The ultimate storybook ending would have had Peyton Manning, the master of pre-snap machinations, directing a game-winning drive as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Fortunately, behind the suffocating power of the best defense in the NFL this season, the Broncos didn't find themselves in need of a score as the fourth quarter wound down Sunday night at Levi's Stadium. That's a good thing because the 39-year-old Manning has been a shell of his former five-time MVP self and entered with the worst statistics of a starting quarterback in Super Bowl history -- he had nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in the regular season.
But one of the most prolific passers in NFL history will be able to ride off into the sunset of retirement a champion if he chooses that path, and it seems like the obvious decision. Manning missed six games with a foot injury during the middle of the season, he no longer delivers the ball with velocity, he has had four career neck surgeries and revealed earlier this week he has been informed he will need hip replacement surgery down the line.
That's for another day, though, as nine years after defeating the Bears in the Super Bowl for his first championship, Manning and, more accurately, the Broncos defense held off the Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50. Manning became the first quarterback to lead two franchises to a Super Bowl victory and replaced his boss John Elway as the oldest quarterback to win. He completed only 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards but the defense got four takeaways and dominated.
"I got some good advice from my former coach Tony Dungy, 'Don't make an emotional decision,'" Manning said. "This has been a very emotional week and an emotional night."
The victory validated an overhaul Elway led after the Broncos were blown out on this same stage two years ago by the Seahawks. A premium was placed on defense, there was a mutual parting of the ways between Elway and now-Bears coach John Fox a year ago, and coach Gary Kubiak and his defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, completed the change of identity.
"This team has been special all year long," Kubiak said. "We called ourselves the grinders and we grinded one more time to a championship."