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Aspen Times Weekly: Super Bowl Hits & Bits

by
Kelly J.
Hayes
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning passes during the second half of the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP | AP

11 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE THE BIG GAME

1) Where and when can I watch the game?

CBS will broadcast Super Bowl 50 with play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms as analyst. Simms beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl in 1987. Sideline commentators are Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn and former NFL official Mike Carey is also available for rules analysis.

The kick-0ff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., Aspen Daylight Time, on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. On local Comcast cable, CBS lives on Channel 4.

This year CBS will be debuting two new camera innovations. Pylon cam features eight tiny cameras inserted in the pylons in each end zone that providing low-angle replays. EyeVision 360 is a technology that employs 36 cameras on the rim of the stadium that simultaneously record the action and allow for a single freeze frame from an individual perspective. Will it enhance coverage? We’ll see.

2) Where is the Game?

Levi’s Stadium, the site of Super Bowl 50, is in Santa Clara, California, 40 miles south of downtown San Francisco. Opened last year, it is home for the San Francisco 49ers. It is considered the most technologically advanced stadium in the NFL and every seat is WiFi capable.

Levi’s Stadium’s capacity was boosted from 68,500 to just beyond 75,000 seats for the game to meet the NFL requirement for a minimum of 70K for a Super Bowl. A new field, grown in the Central Valley of California, was laid down on Jan. 11, just two days after the Run the Road to Super Bowl 50 5K & 10K finished on the stadium’s 50-yard line. Turf has been a problem at Levi’s Stadium, so be aware of potential issues for the players. Especially the kickers.

Next year the Super Bowl is in Houston, Texas, at NRG Stadium, and the following year it will be in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at a new stadium that is still under construction.

3) What do the Wise Guys Say?

In the most important city without an NFL team (yet) the pros in the sports books are working overtime. The Panthers opened as 4.5 point favorites over the Broncos. But big money has come in on Carolina pushing the spread to 6 points. The over/under is at 45.5.

So, as of this writing, this means that the Wise Guys say the Panthers will beat the Broncos 26-20. Or so. This could all change by game time of course.

4) Why are the Broncos wearing White instead of Orange?

In even years, the AFC Champion is the designated home team and gets to select which uniforms they wish to wear. The Broncos chose their road white uniforms.

In Denver’s seven previous Super Bowl appearances they have worn white twice and are 1-1 in those games. When wearing their orange jerseys they are 0-4. Perhaps the most famous play in Bronco’s Super Bowl history came when John Elway, clad in a blue jersey, helicoptered to a first down when the Broncos bested the Packers.

In addition, 10 of the last 11 Super Bowl winners have played in white jerseys. The exception? The Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXV.

Oh, and the Panthers have opted to rock black jerseys and, as the visiting team, will call the opening coin toss.

5) Who Sells the Most NFL Jerseys?

We see a lot of Peyton Manning’s #18 jerseys in Colorado, but in fact there are a lot them everywhere. Manning’s Bronco #18 ranked fifth among all NFL players this past sales season (from March 1, 2015 to Nov. 30, 2015), according to NFL Players. Inc Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks #3 jersey is the top seller.

The only non-QB in the top five? That would be the No. 88 worn by the Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant.

Cam Newtons’ #1 was ranked No. 22, second on the team to Luke Kuechley’s #59. I suspect these numbers will change in the near future.

6) Who’s Performing at Halftime?

The NFL is bringing back two performers who have been on stage in recent years, and no, it is not left shark and right shark who performed flanking Katy Perry in last year’s most watched halftime

in history.

At sometime between, say, 6 and 6:30 p.m. Aspen time, Bruno Mars and Beyonce will join Coldplay on the extravagant stage set up on the field. Coldplay? Well, they just released a new album last week, “A Head Full of Dreams,” and they have announced a new tour in six NFL stadiums this summer. And you can get tickets at CITI!! Whatever.

Both the Eagles and the Jefferson Airplane would have been great choices for Super Bowl halftimes in the Bay Area. RIP Glen Frey and Paul Kantner.

7) the answer is: Doug Williams and Russel Wilson

There has been much discussion in the past two weeks about Cam Newton and his role as a black quarterback. Some of it initiated by Cam himself. If Carolina wins he will become the third black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl following Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Both beat the Broncos.

If the Panthers win, Newton will be the first quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, the College National Championship and the Super Bowl. Three other players, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen and Charles Woodson, also completed the trifecta but they all played other positions. Oh, and Newton also led Blinn College to a Junior College Championship.

