Faces of Super Bowl 50

Cam Newton.
Cam Newton.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Michael Oher.
Michael Oher.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Shiloh Keo.
Shiloh Keo.PHOTO: REUTERS

The breath of fresh air

Cam Newton, 26

Carolina Panthers quarterback

Whether viewed as electrifying or egotistical, Newton stands tall as the one-of-a-kind quarterback.

The 1.96m, 113kg player is the NFL's greatest dual-threat quarterback and brings boundless energy and enthusiasm to his job.

He led the top-seeded Panthers to a league-best 15-1 record in the regular season while at the helm of the NFL's highest-scoring offence.

He also dances in the end zone after touchdowns, signals first downs after a clutch play and mimes Superman ripping off his shirt following his special gridiron feats - histrionics that can get under the skin of opposing players and fans.

"I'm an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to," said Newton, only the sixth black quarterback in history to start a Super Bowl.

The front-runner for NFL Most Valuable Player honours has been peerless this season. Newton - a danger both on the ground and in the air - led all quarterbacks with 45 touchdowns, including 35 passing scores.

The inspiration behind The Blind Side

Michael Oher, 29

Panthers tackle

In the 2009 Sandra Bullock hit movie The Blind Side, a homeless black teenager is taken in by a wealthy Memphis family who introduce him to football, a sport that helps him to attend college and ultimately become a first-round NFL draft pick.

Now in his seventh NFL season, Oher is ready for his Super Bowl sequel, having triumphed in his first title decider with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.

The theme of overcoming adversity detailed in the Oscar-winning drama is one that continues to run through his career. A year ago this week, he was dumped by the Tennessee Titans following a disastrous 2014 campaign which saw him ranked 74th out of 78 offensive tackles in the NFL.

Then he received a message from Newton: "I need you," texted the Panthers quarterback. This season, Oher proved himself to be one of the best in the business as the Panthers offensive line allowed just 33 sacks.

"I think that is the great thing about the NFL," he said. "Every year you have to prove yourself."

The sentimental favourite

Peyton Manning, 39

Denver Broncos quarterback

Manning, poised to become the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history, will be a sentimental favourite for many.

The five-time NFL Most Valuable Player has arrived at this weekend's showpiece after arguably the most challenging season of his 18-year professional career, including a mid-term slump that saw him benched as the Broncos starter.

His fourth Super Bowl appearance is also shrouded by the poignant knowledge that it may well be his final game. Speculation that he may choose to ride into the sunset after today intensified after Denver's AFC Championship game with New England. Cameras caught him telling Patriots coach Bill Belichick that these play-offs might be "my last rodeo".

In the face of daily questioning this week, he has consistently stated that he has not yet decided on his future.

"Whatever cliche you want to use - I just want to stay in the moment, focus on the task in hand and concentrate on this week," said Manning, who passed Brett Favre this year to become the all-time leader in passing yards at 71,940.

The tenacious tweeter

Shiloh Keo, 28

Broncos safety

Two months ago, with a third child on the way, Keo was not sure if he would feature in the NFL again.

He had been cut by the Houston Texans in 2014 following a calf injury and had remained unemployed.

So he sent a speculative tweet to Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whom he knew from his time at Houston.

His wife had read online that the team were having problems at safety because of injuries.

Although the Broncos acquired Josh Bush in early December, Phillips did not forget about Keo after their exchange on Twitter. And when the Broncos' walking wounded piled up, Keo was brought in.

"A part of me still can't believe it," he told USA Today. "It was at the stage of, 'What do I have to lose here?' I was just sitting on the couch, hoping to get a chance.

"I wanted to text (Phillips) but I didn't have his (number). I knew he was a big Twitter guy so we decided on doing it that way."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'Faces of Super Bowl 50'. Print Edition | Subscribe