Here are the figures whose reputations and legacies were most affected by the developments on this past Super Bowl Sunday, Schein Nine style:
1) Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos
Until it wasn't.
Manning, a living legend, always had that "yeah, but" next to his name. As in, "He's a top all-time quarterback -- yeah, but what about the playoffs?"
In what should be his last rodeo, Manning minimized his miscues against the Steelersand Patriots. And although he was truly dreadful on Sunday, it doesn't matter. He pitched arguably the worst game by a winning QB in Super Bowl history, but it does. not. matter.Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl and moved above .500 (14-13) in the playoffs for his career.
Yeah, but nothing.
It doesn't matter.
He was already the smartest quarterback in NFL history, putting up incredible numbers, carrying flawed Colts teams. But a second ring takes Manning to a new level. What a storybook finish -- it has to be over, right? -- for a true legend.
Peyton was always incredible. Who knew he was capable of coming back from the dead?
2) Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Three years ago, I penned a column questioning Cam's maturity, leadership and ability to deliver a winning product to Carolina. Three months ago, I apologized in an open letter to Panthers fans, admitting that my initial assessment had been proven wrong. And just two weeks ago, I called Cam Newton the face of the NFL.
Super Bowl Sunday was a major step back in so many ways. It was disappointing, frankly, as someone who was happy to have eaten crow on Newton.
In the game, Newton was dreadful. His passes sailed high. He turned the ball over three times. Cam will have nightmares about Von Miller (more on him later).
But there are two particular stains on Cam's name in the wake of SB50.
First, with the Panthers trailing by six, four minutes remaining and the Lombardi Trophy legitimately hanging in the balance, Newton didn't pounce on a loose football after Miller's second strip sack. It was wild, bizarre and totally unacceptable. Cam pulled up. That can't happen.
And then the postgame happened.
Cam regressed in the postgame presser, going back to the petulant player we questioned years ago. He didn't take the heat after losing the Super Bowl. Instead, he sat disinterested in a hooded sweatshirt and embarrassed himself, taking away a lot of the positive currency he had accumulated, chipping away at a reputation that I had come to defend. Outside of one somewhat-expansive answer preceded by "I don't know what you want me to say," Newton provided a bunch of one- or two-word retorts before suddenly and inexplicably exiting stage. I don't want to hear the spin doctors telling me that Chris Harris' nearby victorious presser caused Cam to storm out. Newton needed to face the music and handle "the fifth quarter" -- that's what comes with being a quarterback, a team leader, a face of the franchise. He can't be a front-runner, only wanting to be in front of the camera when things are rolling. This was a relapse in his maturation process.
Scott Norwood stayed at his locker and patiently answered every last question after his "Wide Right" moment in Super Bowl XXV. Monday on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," Rich Gannon discussed how he did the same after his five-interception disaster during a 27-point loss in Super Bowl XXXVII.
It's called professionalism.
I think Newton made amazing strides this year as a player and leader. I was drinking the Cam Kool-Aid. But now, he will have to go a long way in proving that Sunday night was a blip and won't become a trend.
3) John Elway, general manager, Denver Broncos
It's very difficult for megastar players to become great coaches and executives, for a variety of reasons. But that's exactly what has happened in Denver.
John Elway was a majestic, top-five all-time quarterback. And now, he's become a top-five current executive. This is special. This is Jerry West and Ozzie Newsome territory. And in many ways, Elway has done it with the kind of savvy and instinct that made him a legendary signal caller.
After an embarrassing 35-point Super Bowl loss two years ago, Elway immediately revamped the defense. His free-agent pickups of Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward prior to the 2014 campaign were brilliant. And he showed guts in changing coaches before this season. John Fox had won a lot of games in Denver, but Elway didn't think he could win the ultimate game. Elway's choice of his friend Gary Kubiak proved to be perfect.
Furthermore, Elway's drafts, starting with Von Miller at the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, have been superb.
What Elway has accomplished has been nothing short of remarkable -- and it's been so much fun to watch.
4) Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
Phillips always has been respected as a defensive guru, but I think he gets unfairly knocked for head-coaching stints in Buffalo and Dallas where upper management and ownership forced his hand on decisions and drama.
To sack the elusive and physical Newton six times and hold Carolina to 3-of-15 on third-down conversions is amazing. Newton, a near-unanimous MVP pick Saturday night, completed just 18 of his 41 passes on Sunday, with zero touchdowns and a pick. Phillips dialed up incredible pressure and maximized Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
At the end of the day, Denver won a Super Bowl with 194 yards of total offense -- talk about a credit to the defense ...
5) Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos
Miller was legendary. If he was simply great, Denver might not have won the game.
6) Thomas Davis, linebacker, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers linebacker has always been one of my favorite players for his incredible play, toughness, perseverance through three major knee surgeries and extensive charitable work off the field (which led to him rightly being named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2014).
Davis played incredibly well ... with a friggin' broken arm! After the loss, Davis posted a picture of his stitched-up arm on Instagram -- at first glance, I thought it was a football.
This cat is remarkable.
7) Gary Kubiak, head coach, Denver Broncos
From chump to champ.
Kubiak instilled toughness and confidence into this team. Not too shabby for a guy who got fired by the Texans. Kubiak is true class, and I couldn't be happier for him.
8) DeMarcus Ware, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos
Two sacks in the Super Bowl for the former Cowboy, who languished in the mediocrity and chaos of Dallas for many years. So wonderful to see a sensational pass rusher get his time to shine and dominate as he gets up in age.
And I was so impressed, leading up to the game, when he expressed a wish that Jason Witten and Tony Romo could experience what he was going through. Like Kubiak, Ware's just a class act.
9) Carolina Panthers coaching staff
Mike Shula's game plan was terrible and predictable. Ron Rivera was out of challenges early in the second quarter and botched the game management at the end of the first half. Riverboat Ron turned into Titanic Ron.
OK, Sean McDermott's defense played pretty darn well, but he was an outlier when grading this coaching staff's performance on the biggest stage.
Carolina had a dream season, going 15-1 and logging a pair of sensational playoff wins. This was a disastrous no-show in the Super Bowl.