8) What is a catch?

Yes, there will controversy.

And this year the biggest controversy swirled around the revised interpretation of what a “catch” is. I know, you are saying, “a catch is when a player catches the ball.” Um, not exactly. Here is the rulebook reading of what constitutes a completion:

A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and

2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and

3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has clearly become a runner (see 3-2-7 Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

Got that?

9) How Many Super Bowls have these teams played in?

This will be the Broncos’ eighth Super Bowl appearance in the 50 games and they have lost five including their first four appearances. That is more losses than any other team. Their two wins came in back-to-back seasons behind quarterback John Elway, who led Denver to victories over the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons in the final two Super Bowls of the last century in 1998 an 1999. Elway retired after that second win.

The Carolina Panthers have played in one Super Bowl, ironically under Coach John Fox, who was the Broncos’ coach for their last Super Bowl loss. Fox was the losing coach in that game as well, as the New England Patriots kicked a game winning Field Goal in the final seconds to win 32-29.

10) A bad omen for the Broncos?

The latest Super Bowl game ever was played on Feb. 7, 2010. It kicked off at 6:32 p.m. If this game kicks off after that it will officially be the latest game. In that game, Peyton Manning quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts against his hometown New Orleans Saints, the team his father was once a star on.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Colts trailing 24-17, Manning was driving the Colts for a tying touchdown when he threw an interception to Tracy Porter, who took it 74 yards for a touchdown sealing the win for the Saints 31-14.

Ouch.

11) A Good Omen for the Broncos?

Bronco’s cornerback Aquib Talib scored two touchdowns this season on interception returns. They were the seventh and eighth TDs on interception returns in his career, the most by any active player in the NFL. I know, Charles Woodson had 11, but he just retired.

Anyway, one of the most amazing Super Bowl stats is that there have been 12 Super Bowl Games where an interception has been returned for a touchdown. The team that accomplished the feat has won all 12 of those games. Just sayin’.

Oh, and Aquib will be #21 in white. Keep an eye out.

This Sunday, Feb. 7, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will meet in Super Bowl 50.

When all is said and done it will come down to how the two teams perform on this given Sunday.

Here is a look at the two teams and how they match up.

When The Broncos Have the Ball:

Denver Offense

At the start of this season the new Denver Head Coach, Gary Kubiak, wanted a team that ran the ball and won with defense.

Well, the second part worked out well, but that running stuff? Ehhh. Denver averaged 107 yards per game (17th in the NFL) on the ground this year with a running attack led by Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson. While the pair combined for over 1,500 yards at the running back position, there has never been a sense that Denver can dominate on the ground. A solid running game would do wonders to take pressure off of QB Peyton Manning. If Denver rushes for, say, 90 yards in the first half that would be a sign things are going well for Denver.

Which leads us to the Broncos passing attack featuring a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas caught 13 passes in his last Super Bowl appearance (the crushing loss to Seattle) and, in his last game versus Carolina in 2012, he caught nine passes for 135 yards. And Sanders has been a reliable veteran leader since coming to Denver last season. Add to those two Owen Daniels, the tight end who caught both of Denver’s touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game, and you have a potent passing attack.

That is, if Peyton can just get them the ball — 17 regular season interceptions are cause for concern but he was clearly injured when he threw many of those. In his three games back since returning from a foot injury, he has thrown 78 passes with nary a pick. Can he keep it up? There were also some significant misses against the Patriots in the last game. Peyton will have had two weeks to get back to his old ways.

Looking for a sleeper? Vernon Davis, a backup tight end, has not been the factor Denver had hoped for when they signed him mid-season. But he is returning to the Bay Area where he enjoyed a stellar career and he has seven post season touchdowns in his career, tied for second all time behind the Patriots Rob Gronkowski.

Carolina Defense

Though they lack the gaudy numbers of the Broncos D, Carolina allowed nearly 40 more yards per game than Denver. This is a formidable bunch on all three levels. In the NFC Championship game they forced seven turnovers against the Arizona Cardinals and they led the NFL with 39 total takeaways.

Up front, Kawann Short is a force against both the pass and the run. The Pro Bowler was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in both October and December. He had 11 sacks including four games with two sacks or more. And all that while playing inside at Defensive Tackle.

