By Shawn S. Lealos
The Carolina Panthers won 15 of their 16 regular season games to head into the NFL playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the NFC with the best record of any other team. They beat the Seattle Seahawks, who had been to back-to-back Super Bowls heading into this season, and then destroyed the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. Now, there is one game left, as Cam Newton and the Panthers meet Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Here is a look at the team news heading into the bye week before the Super Bowl.
Ron Rivera A Rare Head Coach
Ron Rivera coached his way into the Super Bowl and is a rare breed of head coach. When Rivera’s Carolina Panthers battle Gary Kubiak’s Denver Broncos, the two coaches will be only the sixth and seventh head coaches in history to both play in the Super Bowl and serve as a head coach for a Super Bowl team. Kubiak was the backup for John Elway when the Broncos played in the Super Bowl in 1986, 1987 and 1988. Ron Rivera played for the Chicago Bears when they won a Super Bowl in 1985. Rivera is also only the second Latino head coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl, following the Oakland Raiders Tom Flores.
Ron Rivera Learning From Mike Ditka
Since Rivera was a linebacker on the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won the Super Bowl, he has a lot of pull from when heading into this year’s Super Bowl. He is culling a lot of advice from his head coach at the time, Mike Ditka. “One of the things Coach Ditka emphasized to us was to enjoy the moment,” said Rivera.
While the Panthers will work hard leading into the Super Bowl, don’t expect them to slow down and eliminate the fun factor that they have been known for throughout the season, especially with a quarterback like Cam Newton. Fans of the ’85 Bears remember the Super Bowl Shuffle. “They’re going to embrace it,” Rivera said. “It’s really a matter of managing it more than anything else. They’ve earned it. They deserve it.”
Cam Newton Winning Fans and Players Over with Enthusiasm
Cam Newton will always have people who hate him because he plays football with an excitement that many consider to be arrogance. However, his enthusiasm and joy for the game is something that his fellow teammates feed off and the fans of the Panthers gravitate to. What non-fans seem to consider disrespect, the Panthers consider excitement.
“He’s having an amazing time, man,” Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “You see it on the field, off the field—he’s just loose. He’s himself. That’s why we love that guy.” Expect to see a lot of Cam Newton enjoying himself leading up to the Super Bowl, but don’t expect it to get in the way of his play. In two playoff games, Newton has thrown for 496 yards, ran for 50 yards, and scored five touchdowns.
Linebacker Thomas Davis Vows to Play with Broken Arm
Heading into the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers lost starting cornerback Charles Tillman and then played without defensive lineman Jared Allen for the NFC Championship game. In the NFC Championship game, linebacker Thomas Davis broke his forearm. However, the Panthers are holding nothing back for their Super Bowl appearance against the Denver Broncos. Davis said he will play and head coach Ron Rivera said not to count him out.
“I ain’t missing the Super Bowl,” Davis said. “You better believe that. … The early prognosis is it’s broken. We’ll get it figured out, and I’ll be ready in two weeks.” Also injured was safety Roman Harper, who suffered an eye injury. He also plans to return for the Super Bowl and Allen will be back as well.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. aExaminer.com.