Peyton Manning is the only five-time MVP in NFL history, one of the faces of the league and, at 39, the oldest starting quarterback to lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Slowed by age and injury, he is no longer the record-breaking passer he once was. Most folks figure Manning's fourth Super Sunday appearance will be his last game as a pro.
Cam Newton is at the opposite end of his career, just 26, making his debut in the big game. He also is expected to earn MVP honors for the first time, part of a new breed of dual-threat QBs as good at running as they are at throwing.
For the next two weeks, until Manning's AFC champion Denver Broncos (14-4) play Newton's NFC champion Carolina Panthers (17-1) for the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara, California, on Feb. 7, most of the focus will be on the two quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall draft picks 13 years apart.
"Oh, wow," said Newton, whose Panthers opened as 4-point favorites with most bookmakers. "Playing 'The Sheriff.'"
That is a reference to Manning, who is 1-2 in past Super Bowls. He won a championship with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, lost with the Colts in 2010, and lost again with the Broncos in 2014.
But this is a different version of Manning.
Yes, he's still as good as anyone at diagnosing defenses and changing things up — or appearing to, anyway — at the line of scrimmage.
Yes, he's still out there yelling "Omaha!"
"He most certainly is a Hall of Famer," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
But Manning is not quite as capable as he was, once upon a time, when it comes to putting the football exactly where he wants it, especially on deep routes.
This has hardly been a record-setting season for Manning — or, until now, one worth remembering. Overall, the bad far outweighed the good, including one game with a passer rating of 0.0, 17 interceptions to only nine touchdown passes in the regular season, being sidelined for six weeks with a series of injuries, getting relegated to backup duty in the NFL for the first time, and vehemently denying a report linking Manning's wife to the banned drug HGH.
"My role has been different and my contributions are different," Manning said. "But I'm fortunate and grateful that I have the opportunity to contribute still, in some way. And it's a great honor to be going back to the Super Bowl."
Here are some of the other story lines for the 50th Super Bowl, which will be Denver's record-tying eighth and Carolina's second:
SUPERMAN: Newton threw for 335 yards and two TDs, and he ran for 47 yards and a pair of scores, leading Carolina past the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC title game Sunday night. It was the type of dynamic performance he put in all season, the sort of promise he showed while winning a Heisman Trophy in college at Auburn. "I keep saying it: We're not finished. We're not finished," Newton said.
MILLER TIME: Broncos linebacker Von Miller was terrific Sunday, getting 2 1/2 sacks and an interception in a 20-18 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game. "I wanted to do it for Peyton," said Miller, who was injured and missed Denver's loss to Seattle in the 2014 Super Bowl.
DOMINANT DEFENSES: Both of these teams excel at defense. The Broncos led the NFL with 52 sacks and allowed a league-low 283.1 yards per game, then made life difficult as can be for Brady on Sunday, knocking him to the ground over and over. No one forced more turnovers than the Panthers, and only five clubs gave up fewer points (the Broncos were one, naturally). Against Arizona, Carolina produced seven takeaways.
CAROLINA'S STARTS: If the Panthers are able to get off to the sort of start they've made commonplace lately, they might not even give the Broncos a chance to make a game of it. In their two games this postseason, Carolina outscored its opponents 55-7 in the first half. That includes leads of 17-0 after one quarter and 24-7 after two against Arizona. "We wanted to start fast," Newton said. "We wanted to keep the pressure on."
INJURIES: Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said he broke his right forearm against Arizona — "I knew something was wrong," he said — but sounded like someone who plans to play in the Super Bowl. The Broncos, meanwhile, lost both of their starting safeties — T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart — to injuries during Sunday's game.
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