The LB corp features not one, but two stars, in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Kuechly has returned interceptions for touchdowns in each of the last two post-season games and in one game this year, against Dallas, he had interceptions on two consecutive plays. And Davis was the only player with five-plus sacks and three-plus interceptions this season. He broke his right arm versus Arizona and had surgery the following morning but, as the emotional leader of the Panthers, he will undoubtedly play.

And one of the biggest surprises of the season was the emergence of Panthers shut down corner Josh Norman. His tussle with Demaryius Thomas should be a critical factor in who wins the game. And Peyton better not sleep on Safety Kurt Coleman who was third in the NFL with seven interceptions this year and who picked a pair of passes against the Cards in the NFC Championship. Carolina’s 24 interceptions led the League this year.

When The Panthers Have the Ball:

Carolina Offense

The Panthers lost one of their best players before the season even began when receiver Kelvin Benjamin injured his knee. At the start of the year, they were 60-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. (Denver was 9-1). All they did was win 15 games and lead the league in points, averaging 31.3 per game.

While Panthers’ QB Cam Newton is clearly the most impressive offensive force in the game he did have a solid supporting cast. Running back Jonathan Stewart missed a 1K season by just 11 yards and has averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the playoffs, scoring a pair of touchdowns.

Previously known as a kick returner, Ted Ginn Jr. emerged as a threat as both a receiver and a runner. Catching 10 TDs in the regular season, Ginn Jr. also cut loose on a 22-yard TD run versus Arizona in the NFC Championship game. And tight end Gregg Olson had his second 1K season in the last two years. In his last game against the Broncos, he scored a pair of TDs.

But as Newton goes, so goes the Carolina offense. He was responsible for 45 touchdowns this season, 10 on the ground and 35 passing, of the 54 scored by the Carolina offense. Perhaps no team in the NFL has one player who is more important to their success than Carolina. The nickname “Superman” may not be high enough praise for his talents.

Denver Defense

If Denver wins Super Bowl 50 it will surely be because they have one of the best defenses ever assembled. Credit John Elway with bringing in outstanding talent.

The best defense statistically in the NFL, allowing just 288 yards per game, the numbers don’t do justice to just how outstanding they have been. Forget about the Orange Crush, this is the real deal. The AFC Championship game, and the way they harassed Tom Brady, showed that Denver’s defense is the most dominating force in football.

The D Line is loaded with both Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson becoming better players at defensive ends as the season has progressed. Combined, the line backing crew of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Marshall and the under-rated Danny Trevathan are the best in the League.

And the corner backs Chris Harris Jr. and Aquib Talib have both had monster years. If there is an issue it is at the safety position, where both TJ Ward and Darian Stewart have been listed as questionable with injuries suffered in the AFC Championship.

Don’t forget Bradley Roby, the back-up DB who scored the game winning TD against Kansas City and forced a key fumble against Pittsburgh in the playoffs. He has a knack for making the big play.

Special Teams

Of course these games often come down to a kick. A missed extra point by the Patriots changed the AFC Championship game dramatically.

The Broncos kicker Brandon McManus missed just one extra point this year and in the first game of the season connected on both a 57-yard and a 56-yard field goal. He is perfect in the playoffs with seven field goals, including five in the win over Pittsburgh.

For Carolina, Graham Gano missed three extra points in the regular season and was 30 of 36 on field goals, with a long of 52 yards. He has a career long of 59 yards, but that was five years ago when he was a Washington Redskin.

COACHING

So let me get this straight….Gary Kubiak, a former quarterback and offensive coordinator, is Head Coach of the Broncos who have the top defense in the NFL. Ron Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, is the Head Coach of the Panthers who have the highest scoring offense in the NFL. Huh?

Well, credit the current coordinators. Wade Phillips is the Defensive Coord for Denver and Mike Shula is the Offensive Coord for Carolina. They have been key components — perhaps the key components in the success of these two teams.

And they have a history.

Both are sons of coaches who coached against each other in the 1970s and 80s. The late Bum Phillips, Wade’s father, coached the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints for five years each from 1975-1985. Mike’s Father, Don, is the winningest Head Coach in NFL history with 328 victories. It is lore that when the senior Phillips once lined up to play the senior Shula he said in regards to Shula’s coaching prowess, “He can take his’n and beat your’n or he can take your’n and beat his’n.”

It will be interesting to watch whose’n gets the advantage on Sunday.

So Who Will Win?

The Denver Defense will lead the Broncos, and Peyton Manning, to a storybook ending. And, it is possible it will come down to a final drive field goal attempt. If it is Gano, he misses. If it is McManus, he makes it.

But what do I know?


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