By Michael LeCompte
Of all the storylines leading up to Super Bowl 50 the most compelling is the matchup between the two starting quarterbacks. One aged, the other young. One an established star, the other still ascending. One subdued, the other unabashedly flamboyant on the field. Manning and Newton’s contrasting styles and careers beg the question: Who Needs Super Bowl 50 More?
The Super Bowl is a life-changing, career-defining game. Winners carry the title of Super Bowl Champion with them forever. The fame, fans, and money are nice, but the point of professional football is to win. Every player dreams of hoisting the Lombardi trophy on Super Sunday.
Newton is young, brash, and love him or hate him-good. At 6’5″ and 250 pounds he is an exceptional athlete and his dual-threat style is clearly the future of the NFL. Young, mobile quarterbacks have now started the last four Super Bowls (Kaepernik, Wilson-twice, and Newton).
If Newton and Carolina win the Super Bowl, even at 26, it would define his career. It wouldn’t matter if the Panthers ever made the playoffs again with him under center. He would be a Super Bowl Champion and fans would only remember his electric play.
Conversely, Manning is already a Super Bowl Champion and the best quarterback to ever pick up a football (at least statistically where the record book might as well be called “The Book of Manning”). As good as he’s been, though, Manning is playing in his fourth Super Bowl, but with only one ring to show for it.
Is that one piece of gaudy jewelry enough, or is the legacy of the greatest ever tainted by his struggles in the Super Bowl?
At 39 Manning is the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history (yet another record). He’s leading his second franchise and fourth head coach into the big game. At times this season he’s looked like a tired, frustrated old man, yet here he is, hanging on-chasing one more ring.
If Manning struggles yet again in the Super Bowl (a distinct possibility against the Panther’s ferocious defense), then it probably does taint his legacy. The career statistics can’t be argued with, but if it is indeed all about the rings, then Manning needs another.
With a win on Sunday Manning can legitimately take his place alongside Montana and Brady (greats with multiple rings), however, another Super Bowl hiccup leaves him in the Brees and Marino category (great stats, but only one ring and no rings, respectively).
Football games are often a matter of who, or of which team wants it more. Super Bowl 50 might very well be a case of which quarterback needs it more, though. A ring would legitimize Newton’s young career and go a long way towards helping the casual fan overlook his immature antics. For Manning, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy would cement his for now complicated legacy.