What we learned from Super Bowl Opening Night

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  • By Chris Wesseling, Gregg Rosenthal, Dan Hanzus, Conor Orr and Marc Sessler
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Broncos pass rusher Von Miller stepped on the seemingly life-sized model of the Golden Gate Bridge, waved to the crowd and surveyed his media subjects 50 feet below as rock music cranked through the sound system. What was once Media Day was now the NFL's first Super Bowl Opening Night. And it was a little different.

Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers players stood above the masses and video recorded the scene for posterity, and fans recorded them right back. After the opening festivities, the business began. And there is no bigger business at this Super Bowl than Peyton Manning.

Manning quickly put to rest the possibility he could announce his retirement before the game. He insisted he hasn't made a decision about his future, and would take time to evaluate his status after the season. Perhaps a win could speed up his process on Sunday, but he wasn't going to tip his hand. Manning was, however, more introspective than usual.

He admitted that he gets more emotional with time winding down in his career, which is why he wanted to tell Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to their face how much he enjoyed facing them. He also spoke at length for the first time about his diminished arm strength, admitting he's not what he once was. Manning is now talking about the subjects he avoided so long, knowing that he only has a few of these media sessions.

"No doubt my role has been different this year ... I'm in a different offense, I haven't been 100 percent healthy all season, can't make some of the same throws, the same plays I used to, but I can still move the chains," Manning said. "Kind of like ol' Toby Keith said it: Maybe I'm not as good as I once was, but I can be good once as I ever was."

Being that good one more time would be the story to end all Super Bowl stories on Sunday. In the meantime, here's what we learned from Super Bowl 50 Opening Night:

1. Peyton Manning stiff-armed retirement talk, but was candid about his postgame moments with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady after the AFC Championship. "Hey -- Brady's gonna play until he's 70, Belichick is gonna coach till he's 90, maybe I hit the fountain of youth in the next couple months and play the next 10 years," Manning said. "Maybe we play in 10 more championships against each other. But in case we don't, I took the time to shake their hands, look them in the eye and I'm glad I did it. It was important to me that I knew that."

2. Manning paid tribute to his Super Bowl 50 counterpart for an "incredible year," adding that there is no doubt Cam Newton will win the MVP award at NFL Honors on Saturday night.

3. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis isn't about to let a fractured forearm keep him out of the Super Bowl after overcoming a trio of ACL surgeries earlier in this career. Davis vowed "without a doubt" he would play Sunday, adding that he has free-flowing use of his hand and wrist.

-- Chris Wesseling

4. Being on 50 percent of commercials on an NFL Sunday has its drawbacks. Broncos tight end -- and bourgeoning meteorologist -- Owen Daniels said Manning struggles to sit through his own advertisements in the company of teammates. "He hates seeing those commercials on TV. We'll have offensive dinners on Thursday night during the season and we'll be watching the Thursday night game. Nationwide will come on and he's so embarrassed about it, but they're funny commercials. But of course he's going to get a little ribbing for it."

5. A tone-deaf reporter asked poor, benched Brock Osweiler if he could sing a Nationwide jingle about Peyton Manning. You're not going to believe it, but Osweiler declined. That said, Osweiler carried himself in an impressive manner, all things considered. It reminded us of how well Alex Smith handled Super Bowl week the season he was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick. Smith lived for better football days, and you get the feeling Osweiler will do the same.

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6. The NFL went all out for Super Bowl Opening Night. It made the media days of yesterday almost quaint in comparison. Behind the 11 risers stood a massive replica of the Golden Gate Bridge that acted as a stage for players from both teams to be introduced. A cover band played Bay Area radio hits of yesteryear (Third Eye Blind! Train! Starship!) and the floor of the SAP Center was carpeted. The event remained familiar, but there certainly was a golden anniversary sheen to the proceedings.

-- Dan Hanzus

7. It was fun talking with Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby and Panthers wideout Corey Brown about their run as roommates at Ohio State. Roby confided to Around The NFL that while Brown remains one of his best friends, he left something to be desired in the cleanliness department back in college: "I was like, not dirty, but just leaving stuff around, you know how it is," Roby said. "And he's worse than me, for sure. We had a sloppy dorm room."

Asked to respond, Brown took no prisoners, saying: "I was the clean one. He was the sloppy one. I was the one that was cleaning up the room every day because, you know, he's a guy that -- he gets up out of bed, throws his blanket on the ground, throws his clothes. I'm the cleaner-upper."

8. Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville was on staff when Denver was massacred by the Seahawks two years ago in Super Bowl XLVIII. Echoing many Broncos players, Studesville told me that although he hasn't forgotten that game, the team has barely spoken about it. If there's any residual psychological hangover from that ugly defeat, nobody from the Denver side of things would admit it. They certainly came off as a confident bunch.

9. I spent time with both backup quarterbacks. We'll have more on Brock Osweiler this week, but the former Broncos starter came across as extremely grateful for his opportunity to play this season, espousing team-first comments from beginning to end. Carolina's Derek Anderson, sporting a tremendous beard, seems at peace with his career, especially after a rocky start with the Browns. Anderson told me that he sat in his car in Cleveland back in 2009 and contemplated retirement. Seven years later, he's one game away from a Super Bowl ring.

-- Marc Sessler

10. These might be two of the smartest football teams we've seen. The coaching and management trees on both sides of this matchup are insanely experienced, and go a long way toward lending credence to the older-is-better philosophy. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman was not hired until he was in his early 60s, after decades of working under the best general managers in football. Wade Phillips, also in his 60s, was out of football for two years before getting hired as Gary Kubiak's defensive coordinator. Both Gettleman and Phillips credited an immense trickle-down of institutional knowledge to their success, and both are genuine when they talk about the way they've managed to optimize their rosters. Though both teams have weaknesses, both are shored up by years of experience.

11. The Broncos feel immensely slighted. The central theme? They have to beat us, too. The Panthers are viewed as the most complete team in football, but if the Broncos pull this off, they'll likely go down as one of the best defenses in recent NFL history.

12. Emmanuel Sanders is going to heaven. When asked by a reporter who the one person he'd like to meet in the world was -- and after being reminded that his teammates picked the likes of Hillary Clinton (?) and Denzel Washington, Sanders picked Jesus. "I mean, I want to go to heaven," he said. Well done. In that spirit, Sanders said he wants to win this game for Peyton Manning no matter what happens. While he insisted that Manning did not tell any of the Broncos what his plans are, Sanders said that he's the kind of leader one wants to win a game for -- and that's probably a common sentiment throughout the locker room.

-- Conor Orr

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