Pigskin Almanac: Super Bowl 50 – Carolina’s Season Defined by One Game?

People who know me well will tell you that I am the undisputed, world champion Most Pessimistic Supporter when it comes to sport.

I have a number of reasons for this, but for the most part my default position of unmitigated pessimism is due to:

A) ‘The Catch’ in the 1981 NFC championship decider between San Francisco and the Dallas Cowboys in 1982.

B) Essendon’s loss in the 1983 VFL Grand Final,

C) My under 12s A-Grade Grand Final loss,

D) Liverpool losing to Arsenal at Anfield and losing the EPL title (as made famous by Nick Hornby’sFever Pitch) in the final weekend of the 1989 season,

E) Werribee’s loss to Dandenong in the 1991 VFA Grand Final by nine points after a 15-3 season and a straight-sets path to the Grand Final,

F) Essendon’s loss in the 1999 AFL Preliminary final.

All six of these moments, among countless attempts at landing quaddies in the Spring and Autumn are the only times in my entire life I have been completely sure that winning was a moral certainty.

History shows I was mistaken about such certitude.

I am so pessimistic, even my blood type is B Negative. For real.

Naturally enough, with such fatalistic cognitive processes, I was a nervous wreck throughout the latter half of the 2000 AFL season and most especially on Grand Final day.  If I had access to a handful of Xanax, I would have scorfed them down like M&M’s prior to the game. If I was a thoroughbred, I would have been scratched at the gates on vet’s advice in a muck lather. It wasn’t until time on in the final quarter that I finally accepted that we were going to beat Melbourne and take the 2000 flag. Dominating my thinking was the maxim that every win brings you closer to your next loss and that overconfidence is death. How I would have handled today’s game if I was a Carolina fan is anyone’s guess.

So when I saw the Carolina Panthers grandstanding and celebrating in the third quarter of their NFC Championship game against Arizona (gridiron’s equivalent of an AFL Preliminary final but with far more gravitas attached to winning it), I was taken aback. Sure, they’d amassed a 17 win and one loss season, with some hidings thrown in like the one they were handing out to the Cardinals for good measure. Sure, they were probably entitled to celebrate hard. But in the third quarter? There was no way Arizona were going to come back, and pro-Football is, with notable exceptions like Jason Witten, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Larry Fitzgerald, a sport in which humility and perspective are often in short supply, but I couldn’t get past the Panthers cockiness. Not Joe Namath “I guarantee it” cockiness, but their braggadocio, their utter disrespect for Arizona had me thinking, if only for a moment; ‘geez, you wouldn’t want to f–k up on Super Bowl Sunday carrying on like that before the game was over.’

I’m not saying for a moment that I knew the Panthers would lose Super Bowl 50 today. I remained convinced at the half way mark of the final quarter of the game, that a Panthers comeback was imminent. No way were the Panthers going to go out like this. Cam Newton and that offence are better than this. The Panthers’ coaching staff were some of the finest minds in the game. Surely Denver’s defence has to buckle at least once?

When Denver’s Vonn Miller slapped the pigskin from Cam Newton’s hand as he readied his arm to fire off a pass, causing a fumble and eventually giving the Broncos the ball back on the Panthers’ own 20-yard line, the reality of a Denver win and perhaps one of the most stunning upsets in Super Bowl history became a very real possibility.

Peyton Manning then went on to engineer the drive that would notch up one of the grittiest touchdowns the Broncos would achieve in their post-season campaign. And then, for good measure, executed the two point conversion that would give Denver an unassailable lead with perfection.

On the Panthers next offensive drive, Cam Newton was unceremoniously sacked for the seventh time of the game – a heretofore unheard of statistic for the mighty leader of Carolina’s celebrated offense. The jig was up. The Broncos had effectively won. All that was required was the formality of running out the clock and handing the Panthers the ball with around 30 seconds left in the game.

Denver meanwhile, have possibly given one of the game’s greatest ever players in Peyton Manning the perfect send off. As I type this, there’s been no official announcement on Manning’s future. At age 39, two Super Bowl rings, countless records and one hit away from possible permanent injury, there’s nothing more for him to prove. There’s time enough for a decision or an announcement on his playing future later on.

Tonight though, Archie Manning’s boy and his Super Bowl winning team mates will drink their Budweisers and celebrate, knowing that to win this:



There’s a time and place for this;



Of course the Panthers’ level of celebration had nothing to do with their performance on the field today. The Broncos defence was nothing short of superb and all possible credit must go to them, and their defensive team led by Wade Phillips. Denver was able to stop the New England Patriots – my selection for Super Bowl honours when the playoffs commenced, and that was a superb achievement. Today’s win was thoroughly deserved. For Carolina though, and this is a completely provincial opinion; as mighty as the Denver defence was throughout the game, the reality was that the Panthers failed to deliver when they had to.

How empty, how worthless is a 17-2 season when you somehow manage to put in your worst performance in the one game you can least afford to.

You might as well have finished your season 2-17.

How the Panthers respond to today’s loss is the next chapter in their story and I’ll be watching with interest.



February 7th
Levi’s Stadium Field, Santa Clara, Ca. (71,088)

Carolina Panthers:  0  7  0  3  10
Denver: 3  10   3  8   24

Passing: Cam Newton (CAR) 238 yds
Rushing: C.J Anderson (DEN), 23 car, 90 yds, 1TD
Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders (DEN), 6 rec, 83 yds

Pigskin Almanac “Well, that was fun!” Super Bowl MVP: Vonn Miller (DEN)

About Steve Baker

"Colourful central Victorian racing identity". Recovering Essendon supporter, and sometime weekend night racing presenter on RSN Racing and Sport.

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