The old story goes that Father Time waits for Baby New Year to ring in the next year before moving on. In football, that story conceivably could play out on February 7 at Super Bowl 50.
In this case, "Father Time" is Denver QB Peyton Manning, with nearly 20 years in the league under his belt. Manning is making his 4th appearance in the Big Game, 2nd in 3 years with Denver, and his overall record is 1-2. "Baby New Year", the new kid on the block, if you will, is 5th year Carolina QB Cam Newton, who, unlike Manning, can actually say he won a national championship in college, following the 2010 season with Auburn.
Madison Avenue likes them both. Newton pitches Dannon's Oikos Greek yogurt. Manning, of course, is all over the place (Papa John's, Nationwide, DirecTV), despite being telegenically challenged. The media would like you to believe that had the Broncos lost to the hated defending champion New England Patriots, that would've been it. That would've been the end for Manning. Virtually no one gave the Broncos a chance----on the same home field where they ended the Patriots' season-opening 10 game win streak two months ago---to advance to the Super Bowl. All those doubting Thomases can eat crow for the next two weeks. Denver, you can say, has gotten this far not so much with Manning, but with the league's top-ranked defense, which now faces the task of containing Newton. Tom Brady, he ain't. Newton is part of the new generation of running quarterbacks, with what they call the read-option offense (see also Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick). Newton's not one to slide, either. If he can break off a big run like a running back, he'll do it, and has done it. That Manning ran for 12 yards to gain a key first down vs. New England was news all by itself.
Carolina's defense ain't too shabby, either, forcing Arizona's Carson Palmer into 4 interceptions, the last a pick six by Luke Kuechly, his second in as many weeks, and third of the season, to slam the door shut in a 49-15 blowout of the Cardinals. The oddsmakers have already installed Carolina as a 4 point morning line favorite. Again, they underestimate the heart of the old man in this matchup.
Part of me thinks that this could be Peyton Manning's victory lap, his last hurrah. John Elway, his boss, went out a champion with 2 straight Super Bowls. Manning wants to go out a winner, like Elway did. Somehow, I can't see that happening. Nor do I see Manning returning next season. I can't see him leaving Denver for another team, and do what Brett Favre did at the end of his career, extending it by playing at less than 100%, his skills eroding as the season progresses. Favre did that with the Jets and Vikings before he finally decided it was time to go. There've been other quarterbacks who did that, hanging on well past their expiration dates.
However, I'm not entirely sure yet that this is Newton's and the Panthers' time. Carolina is missing a couple of key players on defense, though linebacker Thomas Davis reportedly says he'll play in the Super Bowl despite a broken arm. He'd gladly do that in exchange for forfeiting his spot in the Pro Bowl, being played next Sunday in Hawaii, even though this would've been his first Pro Bowl. I won't really know for sure until I'm ready to make my pick, which won't be for another 12 days. There'll be more than enough stories to sift through by then.