Just a few days ago I was rooting for Peyton Manning to win Super Bowl L. I even convinced myself that a man who turns 40 next month can pull off the upset over the heavily-favored Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Sure, the Denver Broncos have been embarrassed in every Super Bowl in which they were not coached by Mike Shanahan. And yes, Manning has not been impressive in championship games; he threw for only 134 yards in the Orange Bowl his senior year in Tennessee, losing to Nebraska 42-17, and he has yet to throw more touchdowns than interceptions in a Super Bowl (including Super Bowl XLI, in which the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears). Nonetheless, I was starting to hope and believe Manning and the Broncos could pull it off.
Here are the reasons I think an upset is possible and that the Broncos can win:
1. Cam Newton has taken the football world by storm. However, he's only played in a total of five playoff games. Moreover, he wasn't particularly impressive in the playoffs until this year, on a 15-1 team where everything seems to be going right. That's why it is quite conceivable that he won't be able to keep it up against a ferocious Denver defense that rattled Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game. Sure, that might be hard to imagine with the way Newton and the Panthers are rolling. But just think back to 1984, when Dan Marino threw for 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards and led the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl in
arguably the greatest season by a quarterback in history. (For those who might not remember how great Marino was, I urge you to watch this highlight reel.) But even a maestro like Marino couldn't keep it up in the big game, when he threw only 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions and managed just 6.36 yards per attempt (after gaining 9 YPA in the regular season) in a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX. The point is, you rarely see a relatively inexperienced postseason quarterback dominate in the Super Bowl.
2. Manning has had noticeably more velocity on his throws since returning in Week 17. And after watching a broken-down John Elway throw for the game of his life in the last game of his career, a win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, I learned that old quarterbacks with a lot of pride can get it done for one game.
3. If we think back to the Bengals' overtime loss to the Broncos in Week 16, Cincinnati got an early lead due in large part to A.J. Green and Marvin Jones making spectacular sideline grabs. In other words, Denver's secondary did not allow a lot of separation even against some of the top receivers in the league (and yes, I think very highly of Jones). This was abundantly clear in the AFC Championship, as the Patriots' lack of top flight wide receivers finally did them in. The Panthers, meanwhile, have gotten by all season with a mix of journeymen (Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery) and rookies (Devin Funchess). Those receivers can make huge plays in space, but they are unlikely to find much room to work against the Broncos. If the Broncos stifle tight end Greg Olsen, Newton and the Carolina offense may very well struggle.
4. In 2012, the Baltimore Ravens shockingly fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in the middle of the season. They would go on to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Maybe they knew something about the name "Cam" and winning the championship game!?
But now, I don't really care if he wins it. I'm almost hoping all my theories prove to be wrong.
Why I wouldn't mind seeing Manning lose another championship game:
Somehow I just recently learned of a shocking and upsetting side to Manning that, unlike Newton's stolen laptop ordeal at Florida, hasn't been talked about much. While at Tennessee, Manning allegedly sexually assaulted a female trainer. He did not deny the incident outright, but instead claimed that he was, in fact, exposing himself to teammates while the trainer happened to be behind him. The trainer reached a settlement with the school and agreed to resign. However, in an autobiography in 2000, Manning decided to revisit the topic. He claimed the trainer had a "vulgar mouth," and made a general statement about women not belonging in locker rooms. As a result, the trainer was demoted from her new job at the time, at Florida Southern College.
And on Thursday it was revealed that Manning's lawyers hired private investigators to pose as police to make a visit to the home of the parents of Charlie Sly, the primary witness in a documentary that claims Manning used PEDs when recovering from a neck injury in Indianapolis. The parents told their daughter to call 911, at which point, the investigators were forced to reveal their true identities. Nonetheless, Manning and his team have not handled the entire process with a lot of grace.
Despite all this, Manning has been able to maintain an aw-shucks image of himself and gain a lot of fans with his polite demeanor in interviews, his comedic presence in commercials, and even the grace with which he handled being cut by the Colts. Others might want to root for him because, statistically-speaking, he's the greatest quarterback in regular season history, but he simply doesn't have the postseason accolades to back it up. Still others might want to see an old, injured man overcome the odds.
But when I think about it, it's somewhat ridiculous to think of Manning and overcoming the odds in the same sentence. After all, he is the son of arguably the second greatest quarterback in the history of the New Orleans Saints (unless you count former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake) and he's been put in positions to succeed his entire football life.
So I've found myself asking: why should I root for Peyton Manning? And I can no longer think of a good reason.