I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

Two weeks ago, I watched the AFC and NFC championship games and the future was written all over the screen. The Carolina Panthers, 17-1 after back-to-back blowouts of Seattle and Arizona (arguably the second- and third-best teams in the NFL), were going to terrorize Peyton Manning and wear down Denver’s defense. It was going to be like Seahawks-Broncos two years ago. It was going to be like Super Bowls of my youth, when the NFC champ made the AFC champ look junior varsity.

I don’t recall ever feeling stronger about a five-point spread. I’m sure glad I didn’t put my money where my mouth was. This Broncos’ D wasn’t the ’85 Bears or ’86 Giants, but in an era where even bad offenses put up big numbers, Denver crushed opponents. Think about what Von Miller and Co. did in the playoffs.

Held the league’s No. 4 scoring offense to 16 points — 10 under its average.

Held the league’s No. 3 scoring offense to 18 points — 11 under its average.

Held the league’s No. 1 scoring offense to 10 points — 21 under its average.

The moment I’ll remember from Super Bowl 50 wasn’t Peyton Manning’s promises to bathe in Bud heavy, it was the second strip sack of Cam Newton, when he inexplicably chose not to jump on the fumble. Was he trying to avoid injury? Was he hoping a teammate would recover? 

No, I think Newton was so mentally and physically broken at that moment that he didn’t have the heart to take another hit. Maybe that’s harsh. But that’s what Denver did to him. That was the moment, the microcosm of 60 minutes of dominance, the ultimate compliment to Denver’s D. 

“He didn’t want it,” Denver cornerback Aqib Talib said. “Yeah, he didn’t want it.”

>> Interesting stat floating around the web this morning: 

Quarterback A: 12-22, 123 yd, 0 TD, 1 INT

Quarterback B: 13-23, 141 yd, 0 TD, 1 INT. 

QB B, of course, was Peyton Manning last night. QB A? That was John Elway in Super Bowl 32, the upset of the Packers. How many jaw-dropping performances did Elway and Manning compile in their Hall of Fame careers? Ironically, they won Super Bowls with less than their best.

Now Manning will surely leave as Elway, on top of the world following his second Super Bowl win. Does that make them equal in the history books? Ehh, I think the lesson from last night’s stats is how foolish it is to rank quarterbacks by how many Super Bowls they win. 

Even before last night, Peyton belonged in the top two all-time, just behind Tom Brady.

>> But what about Joe Montana!?! 

I rank Montana a little lower because of longevity. He only started 164 NFL games. Peyton started 265! Elway's at 231. Brady's at 223. Brett Favre's at 298.

>> You know who I feel for this morning? Brock Osweiler. I’m serious. Manning obviously deserved this opportunity after everything he’s achieved. But Osweiler was one bad half from holding the Bronco reins during this playoff run. 

Yes, Denver had five turnovers against San Diego in Week 17. But Osweiler’s two interceptions weren’t his fault. If the Broncos play a little better that day, I can’t imagine Kubiak making a change for the playoffs. Which means Manning’s career would’ve ended with that disastrous game against Kansas City. 

Perhaps “the man upstairs,” as Peyton noted, was looking out for him in Week 17.

>> Cam Newton had the season of his life — well, 2010 was pretty special, too. But I can’t help but wonder how much better he would’ve been with help at receiver. Along with Denver’s pass rush, that was the difference in last night’s game.

The Panthers receivers just couldn’t make plays. They dropped passes. They couldn’t get separation. (Reminded me of the Packers’ problems without Jordy Nelson). Carolina’s receivers struggled much of the year without Kelvin Benjamin, but I underestimated the importance of their matchup with the Denver secondary. 

>> OK, finally my hot take on Cam’s postgame interview session. There’s a gray area between “Cam’s a terrible leader” and “It’s not Cam’s fault.” That’s where I reside. 

Yes, he needs to show more maturity in the media scrum. Pouting doesn’t work when you’re the MVP. On the other hand, he wasn’t receiving legitimate questions. Heck, he wasn’t even really getting questions

“Do we sometimes forget that defenses can still take apart the offenses in this game?”

“Can you put into words the disappointment you feel right now?”

“I know you’re disappointed not just for yourself, but for your teammates. It’s got to be real tough.” 

You know what he wasn’t asked, at least according to the quote sheet. The question that mattered most: “Why didn’t you jump on the fumble?” 

Those post-game scrums are a nightmare for reporters, especially when you get a couple guys asking terrible questions. But I don’t blame Cam entirely for listening to this crap and determining it was a waste of time.

>> A few SB50 links

An all-time great defense emerged, especially over the past month, to save the day, says Michael Rosenberg.

Denver surprised Carolina with a series of “green-dog” blitzers.

Von Miller and Co. knew they’d broken Cam Newton on the strip six in the first quarter, writes Dan Wetzel.

More on Miller’s rapid rise from Jenny Vrentas.

>> Quite a run for Super Bowl underdogs, huh. The last favorite to win was Green Bay over Pittsburgh five years ago. That’s an unprecedented run.

Last night, the Broncos were a five-point dog. 

Last year, the Seahawks and Patriots were a pick ‘em.

Two years ago, the Seahawks were 2.5-point dogs.

Three years ago, the Ravens were 4.5-point dogs.

