I'm happy Denver advances to the Super Bowl to offer Peyton Manning a happy ending and even more commercial opportunities. I'm happy Carolina advances, because it's good to have a Shula back in the big game.
And I'm happy New England lost Sunday, if only so Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln aren't replaced by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on Mount Rushmore.
Like the rest of you, I watched the NFL's best afternoon of the season Sunday. Unlike the rest of you, I watched with a wary eye as the worst two weeks of the sports year begin, the ones filled with blather until the Super Bowl kicks off.
So, as a public service, here are the Top 10 Super Bowl storylines that will allow you to bypass the coming two weeks of nonsense:
1. No. 1 vs. No. 1. This is the first time two quarterbacks drafted first overall meet in the Super Bowl. This will go a long way toward saying the obvious, that you need a great quarterback to win. Of course, Cam Newton is in his prime, and Manning is looking for one final day in the sun.
2. Von Miller's Sack Dance vs. Cam Newton's Touchdown Dance. Miller, the Denver linebacker, punctuates his dance with a crotch grab right out of Magic Mike. Newton's dance is the arm gyrating "Dab." Far more entertaining than the dances will be the generational discussion that comes from them.
3. Patriots Arrogance. Okay, this isn't exactly a Super Bowl theme, but it should be. The Patriots lost Sunday in Denver with everyone gulping diluted oxygen, because they tried only so hard to beat the Dolphins in the season finale. You can understand why they didn't take the Dolphins seriously. They simultaneously ran the ball and exposed Brady to the Dolphins' pass rush. When the Dolphins won, the playoff seeds were shuffled and the Pats lost the home-field edge.
4. Name the coaches. No Belichick. No Pete Carroll. Not even a Mike Tomlin or Mike McCarthy. Some enterprising reporter will conduct fan-on-the-street interviews in which people have no idea who the coaches are for the simple reason that Gary Kubiak and Ron Rivera aren't big names to anyone but the TV voices lauding them for everything.
5. Carolina receiver Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Denver's Evan Mathis. Him vs. Him, to Dolphins fans. Ginn was the first-round Dolphins' pick who didn't excel as people hoped. Mathis? The Dolphins didn't sign him on the cheap this summer and he was rated as the game's top guard by ProFootballFocus.com. He's in the Super Bowl. The Dolphins still need a guard.
6. Peyton Manning commercials. I like Manning. You like Manning. Everyone likes Manning. But this might test his popularity as between now and the Super Bowl every commercial you see might have him in it. Think of his arsenal: Buick. Papa John's. Oreo. Spring. Gatorade. ESPN. He does high-voice Peyton for DirecTV and jingle-singing Peyton for Nationwide. Plus, how many new deals are signed by him now?
7. Mike and Don Shula. Mike, who is Carolina's offensive coordinator, comes from good coaching stock, and his good work is central to the development of Newton and the Panthers being the top-scoring offense. When Mike was born, the doctor told Don in the waiting room, "You didn't get the fullback you want." Shula was disappointed as he wanted a son. The doctor then said: "But you got a helluva quarterback."
8. Where is Santa Clara? San Francisco is the host city of the Super Bowl. Santa Clara is 38 miles away. But it built a publicly funded stadium for the 49ers, which got it the Super Bowl, which is how America plays its sports games. This is promised to be the most "interactive Super Bowl ever." Maybe it can even make everyone in San Francisco interact like they're in Santa Clara.
9. Radio-Row Repeats. Did you wonder what middle-aged, male maladies might befall you? Listen to talk-radio Super Bowl week. The perfectly cliched, former-player interview doubles as a marketing pitch for companies fighting male-pattern baldness, erectile dysfunction, overactive bladders, enlarged prostates, high cholesterol, low testosterone and general incontinence. Whichever radio show checks off every issue first yells, "Bingo!"
10. Carolina 30, Denver 13. Carolina has a great offense and great defense. Denver has a great defense and a great storyline in Manning. But what do I know? I picked the Patriots to make this game.
— Sun Sentinel (TNS)