Of the first 46 Super Bowls, only three of them featured a black starting quarterback, those quarterbacks being Doug Williams, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb. Each of the past four Super Bowls, however, have now seen one of the teams with a starting quarterback who is black. In six games coming into the 50th Super Bowl, it could be argued that not only did black quarterbacks hold their own in comparison to their white counterparts, but outplayed them by a narrow margin; black quarterbacks were a combined 116 of 190 passing for 1666 yards, 12 TD passes and 6 interceptions for a passer rating of 97.4, while their white counterparts were a combined 154 of 248 for 1802 yards, 13 TD passes and 7 interceptions for a QB rating of 89.8. Although white quarterbacks were the winners in four of these games, the combined margin of victory was only 17 points—while the two victories by black quarterbacks were by a combined score of 85-18.
So we entered Super Bowl 50 knowing two things: Cam Newton is this season's NFL MVP, and most analysts believe that his team, the Panthers, would win this game, likely by a comfortable margin over his sanctified counterpart, Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Did that in fact happen?
In the first half, save for one offensive possession, the Panthers looked completely disorganized. This wasn’t the fault of coaching (save for a needless “trick play” called by offensive coordinator Mike Shula), but more like the confusion and frustration of the players when the game was not going as expected. A Newton fumble that ended up in the end zone for a Broncos’ touchdown, the “trick” play gone awry that ended a scoring threat, leading to bone-headed coverage on a punt that led to another three Bronco points, and it was 13-7 by halftime.
Yet to say that it was “surprising” that the Broncos were actually leading this game was an understatement; save for their first possession, offensively they were mostly inefficient if not completely inept. And the Broncos’ defense was helped immeasurably by “Superman” suffering from an apparent power outage at inopportune times. If the Panthers could at least get their “B” game in order, they still had a chance to pull it out in the end, if not sooner.
At the start of the second half, the Panthers seemed to be on “track,” but their drive stalled and was followed by missed field goal attempt. Manning was again unable to complete a drive, but at least he was bailed out by a made field goal that extended the Broncos’ lead to a two-score game. Now things became dicey for the Panthers, because they had yet to demonstrate that they could get out of their own way, especially from penalties. After Manning’s second turnover led to a Panthers’ field goal, and with five minutes to play following another Broncos punt, maybe this time the Panthers would finally show that they were the superior team, having outgained the Broncos 315 to 184 at that point; although stunningly trailing 16-10, the game was still winnable.
It was not to be. “Superman” suddenly became the 90-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face. For the second time in the game, the man who was supposed to be physically awe-inspiring was sacked and lost the ball on the very wrong side of the field. Once more the mostly inept Broncos’ offense was seemingly kept out of the end zone again, until the Panthers’ eleventh penalty turned a third-down incompletion into a first-and-goal, and a touchdown and two-point conversion left shocked observers mulling over a 24-10 score, despite the fact that the Broncos still had only 186 yards of total offense. Manning was only 13 of 23 for 141 yards, no TDs and an interception and lost fumble, for a pitiful 56.6 passer rating. Yet Newton was worse; he would finish 18-41, 265 yards, no TDs, one interception and a QB rating of 55.4
But it was Newton’s two fumbles which provided the Broncos’ their margin of victory. There is simply no denying it: Cam Newton is the reason the Panthers lost this game in such shocking fashion. It wasn’t the Panthers’ defense, which did a commendable job of keeping Manning and the Broncos’ offense in check, allowing only 194 yards of total offense, 11 first downs and a pitiful one third down conversion in 14 attempts. But stupid penalties, especially “unnecessary roughness” on the offense, just showed that the Panthers were not ready for primetime under the pressure of living up to the hype, both of their own making and that which the media bestowed upon them.
And in doing so, they allowed Peyton Manning to cement his “legacy” in most undeserving fashion. In four Super Bowls he has thrown only 3 touchdown passes in 144 pass attempts (well, five--except that two were to the other team), and his teams scored just 64 points offensively—and seven should be subtracted from this game, after Newton’s late fumble at the Panther four-yard line. Manning should be—like Jim Kelly—0-4 in the Super Bowl, and that includes the victory against the Bears, which the Colts were also extremely fortunate to win, no help from Manning despite being the most undeserving MVP winner in Super Bowl history.
But while I can’t disguise my dislike of Manning for the reasons I have provided the past two weeks, I must also say that the only reason why I favored the Panthers in this game was because of that dislike. The Panthers are not a team I’ve been able to “warm-up” to, Newton as a player in particular. It seemed to me that three seasons following his rookie campaign he had been revealed as a bit of an over-hyped fraud; this season because of the Panthers’ success on the win column it was easy for some “analysts” to re-hype Newton. Maybe it was just more politics, after all. At the very least, Newton’s performance in the Super Bowl proved that he is susceptible to "Kryptonite," whether in his hands or in his own head.