Four years ago, the Giants were 2.5-point dogs. 

Put it another way: In the past 15 Super Bowls, only three favorites have covered the point spread. Please remind me of that statistic next year when I brazenly predict a blowout.

>> My Super Bowl pick for 2017? The safest bet is still New England or Seattle, but I’ll take the Steelers. If Mike Tomlin can keep Big Ben healthy and improve his defense just a little bit, Pittsburgh should be great.

>> Saturday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena was the eeriest sound I’ve ever heard during a game. 

Silence. Complete silence. 

When Shavon Shields landed on his head and lay motionless for several minutes, a sense of fear gripped the crowd of 12,000-plus. You could see it in the face of Tim Miles. You could see it in the face of Shavon’s mother. Just a terrifying scene when you realize how little victories mean in the big picture.

Shields, who checked out of the hospital just a couple hours later, will hopefully return to the court soon. 

>> I wrote a column for Saturday’s paper about the reality of Nebraska recruiting, at least as I perceive it. The Huskers have lost almost all of their recruiting advantages from the glory days. How are they supposed to win? 

I received some interesting feedback. Here’s a few emails:

From Mark:

I hear you I wake up all the time on the negative, seems impossible to get back to the day. All you said was true and I yearn to be good again. However, Nebraska is still one of the top ten programs in football history, that does not go away. So what really is the issue as we have seen other top 10 programs rise from the ashes. It’s the head coach, period. We have had 3 mediocre HCs since back to back icons. Is Riley the answer, don’t know but he is closer to the reality than the previous 3. He seems to be doing it the Nebraska way which is an understated but consistent drive to be good.

In 1971, I came to Neb as a student and have been here ever since. The growth of this university has been astounding. I came from B1G country and revel in the fact that Neb is in it. People native to this state do not really understand what the university has done, they are now playing with the Big Boys in sports and academics, and Neb is behind the eight ball due to the low population of the state. However, I have been in a position for a few years to travel the country as a representative of the state. I will tell you this, Nebraska is the best-run state in the country; it does more with less all the time. There is a unity here that other states just do not have. There is no rich vs poor here, no corruption, just people working together to get things done in an amicable way. This is a strength that other states simply can not replicate.

So back to the issue! Can Nebraska be great again? As I awake on the negative more often than not, I still believe. 

From Rebecca:

Your article brought to mind something my 82 year old uncle said to me while walking to our car after one of our loses this past fall. He said I don't think I will see this program right itself in my lifetime. He is healthy and has had his season tickets since 1965... has seen it all but nothing like the past 15-20 years. They have been going to games home and away for years. I keep asking myself how could the people in charge let it get to this?

But winning is the key. They will come if we win and and look respectable. My own opinion... we still don't have the right people in place but time will tell.

One reader, one of the brightest Husker historians I know, wrote that my observations were correct, but I downplayed the genius of Tom Osborne. 

“The reality Dirk is — Nebraska football from now on may have to live with the fact that it is closer to Iowa than Ohio State. Michigan State and Wisconsin have survived off GREAT coaching. See what UW does now that Dave Aranda is gone. See if MSU continues a downward trend on defense in year 2 of post Narduzzi. But to suggest that Nebraska will get guys on the level of Ohio State or Michigan is awfully optimistic.”

>> A fun little story about Alex Gordon’s chewing gum. Don’t TOUCH.

>> Sally Jenkins on Roger Goodell’s shameless spin of the CTE crisis. Bruce Arthur says Goodell’s words are as meaningless as ever.

>> Cam Newton. Jordan Spieth. Steph Curry. Tom Brady. Bryce Harper. Carey Price. Michael Phelps. Why didn’t I buy Under Armour stock 10 years ago!?! Michael Rosenberg with a good column on the challenge of projecting superstars.

>> The Rick Pitino Era at Louisville needs to end. What happened Friday only solidifies it. The Cardinals bailed on the 2016 postseason in the hope that the NCAA wouldn’t hurt their future recruiting efforts.

As Terry Pettit said Saturday night on Twitter, “I was a D1 coach for 23 years and have mentored at 50 Univs. IMO, there is no way Pitino did not know about prostitutes.”

>> Tweet of the week nominee, from Jason Gay:

“Honestly anyone who thinks coaching the Knicks is a great job is immediately dubious and should be scratched off list.” 

>> Tweet of the week nominee, from Buck Mahoney:

“Kearney, Nebraska. Equal distance between the Super Bowl and World Series winners.” 

>> Speaking of Kearney, let's finish there. On Dec. 28, Joel Hueser stood before a big crowd at Ravenna High School and delivered a powerful eulogy for one of his best friends.

Paul Beranek had died six days earlier and Hueser accepted the task of encapsulating Coach B, an icon of the Nebraska high school basketball community. Hueser told personal stories. He praised Paul's faith. 

In the front row, Drake Beranek sat next to his mom and brothers, listening to every word.

Six weeks later, Saturday night at Kearney High, Drake and Joel found themselves together for the first time since the funeral. Drake's Bearcats beat Hueser's Papillion-LaVista South Titans 61-45. But that's not the only cool part.

Hueser's a former Kearney High all-stater (class of 1984). Before the game, Drake presented him with a framed jersey with his high school number, No. 31.

What number did Paul Beranek's three sons wear at Ravenna? 


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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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