoid learning it the hard way.

“It’s a dream come true,” Newton said, “and hopefully we are prepared come Sunday.”