The Super Bowl is nothing new for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, nor is it for Peyton Manning. Rivera claimed a ring as part of the legendary defense of the 1985 Chicago Bears and was the assistant coach for the same franchise when they returned to the biggest game 21 years later and lost. Peyton Manning has played in the Super Bowl three times. He led the Colts to a win in the 2006 season and also carried Indianapolis to the final game of the season in 2010. Two years ago, Manning played in the Super Bowl as a Bronco during the 2014 season. If you do the math, you’ll notice that both Rivera and Manning met at Super Bowl XLI in the 2006 season.
It was Peyton who got the upper hand, leading the Colts to a 29-17 win against Rivera’s defense. Manning also earned Super Bowl MVP honors.
A lot has changed since then. Manning is playing for a different team, and is trying to finally get a ring in the Broncos uniform after an embarrassing loss to the Seahawks in the 2013 season. More importantly, Manning’s age has many thinking Sunday will be his last game. In fact, at 39 years old, Manning will be the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Things are different for Rivera too. After a stint with the Chargers, he came to Carolina as head coach in 2011 and has turned the firing rumors in his first seasons with the team into admiration for an almost perfect campaign. Rivera is largely responsible for the way Cam Newton and friends have dominated the league in the past few months.
It’s safe to say that both have new weapons. Manning has a much better defense than the one he had with the Colts, and in today’s Panthers, Rivera has a much more powerful offense than the 2006 Bears.
How is the matchup going to play this time around? In Rivera’s words: “I think it really is a great chess match – and not necessarily coordinator against coordinator, but quarterback against defense.” Even with his physical condition on the decline, Manning has made a living by taking advantage of pre-snap reads. That’s where he is more dangerous, and it’s something Rivera experienced on the Bears’ sideline. In order to prevent that, “You have to make sure you’re disguising, you are holding your disguise. He wants to undress the defense as quick as possible and get a feel for where they are going and he will know where to attack,” Rivera has said.
Easier said than done. One thing we can be sure of is that no one wants to spoil a fairy-tale ending to Peyton Manning’s career more than Ron Rivera.