Football is one of my favorite things to watch on TV, and I bet I can make it yours too. It began as a passion born out of the social rituals around the event of it- but, eventually I became fascinated with the game. Well, more specifically, the role that human interest stories play - I'm talking coach rivalries, idrama between players, heart-wrenching stories of triumph, emotional baggage, shocking stats and so on- what I like to refer to as "The Softer Side."
"The Softer Side" is about creating a compelling narrative through which to watch a football game and making it just as riveting, if not more so, than an episode of "The Real Housewives". Sometimes before a game I find out one player slept with an opponent's girlfriend in college, or that two players grew up on the same block and played football together since they were kids but now find themselves on rival teams.
In my mission to make my friends (and women everywhere) love the sport as much as I do, allow me to share "The Softer Side" of Super Bowl 50. Before any game, I find a main story to fuel overall intrigue throughout, and then throw in a few bonus interesting tidbits for added interest. (And if you guys like this, I will happily do it more often next Fall- so let me know what you think, okay?)
THE MAIN STORY: The established, experienced and very respected old guard (Peyton Manning/ Denver Broncos) versus the controversial up-and-comer with a flair for the dramatic (Cam Newton/Carolina Panthers)- who happen to have the largest age difference (13 years and 48 days) in Super Bowl history.
As per this recent article in USA Today, I imagine this is what the movie trailer voiceover for Super Bowl 50 would lead with: "Manning trying to win one more title in what would be the storybook ending to what has been one of the finest careers in NFL history. Newton looking for the ring that would solidify his status as the new face of the league." Cue the dramatic instrumental music...
Peyton is at the end of a very long and very accomplished NFL career, on the cusp on turning 40. He is the oldest quarterback to ever play in the Super Bowl, and most believe that this will be his final NFL game ever, although he won't confirm it. Add to that the fact that Manning sat out much of the season with a bad foot injury- that is, until he unexpectedly had to step in, and subsequently saved the game, that made the Bronco's the #1 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
At 26 years old, Cam Newton's pro football prowess is just beginning. Newton may just be the most polarizing player in the league, and he doesn't seem to care one bit. Manning, on the other hand, has continually actively made an effort to avoid drama. Its like the girl in your high school with the hot body who wears provocative clothes (and looks amazing in them) and flaunts her wild social escapades (which all look super fun) on Instagram going up against that intimidatingly quiet, confident chick who doesn't even know how to use Snapchat for Homecoming Queen. But much different. But you get the comparison, right?
Fashion Face Off: The two men have very different playing styles- but I won't bore with you those details at this stage in our football relationship (but stick with me and a year from now you will be totally into knowing this stuff because it really is fascinating). Instead, let's look at their sartorial situations- as captured by this side by side photo comparison of each QB arriving in California the other day. Investment banker conservative on the left, and, um, zebra and gold print Versace pants on the right.
There are similarities between the QBs though that make the story within the game even more fun to watch...
It's Cool To Be Kind: Bothare rumored to be incredibly nice guys. And especially given how many incredibly NOT nice guys there are in the NFL, seeing two men who play fair, give back to their communities, treat their fans with respect and gratitude and generally conduct themselves in ways that would make me feel okay about either of my daughter's developing major crushes on them, makes me very happy. So, regardless of the next paragraph because we all know haters gonna hate, I am cool with either one walking out of the stadium wearing a Super Bowl 50 ring.
Scandal Scorecard: Manning is caught in an-oddly timed and perhaps totally unsubstantiated (I don't know the entire story, it came from an Al Jazeera report and you can read more here) steroid scandal for allegedly getting HGH (human growth hormone) to help him recover from a neck injury in 2011. The performance-enhancing drug, banned by the NFL, was sent under his wife's name but allegedly intended for his use. Newton is under fire for his signature "Superman" moves that he breaks out on the field (keep an eye out for them on Sunday). Critics say it is bombastic showboating, evidence of an oversized ego. Newtown has said that the reactions to his behavior may be fueled by his race. This is an interesting article that will fill you in on the nitty gritty. It should be noted that he is only the 6th African American quarterback to start in a Super Bowl (and this is Super Bowl 50), so while based on what you see when you turn on the TV, it may seem that the NFL is predominantly African American, when it comes to the QB position, that is very much not the case.
OTHER INTERESTING TIDBITS:
Remember "The Blind Side"?: That movie was amazing, right? And guess what? The subject of the movie-, Michael Oher, plays tackle for the Panthers. So don't tell me you don't care about the game because you don't know any of the players, okay?
A Coach Has (Incurable) Cancer: The Special Teams Coach for the Panthers (also considered one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL), Bruce DeHaven, is battling prostate cancer, and in August 2015 was told he had anywhere from 5 months to 5 years to live. There is no way that this can't profoundly affect the way his players feel about winning a Super Bowl ring.
Coaching Milestones In the Making: Ron Rivera, the Panthers' head coach, will be the second Hispanic coach to win a Super Bowl if the Carolina wins. And for the coach of the Broncos, who is only in his first season at the helm of this team, is one of three coaches to get his team to the Super Bowl in his inaugural year.
People Seem To Think The Panthers Will Win: I always like to know the general consensus on who will win a game because then, if the other team is pulling ahead, it makes it that much more exciting to observe. So keep this in mind, and root accordingly.
As silly as this fluff-driven strategy may sound to many, in reality, it is just the beginning- the hook with which to peak an interest in the game. Soon enough, it just may evolve into a true appreciation for the sport itself- from the body control that the players must have to keep their feet in bounds while jumping to catch a pass to the pressure on a kicker in a key moment to the almost ballet-like choreography that goes into every single play. That is what happened for me.
Football Sundays are my most favorite days of the year, and they can be yours too- I promise.