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Panthers and their Superman get a Super chance at history, versus Peyton

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Cam Newton howls with joy. He hopes for much more to smile about, after the Super Bowl. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

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Denver’s defense and emotion to ride Peyton Manning into the sunset as a champion goes against Carolina and bombastic MVP favorite Newton. This is a clash two premier defenses, and diverse quarterback style and personality.

The Panthers’ more explosive offense should be decisive. Carolina’s output of 31.3 points per game is best in the NFL, despite injuries. This is nine points better than Denver’s erratic offense, that hinges on ball-control running to support Manning.

Denver hopes of one last heroic effort from his sharp mind, yet weakened and erratic arm. He threw 17 (second most) interceptions in just over a half-season. He hopes the name of Coldplay, alt-rock band at halftime, does not reflect his results.

Two Super Bowls ago, still strong-armed Manning led the league’s top scoring offense ever against Seattle’s stingiest defense. Denver was routed 43-8. Panther fans count on a repeat. His first “shotgun” snap sailed over his head into the end zone, forcing a safety for the quickest (12 seconds) SB score.

This time, he tries to outsmart the Panther defense with snap decisions and timely, precise arcing “touch” throws. He did so to beat his arch-rival New England for the American Football Conference title.

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MVP favorite Cam Newton dangles the ball, as he is about to take off running. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The Broncos (14-4) are in a record-tying eighth Super Bowl. They have lost the most (five) — by an average of 30 points.

Carolina lost the 43rd Super Bowl, but stormed back to nearly beat the dynastic Patriots before falling 32-29 on a last-second field goal. Four of the last five Super Bowls have come down to the last play.

Now the Panthers (17-1) are the favorite — by nearly a touchdown. They can match the NFL record of 18 wins. They have 10 Pro Bowlers. The Panthers outscored reigning two-time NFC champ Seattle then second seed Arizona by a 31-0 combined count in the first quarter.

The Cam-Do offense is led by number one. Newton gets mixed reactions as a jovial, oft-smiling competitor. He rubs it in over foes, which can spark paybacks. He howls up into the air, after big plays. His TD-celebrating antics include a sharp-gesturing hip-hop Dab Dance from his native Atlanta, and pretending to pull apart his uniform to reveal a Superman outfit.

His dual threat soars with sharper throwing and decisions and hard-nosed running, in an historic season. He is the first QB to run for 10 touchdowns and throw for 35. He has totaled 50 TDs passing and running — figuring in all but 13 by the offense.

He set a single-game mark with 200 yards passing, five TD throws and over 100 rushing yards. In 2001, he rushed for a record 14 TDs and was the first rookie QB to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 700. This season, he tied Steve Young for most (43) career rushing scores in merely five seasons.

Newton, 26, seeks to become the first quarterback to win the college Heisman Trophy and national title (with Auburn) and a Super Bowl. He also won a national junior college title, with Blinn College in Texas.

The defense has made the most (39; nine more in playoffs) takeaways in the league. They lead the NFL with 30 INTs — six in two playoff games, with four ‘picks” of MVP hopeful Carson Palmer to win the NFC. In the regular season, they ranked sixth in points allowed (19.3) and yards (323).

Denver allowed the fewest (283) yards, and fourth-fewest points (18.5). Such teams leading in total defense have won nine of their 11 SBs. The Broncos led the NFL by making 59 sacks — seven in two playoff wins. They have to somehow contain mobile Newton, and pressure him into mistakes.

Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly in his second year, 2013, was the youngest NFL defensive player of the year ever. He made a “pick six” TD return of an INT in both playoff games thus far this season — the first to do that in a decade.

Carolina’s domination is reminiscent of the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Panthers similarly have a staunch defense, and boisterous quarterback in Newton. The Bears’ Jim McMahon led his team in the “Super Bowl Shuffle” rapping video they recorded before they won it all.

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Peyton Manning zings the ball in his prime in 2008, two seasons after his sole Super Bowl win. He is eager to to cap his sterling career with a second Super Bowl win. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera was a star Bears linebacker then. Rivera turned 54 on Jan. 7. He seeks to be the second Hispanic head coach to win the Lombardi Trophy. Tom Flores did so for the ’80 season, with Hendersonville’s Mickey Marvin a blocker.

Rivera is poised to be the fourth Super Bowl winner as a player and head coach. He and Gary Kubiak are the first opposing Super Bowl coaches who have played in a SB. Kubiak, 54, lost all three of his SBs with Denver by an average margin of 32 points, in the late Eighties. He backed up John Elway at quarterback.

Denver Exec. V.P.-G.M. Elway, 55, closed his career (after Kubiak retired) by winning SBs for the 1997 and ’98 seasons. Manning hopes to also go out on top with Denver. In his sole Super Bowl triumph, in the 2006 season, his Colts beat the Bears whose defensive coordinator was Coach Rivera. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson won an NFL title, as a star receiver on the 1959 Colts.

This is the first Super Bowl matching the top two draft picks from the same year (2011) — Newton against Denver linebacker Von Miller — and quarterbacks who were top overall draft picks (Newton, Tennessee’s Manning in 1998). Manning is 13 years (and 48 days) elder than Newton, for the widest SB starting age gap. At 39, he is the eldest QB in a SB by a year over Elway 16 years ago.

Newton and Manning are both 6-foot-5, and of similar weight. But younger Newton is much sturdier, faster and agile and is by far the Panthers’ most potent weapon.

Gentlemanly, subdued, meticulous-strategizing Manning was caught by an NFL Films mike after his last win saying the SB may be his “last rodeo.”

Manning is the sole QB to lead two teams each to more than one Super Bowl. His 68.2 percent SB completion mark is better than all but Dallas legend Troy Aikman.

Manning has passed for more (71,940) yards than anyone in a career and season (5,477 in 2013). He has thrown for more touchdowns in a career (539) and season (55 in ‘13; he had 49 in 2004). His marks include the most 300-yard games (around 90), tie for aerial TDs in a game (seven, in ‘13), and perfect 158.3 passer rating five times.

Peyton has surpassed 4,000 passing yards in a record 13 seasons. His 342-yard average in 2013 is the best ever. He threw for at least 25 scores in a record 15 years in a row he played in, surpassed 30 in eight of his last 11 seasons.

The Super Bowl is in Santa Clara, Calif., aired by CBS starting 6:30 p.m.

Where might one watch the game locally on big screens? The Dugout Sports Bar and Grille (692-9262) has a Super Bowl Buffet and Charity Benefit, for the Blue Ridge Humane Society. Flat Rock Cinema (697-2463) has free viewing of the game on its movie screen. Doors opens at 5:30 p.m. Sanctuary Brewing (595-9956) served its Carolina Panther Chocolate Porter in its beer release party last Sunday.

Hannah Flanagan’s (696-1665), South Rock Bar & Grill (698-2490), Margaritagrille (692-3100), Black Rose Public House (698-2622), Applebee’s (692-3006), Southern Appalachian Brewery (684-1235), new Basic Brewery (595-3992) and Mills River Brewery (989-3747), Sierra Nevada Brewery at Mills River (681-5300) are also apt to have drink and food specials on Super Sunday.

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