At the beginning of Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers ran onto the field of Levi’s Stadium to the beating of a drum. The then reigning NBA Champion point guard Stephen Curry, donning a Panthers jersey, was the drummer. Cam Newton, the signal caller of the Carolina Panthers captivated the nation with his effervescent personality all the while leading his team to a 15-1 season record.
Both Newton and Curry had a lot in common this season.
Like Newton, Curry rallied his team through a season with minimal losses. The 73-9 record besting the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72-10 record, Golden State found their place in history.
Both players were heavily favored to champion their title bout but fell short to veteran leaders of their respective sport. NBA superstar LeBron James bested Curry, leading the Cavaliers to win the NBA Championship. The match mirrored the Denver Bronco’s victory over the Panthers in January.
One can argue that both retired quarterback Payton Manning and James are two of the best athletes in American sports history. Manning holds the record for most touchdown passes in a single game. James is the youngest NBA player to score 25,000 points in his career.
Manning also won five league MVP awards, one more than James’ MVP honors. Both James and Manning won championships for two different teams, one of them being their draft team.
James’ image was marred by his 2010 decision to leave Cleveland and his two championship wins for the Miami Heat. During games, spectators accused James of being melodramatic when he fouls or gets fouled by players. Regardless of his on-court reputation, James aided the Cavaliers to a 57-25 record, the best in the Eastern Conference and third best in the NBA 2015-16 season.
Although fans and NFL players revered Manning’s career, the Broncos did not look like a threat to the Panthers. By week 3 of the season, the Broncos offense was averaging 3.73 yards per play, a league worst at the time, according to ESPN.
Manning had 10 interceptions by week 7 and suffered an injury during the season. The Broncos had a 12-4 record, out winning every team in the AFC West.
Having seniority in their leagues did not give James or Manning favor in the media or fan attention. Their talented adversaries with less professional experience and more star power were favored to win their title bouts.
However, Manning and James had plotlines of their own. A major goal for James was to get a championship for Cleveland to pay homage to his hometown of Akron, OH. James coined this “getting one for the land.”
Sports analysts talked about how Manning “going off into the sunset” with a Lombardi trophy would be a great way for the 40-year-old to conclude his 18-year career.
Other aspects of Golden State’s playoff run echoed the Panthers. The Warriors had an easygoing championship run until they hit the Western Conference Finals. The Panthers experienced a similar threat in the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
In Game 4, Kevin Durant scored 26 points and James scored 36 points. The Warrior were facing elimination like how Seattle’s 24-point run in the second half threatened Carolina.
Curry and Newton’s Cinderella story played out only during the season. As for James and Manning, their fairytale played out on the highest platform of their sport.