The Hangover is a fevered attempt to collect thoughts on the NFL and anything else stuck in the craws of the brain the day after all football has burned out. All opinions belong solely to the author and all facts belong to that evil new war god of unfeeling thought.
I despise having to take the side of the league here, or to sit around praising its success. There's no need for such sycophancy.
But one must feel that, for the league, this match-up is exactly what is desired and dreamed of. Two of the best teams, records and personnel and playoff results alike, faced up like this. Royal Rumble fumbled for a proper ending, and in a sport that doesn't script its results a far better matchup was ordained. The circuits have aligned for the 50th Super Bowl and 50,000 volts are surging through. Of the teams that remained, a golden game featuring the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers was the best way to thrust this season towards its conclusion.
The league does not deserve such good luck. This is the same league that willingly buried itself in nonsensical litigation over the inflation of footballs with one of its biggest stars and repeatedly shows its ass regarding the long-standing malaise that takes hold of its retired players. It took the league years of faffing about and now they're being taken to task by a movie starring Will Smith.
For a game that will be sold on its quarterbacks, it will be determined by defense, just as the ancient troglodytes wanted. We've seen Carolina's unit smash opposition to the side, its secondary bully the likes of Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer. The latter had no shot; he reverted, like Cinderella and the pumpkin around midnight, to his old hapless shape before a dozen slavering wolverines. Denver's likewise shredded the Patriots offensive line; Tom Brady was being defended by an orphanage choir.
Luke Kuechly. Josh Norman. Von Miller. DeMarcus Ware. Good god. Both teams shall hit hard and without mercy; the only question remains whether the league will embarrass itself on legislating such hits come the big night.
Geographically, it suits us well with west and east equally represented. By legacy, two teams of different stripes. There's little else to be said of the Denver Broncos; an original franchise of the upstart AFL, they are the team of the Orange Crush and John Elway, of success and pedigree that doesn't need to be gesticulated further. But the Carolina Panthers don't need to be chided or spoken of as some offensive expansion team. The state of North Carolina has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years, and the Panthers have found themselves flushed with new zealots from those same hated expansion roots and the wild success of this team, with gift balls and wins and crazed Spanish broadcasters winning over the region fan after fan, all compounded by the joy with which Cam Newton comports himself.
You will have two exceptional quarterbacks of completely different generations and styles; this will be wonderful to watch, but appalling to hear the talk generated for two miserable weeks.
For that, the disgusting picture is painted well before us. You know damn well how this will play out.
Peyton Manning will be used as an icon by those with little imagination and lesser tolerance, invoked as if he was some shining light against Cam Newton. He will represent everything Good and Right and Wholesome, while Cam Newton will be the Antichrist. These same beleaguered souls will come up to football fans, and ask them why Newton disrespects the game so and why he ruins children by dabbing and dancing and smiling and talking the way he does, why can't he talk like us, Johnny, why can't he be one of the good ones, and he should pull up his pants and who is Future and can you explain to me what a dab is, Johnny?
That wailing and gnashing of teeth await Cam Newton should he fall, but likewise a different fresh hell awaits Manning if he flutter balls his way to defeat. The Cerberus hounds await in the realm of sports talk; the crown of One Of The Greatest cannot rest upon the head of a man who loses The Big One three times. A long illustrious career will be debased before a single game and a question of arithmetic.
Neither quarterback deserves to be bound by these tropes. These are two generational athletes, certainly of different generations but both exemplifying excellence. Manning may have sold himself as a lovable forehead, but his goal is as base as the rest. He needs to win, Elway invoked, with this Narrative hounding at his heels. Likewise Cam needs to win; if not to stave off the harrowing winter of screaming voices, but to christen a Panthers season that has seen an undue amount of doubt in a sport that seemingly despises perfection while simultaneously demanding it.
These are the grinding words that will destroy football fans as they wait for the Big One. They will have to hear about the cloying goodness of Peyton Manning and all the fears of a black quarterback. They will hear about legacies and franchise histories and everything else that just needs to get out of the way goddammit, there's a game that needs to be played.
Neither man can walk away from this a winner, in any sense of the word. The forces are conspired in this fashion. And so Super Bowl 50 will be a tragedy, one way or another, for its two biggest stars.
But hell, if it's going to be a tragedy, it will be Julius Caesar or Richard III; loud, destructive, anarchic, and all the victors that remain exulted. You know, football.
Two weeks. Goddammit.