The Super Bowl is in one week. Are you sick of it yet?
My theory: The main reason America loves the arrival of Super Bowl Sunday is that it marks the blessed end of the ponderous buildup, the two weeks of brain-numbing preamble during which Your Friend The Media masticates every possible angle and theme.
So I am here to bemoan that excess by contributing to it!
Here is your Super Bowl primer, the story lines that will be beaten to pulp as the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and national sports media descend locust-like upon Santa Clara, California.
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There are a bunch of local, Miami-related story lines to Panthers-Broncos, and we’ll get to them in a second. But first, the broad national themes:
▪ Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning: The starting quarterbacks almost own the Super Bowl stage — it has been so since Joe Namath’s guarantee — and we love a contrast. So there could hardly be a greater quarterback matchup than Carolina’s young, brash, hip, black Newton against Denver’s ancient and extremely white Manning. Only one of them calls himself Superman and is dabbin’ after touchdowns. The other one is so old and hobbly, you half expect Broncos executive John Elway, 55, to name himself the starter Sunday. This is a New School/Old School, Future/Past contrast with the added heft of it possibly or even likely being the final game of Manning’s storied career. But it is the black/white thing that will prove irresistible and be seized on as an overarching theme. Erudite analysts and columnists will extrapolate and see this quarterback contrast as a metaphor for race relations in America, if only to appear intellectual and not bound by the narrow constraints of mere games.
▪ The two coaches: This is not a great clash of masterminds from a media standpoint because it lacks a lightning-rod star such as Bill Belichick. Nevertheless, Carolina’s Ron Rivera facing Denver’s Gary Kubiak marks the first time in 30 years (Mike Ditka-Raymond Berry) that two former NFL players have dueled as Super Bowl coaches.
▪ Team pedigrees, or lack of: Denver has appeared in seven previous Super Bowls but won only two, and not since 1998. The Broncos were in it just two years ago but got embarrassed in a 43-8 loss. Carolina has been in the SB only once before, losing to New England 32-29 in 2003. Theme: Broncos are the established franchise and Panthers the upstarts. It will be ludicrous fun to hear Panthers players — 17-1 and heavily favored next Sunday — try to play the “we don’t get no respect” card all week.
▪ Golden anniversary: This is Super Bowl 50, which will launch a million retrospectives and greatest-this-or-that lists. The NFL isn’t using Roman numerals this time, perhaps because “Super Bowl L” looks and sounds funny, and in sports parlance, L means a loss. Technically this is actually the 47th edition of the game because the phrase “Super Bowl” didn’t kick in until after the first three NFL-AFL championships had been played, and was retroactively applied. But let’s not spoil the NFL’s golden party.
▪ The offbeat emotional story: On the periphery of every Super Bowl there always are the sort of off-field human-interest stories that appear on TV with soft violins or light piano in the background. This Super Bowl’s nominee: Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has Alzheimer’s.
▪ The host community: Every year, enterprising reporters with a social conscience like to paint a stark contrast between Super Bowl glamor and celebrity parties, and the “have-nots” across town living in poverty. However, that will not be possible this year because Santa Clara is affluent and has shipped both of its homeless people to San Jose for the week.
OK, those are our national story lines. Now, here are Super Bowl 50’s top five Miami-related connections:
▪ 1. Mike Shula, Panthers offensive coordinator: There’s a Shula back in the Super Bowl! And that hasn’t happened in 31 years. This is what it’s down to, Dolfans. The Fins never get to the Big Game anymore, so we’re relegated to mention folks with Miami ties. Mike Shula was a Dolphins coaching assistant in 1991-92 and QBs coach in 2000-02, and is, of course, the son of Dolphins legend Don Shula, who is going to the game. Kid Shula, now 50, the same age as the Super Bowl, has been coaching 24 years and, beyond the notable bloodlines, has earned credit for substantially developing Newton. “I was trying to not let so much time pass since the last time a Shula was in the Super Bowl,” Mike said recently. “But time was trotting along.”
▪ 2. Greg Olsen, Panthers tight end: A Miami Hurricane in 2004-06, Olsen is Newton’ s favorite target and just had a second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Olsen’s 14.3-yard average (it’s 15.8 in the postseason) was second among all tight ends, trailing only Rob Gronkowski.
▪ 3. Ted Ginn Jr., Panthers receiver: The Dolphins’ 2007 No. 1 draft pick is enjoying his best pro season at age 30. He is the Cats’ second-leading receiver after Olsen and led Caroina with 10 TD catches. He also returns punts.
▪ 4. Ken Dorsey, Panthers quarterbacks coach: The Hurricanes’ 2001 national-champion quarterback, now 34, is completing his third season as Carolina’s QBs coach.
▪ 5. Evan Mathis, Broncos guard: Mathis played seven games for the Dolphins in 2008, and Miami considered signing him as a free agent before this season. Denver did instead, and he’s the starting left guard.
▪ Broncos: Reserve cornerback/special-teamer Kayvon Webster is from Miami Pace High; center Sam Brenner was a Dolphin from 2013 to ’15 but hardly plays; assistant receivers coach Marc Lubick is the son of former Hurricanes defensive coordinator Sonny Lubick; and director of pro personnel Tom Heckert was a Dolphins scout in the 1990s and personnel boss in 2000.
▪ Panthers: Backup cornerback Cortland Finnegan was a Dolphin in 2014; receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Belle Glade Glades Central High was a star in ’14 but spent this season injured and will be inactive next Sunday; and assistant receivers coach Cameron Turner was an FIU assistant in 2013-14.
Well, that’s it. Now that you’re ready for Super Bowl 50, you can spend the next week deciding what kind of dip to buy for your party.