Super Bowl 50: What the Big Game Looks Like

The battle between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos features record ticket prices, the classic old-versus-young trope, and a fight over Roman numerals.

Chris Keane / Reuters

In the pantheon of cherished American institutions, one of the only things greater than the sports cliché is the Super Bowl spectacle. Fortunately, this year’s match-up between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos offers more space for both to flourish than in recent years.

Consider the quarterback and the narrative of old-versus-young

Denver is led by Peyton Manning, the 39-year-old ailing and aging all-time great. Born during the Gerald Ford administration, Manning remains the aw-shucks embodiment of the humble and serious signal caller: winner of five MVP awards, possessor of the all-time NFL records for passing touchdowns and passing yards, and now a hobbling relic. Manning overcame a terrible regular season to make an unlikely (and likely final) return to the Super Bowl with a tense, two-point win against the defending champion New England Patriots. He is the first quarterback to reach the Super Bowl under four different coaches.

Carolina features Cam Newton, who was born in the era of the elder George Bush and is the favorite to be the NFL’s most valuable player this year. Newton can run and pass; his style is frequently characterized as “flashy” and his end-zone dances inspire mothers to write screeds in major newspapers. Before Carolina manhandled the Arizona Cardinal 49-15 on Sunday to reach February’s big game, Newton was taking pictures with Future and Jeezy.

Defense wins championships, et cetera

Manning knows how to win, and Newton had the best season of anyone in football, but stellar defenses are huge parts of why Carolina and Denver are in the Super Bowl.

Denver was the NFL’s top-ranked defense this year, which proved itself again on Sunday by knocking down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 20 times, the most times any quarterback was hit in a game this year. All of the Broncos’ Pro-Bowl selections were on the defensive side, with cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib and linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware leading the way.

Carolina is blessed with offense, but also boasts the league’s sixth-best defense. More impressive than its defensive ranking in yards and points allowed is its ability to force turnovers. The Panthers’ opponents turned the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their offensive drives this season, the best in the league. On Sunday, Arizona lost the ball a shocking seven times.

Call it “Super Bowl 50,” not “Super Bowl L”

The circus that envelops the country’s biggest sporting event has the potential to be even more frenzied than in previous years. The game will be the first Super Bowl ever held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Predictably, even though Super Bowl tickets are never cheap, prices are already surging to record-level prices. As CNN notes, the average resale price for a single ticket is $5,178, which at this point is a five-year high.

Then, there’s Coldplay, the polarizing, snoozy pick for the Super Bowl halftime show. As my colleague Spencer Kornhaber argued back in December, the selection was inevitable:

The truth is that the Super Bowl halftime show is America’s last great monocultural musical moment, and it’s mostly helpful as a thought experiment to help figure out which acts can legitimately be called superstars—and moreover, which kind of acts.

The choice, he adds, “is further confirmation that in the category of relevant, still-going, culture-uniting, newish rock-and-roll bands, Coldplay’s close to all we’ve got.” Just in case, Beyonce and Bruno Mars will be there too.

Perhaps most representative of the NFL’s quest for the broadest possible appeal, as The New York Times notes, Super Bowl 50 is the first big game to not be referred to by its Roman numeral since the fourth Super Bowl.

What’s so bad about Super Bowl L? The league promises “the numerals will return next season for Super Bowl LI.”