All week long, the talk at Super Bowl 50 had been about the old guy.
The wrong old guy, as it turned out.
Wade Phillips, son of the legendary Bum and a football coach for portions of six decades, is 68 years old. He has worked, mostly with the defenses, for nine NFL teams.
The golden confetti that rained down and the fireworks that lit up the Bay Area sky Sunday night weren’t supposed to be for old Wade.
If for anyone on the Denver Broncos sideline, they were supposed to be for old Peyton Manning, the team’s 39-year-old quarterback who had dropped hints that this was to be his “last rodeo.”
But it took an old coach to win Super Bowl 50 the old-fashioned way. Against a young stallion of a quarterback who was supposed to be too big, too strong and too quick to defeat, Phillips countered Sunday with a defense that was too overwhelming and too relentless to be held back.
The Broncos sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton seven times, forced four turnovers and made quiet work of the Panthers to win the Super Bowl 24-10.
After 46 years of coaching football, it was Wade’s first Super Bowl title. And just two years after he was dismissed as interim head coach of the Houston Texans, Phillips scripted the winning formula that stymied the NFL’s hottest team.
Newton was supposed to be the one with all the weapons. But Phillips turned loose Texas A&M product Von Miller and ex-Cowboy DeMarcus Ware. The Panthers’ offensive line was both beaten and befuddled.
By unofficial count, Carolina was guilty of six pre-snap penalties. Most of those came because they feared the Broncos pass rush or never knew when or from where it was coming.
“Coach Wade did a great job of putting us in position to win,” Denver defensive end Malik Jackson said. “We had no doubt. We knew what we had to do. We had to stop that No. 1 offense from doing anything.”
Phillips’ defense benefited from an early opportunity and made it stick. Linebacker Miller exploded past Panthers tackle Mike Remmers and stripped Newton of the football and teammate Jackson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
For most of the 51 minutes that remained, that was the Broncos’ only touchdown. Fittingly, another Miller-caused fumble gave Manning and Denver the ball at the Carolina 4-yard line and set up a clinching touchdown with just three minutes left.
Nine of Carolina’s possessions Sunday lasted only three downs. Newton, forced frequently to dash from the pocket, ended up completing only 18 of 41 passes and threw for no touchdowns.
After the game, Ware, the former Dallas Cowboy, hailed the day last winter when the Broncos hired Phillips.
“He came in and figured out how to utilize the guys, utilize the talents,” Ware said. “With Von, you can see how well he played. Malik and [Derek] Wolfe and Sylvester Williams are all more than just run-stoppers.
“Wade changed everything to where we could be more aggressive and get to the passer. It created a lot of havoc.”
Havoc, indeed, reigned Sunday. Miller was a clear choice as the Super Bowl 50 most valuable player.
“To do that — hold them to one touchdown — to a guy that’s supposed to be changing the game, it’s unbelievable,” Denver tight end Owen Daniels said.
“Our defense, you have to put them up there with the best ever.”
It was a more than justifiable observation. Newton and the Panthers scored 37 or more points eight times this season, including two weeks ago in the NFC Championship Game.
But it was time for Phillips’ ship to finally come in. “Coach Cupcake,” he had been called by some members of the media who thought he wasn’t tough enough on the Cowboys.
All those years of coaching dominating defenses, however, plus the opportunities he had to be a head coach that ended badly — it all seemed to be wiped clean Sunday night in a postgame rainstorm of golden confetti.
As the final seconds ticked away, Phillips thrust his right fist high into the air and shook it. Maybe it was his way of saluting his late dad, who also never tasted Super Bowl success.
As he ran toward the celebration, Wade kept shaking hands and hugging everyone who stopped. And many did, as you would expect for a coach whose defensive genius has never been questioned.
The old guy did it, after all, Sunday night. The star of the night, though, wasn’t the quarterback.
Wade Phillips, 68 years old, was finally a Super Bowl champion.
Do cupcakes go with champagne?