By Steve Keating
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Carolina has tobacco and NASCAR while Denver has legalized marijuana and the Rocky Mountains but come Sunday only one will also be called home of the Super Bowl 50 champions.
It will be the Mile High City against the Queen City in a Silicon Valley showdown for the Vince Lombardi trophy as the 17-1 Carolina Panthers look to cap a near perfect season by beating the Denver Broncos, who are appearing in the NFL championship game for a record-equaling eighth time.
Although the Panthers draw support from across both North and South Carolina it is Charlotte, N.C., the team calls home, the small market team punching above its weight on and off the field sitting at number 19 on Forbes list of most valuable NFL franchises at $1.56 billion.
The Broncos, one of the NFL’s more established franchises with two Super Bowl wins, sit higher up the rankings in 11th place at $1.94 billion.
But much more than nearly half-billion dollars and two time zones separate two Super Bowl contenders.
Denver has already staged two Super Bowl parades while Carolina’s lone previous trip to the championship in 2004 resulted in a 32-29 heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots on a last-second field in a Super Bowl better remembered for Janet Jackson’s halftime wardrobe malfunction.
Carolina is home to flight and the Wright brothers and some of the United States’ best beaches, while Denver had the gold rush and boasts some of America’s best skiing in the nearby Rockies.
While Carolina gave the world Krispy Kreme doughnuts and miniature golf, Denver brews more beer than any other U.S. city – the first building ever constructed in the city was a saloon – to help wash down Rocky Mountain oysters, a dish made of bull, pig or sheep testicles.
Evangelist Billy Graham, news man Edward R. Murrow and notorious whistle blower Edward Snowden all hail from North Carolina, while actor Douglas Fairbanks and bounty hunter Duane ‘Dog’ Chapman wave the Denver flag.
Michael Jordan, owner of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, adds some celebrity pizzazz to the city’s sporting pedigree while John Elway, who quarterbacked the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins before moving into the general manager/vice-presidents office, can be counted among Denver’s favorite sons.
Both teams have the backing of celebrity fans, Sports Illustrated Swim Suit cover model Brooklyn Decker will be rocking the Panthers colors while ski queen Lindsey Vonn will be wearing her Broncos gear with backup from actors Don Cheadle, Kate Hudson and Jessica Biel.
“Our fans are (among) the best of the world and they support us through victory and defeat,” said Panthers punter Brad Nortman. “I’m not sure if they’ll like us more or less if we win or not, just because they support us so much.
“I would love to reward them with a victory, though.”