MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly counting down to the biggest of football games, Super Bowl 50. Kickoff is this Sunday, and commentator Frank Deford has some pregame thoughts for us.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: I firmly believe that football games are best when both the quarterbacks are stars, which is what we've definitely got this Sunday. Yeah, yeah, I know, defense wins games, and a football takes funny bounces. And as every bad analyst regularly declares, man, those turnovers can kill you. But football absolutely needs quarterbacks. The quarterback, his position is unique in team sport, all the more so in today's passing game. And this Super Bowl looms as even more of a dandy because the two quarterbacks are so in contrast.
First, there's the immobile old fellow Peyton Manning, who plays the classical style, seeking shelter in that gridiron fortress, the pocket. Isn't that a wonderfully quaint word for such a violent game, pocket, love it. And the ancient warrior's opposite number is Cam Newton, a brash young, animated guy who merely drops by the pocket on his various spectacular rambles. In fact, Newton's been criticized for dancing too exuberantly after his touchdowns. Newton's teammates certainly aren't upset by their young leader's enthusiasm, though. And the Panthers quarterback himself has responded to his detractors, if perhaps too melodramatically, by saying that as an African-American quarterback, he is a novelty who may scare people. But then even though a black quarterback first started a Super Bowl as far back as 1988, Newton's more spirited end zone antics may have helped reinforce the antipathy, which is often biased, that is sometimes directed at African-American players for their touchdown celebrations.
Manning, the son of an All-American, has the grandest football pedigree. Newton, though, was a benchwarmer at Florida who had to leave Gainesville, spending a year in junior college exile. But he found his way to Auburn and the national championship and the Heisman Trophy that eluded Manning. No, never have two Super Bowl quarterbacks been so blessed with so much talent yet differentiated in so many ways. All the more dramatic, this maybe what Manning has referred to as his last rodeo. But guaranteed, win or lose, and whether or not he retires, Manning ain't disappearing. He may be leaving the pocket, but it'll only be to move to a broadcast booth or to churn out more commercials. I'll even bet you some product will have him hustling at a rodeo.
KELLY: That's Frank Deford, not his last rodeo. You can hear his comments here on MORNING EDITION the first Wednesday of the month.
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