Super Bowl 50 will provide the stage for what could be the final appearance by one of the game’s greatest players when Peyton Manning takes the field at Levi’s Stadium in search of his second ring.
More than 100 million viewers across the United States will tune in to see if Manning can engineer one last masterpiece to lead the Denver Broncos to what would be an upset victory over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
The 39-year-old Manning, poised to become the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history when the teams run out at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, will be a sentimental favourite for many.
The five-time NFL Most Valuable Player has arrived in this weekend’s showpiece after arguably the most challenging season of his 18-year professional career which included a mid-term slump that saw him benched as the Broncos starter.
Manning’s fourth Super Bowl appearance is also shrouded by the poignant knowledge that it may well be his final game.
Speculation that the man known as ‘The Sheriff’ may choose to ride into the California sunset after Sunday, intensified after Denver’s thrilling AFC Championship game with New England.
Cameras caught Manning telling Patriots coach Bill Belichick that these playoffs might be “my last rodeo.”
In the face of daily questioning this week, Manning has consistently stated that he has not yet decided on his future.
“I haven’t made my mind up and I don’t see myself making a decision until after the season,” said Manning, who passed Brett Favre this year to become the all-time leader in passing yards at 71,940.
“Whatever cliché you want to use – I just want to stay in the moment, focus on the task in hand and concentrate on this week,” added Manning.
The key to Manning’s hopes of adding a second Super Bowl ring to the one he earned with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 may well rest with Denver’s formidable defense.
The collective efforts of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, providing the foundation for Manning to guide the Broncos to victory.
But whether Denver’s vaunted defense can put the brakes on freescoring Carolina – who led the NFL with 31.1 points per game in the regular season – remains to be seen.
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