12 Super Bowl facts that'll make you sound less clueless on Sunday

Read these tips before heading to a Super Bowl party.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Scott Stein
5 min read

Guess what? A big football game is happening this Sunday. (It's being aired on CBS, CNET's parent company.)

It's the 50th Super Bowl, the final game in the NFL season that determines who wins the shiny Lombardi trophy. It's about four hours long, it has a long halftime show, and everyone you know will be talking about it on everything.

Let's assume you know how football works, just a bit. Hopefully. If not, at least you can follow along with a few of these points and notes, just to catch up on what this year's game is all about. If nothing else, consider this your crib sheet between appetizers.

James Martin/CNET

1. It's the old "young guy prodigy vs. fabled old guy" game

This year's game has the greatest age gap between QBs in a Super Bowl ever...13 years. Peyton Manning, the Broncos quarterback, is 39...the oldest starting QB in Super Bowl history. Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers' quarterback is 26. There's the span of a bar mitzvah between them. It's the Millennials vs. old guard, or whatever you want to make of it. The Super Bowl's had a lot of these matchups: Kurt Warner vs. Ben Roethlisberger. Tom Brady vs. Russell Wilson. Russell Wilson vs. Peyton Manning. And now, this. Sometimes the old vets win, sometimes the young guns do.

2. Carolina is this year's "surprise" team...but they're also the favorites

No one thought the Panthers would be in the Super Bowl, but they went ahead and strung together 15 wins...while staying unbeaten until after Christmas. And they've had super-dominant performances in the playoffs: they blew the Seattle Seahawks out of the water early, and destroyed the Arizona Cardinals. Everyone thinks Carolina will win: Vegas, Madden, and plenty of pundits.

3. Denver was expected, but it's their defense that's awesome

Denver looked awful for a lot of this year, especially Peyton Manning. But their defense has helped them win tons of games. Their 12-4 record, and their gritty playoff wins over Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, have been about defense. Their defense was the best in the NFL and is one of the best, statistically, of all time. So, watch for that.

James Martin/CNET

4. Cam Newton is the big must-see superstar personality (and show-off)

In every way, Cam Newton's this year's Super Bowl star. He's a crazily athletic quarterback. He was drafted no. 1 overall in 2011. He runs for tons of touchdowns. He's gigantic. He was the league MVP. He's known for the wildest fashion since Joe Namath and over-the-top touchdown celebrations. He also has plenty of endorsement deals, and I bet you'll see him in tons of Super Bowl commercials. Some people get annoyed by all of this. Others think it's fun. Peyton Manning, SNL appearances aside, has a pretty boring in-game personality.

Inside the Super Bowl tech at Levi's Stadium (pictures)

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5. Peyton Manning is the old legend who's taken a beating, going for one last shot

Peyton Manning is a legendary quarterback. He was the no. 1 pick in 1998. (This is the first Super Bowl between quarterbacks picked no. 1 overall in the draft, just in case you were curious.) But this season he was awful. He was pulled out midyear with an injury, and backup QB Brock Osweiler won many of Denver's key November and December games. But Manning returned for the playoffs, winning both games. Will he do just enough to win? This is Peyton Manning's fourth Super Bowl, and he's won one, lost two. Oh, and he's also being investigated for HGH use allegations. Feel free to discuss over wings.

James Martin/CNET

6. Denver's been to a lot of Super Bowls

The Broncos are tied for the most Super Bowl appearances ever, in fact, with eight. Others that are lucky enough to have been to eight: New England Patriots (4-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2), Dallas Cowboys (5-3). Eight out of fifty is a lot. But they've only won two, and lost five (so far). The two they won: back-to-back ones in 1998 and 1999, with John Elway at quarterback. John Elway, by the way, is now the general manager of the Broncos, and you'll see his face a lot during the game.

7. This is Carolina's second Super Bowl

Carolina only came into existence as an expansion team in 1995, but has been to two Super Bowls since then. The first was February 1, 2004, vs. the New England Patriots. They lost. It was really close. Jake Delhomme played for the Panthers. Tom Brady, of course, was the Patriots' QB.

8. A big new rule change could make kicks a lot more interesting

The spot to kick extra points has been moved back this year, to the 15-yard line. What that means is that extra point after a touchdown that you used to not really think about is no longer entirely guaranteed. Ask New England. It also means a team might try to go for two points instead of one, just to see what happens.

9. Players to watch that aren't Cam Newton or Peyton Manning

Looking to follow folks who could change the game with a big play in a heartbeat? Keep an eye on:

  • Von Miller, Denver: a sack machine who strips balls away from quarterbacks.
  • Ted Ginn Jr., Carolina: a superfast receiver and punt returner.
  • Greg Olsen, Carolina: a tight end who's Cam Newton's biggest playmaking target.
  • C.J. Anderson, Denver: a speedy running back who could suddenly break open for a score.
  • Luke Kuechly, Carolina: an all-star linebacker who can intercept balls and return them for TDs.
  • Aqib Talib, Denver: a cornerback who has been known to make big interceptions.

Where this year's game will be played (aka the home of the 49ers)

Claudia Cruz/CNET

10. This is the first Bay Area Super Bowl since January 20, 1985

It's been about 30 years since Northern California had a Super Bowl celebration: Super Bowl XIX, in Palo Alto, at Stanford Stadium. The 49ers with Joe Montana won against the Miami Dolphins, 38-16. This year's Super Bowl is actually in Santa Clara, at the San Francisco 49ers' Levis Stadium, also in the heart of Silicon Valley. There's never been a Super Bowl in San Francisco proper.

11. You have time to go to the bathroom at halftime

It's 30 minutes long, twice as long as the regular 15 of a normal game. And the halftime show (featuring Coldplay) doesn't run through all of it, so you have time for a break.

12. No Super Bowl's ever gone to overtime

So, you can always root for that. Quick reminder on overtime rules: the first team to score wins, unless the first team to get the ball scores a field goal...then the other team gets the ball back, and can try to score. The Super Bowl can't end in a tie.

(Photos by James Martin except as noted, taken of Levi's Stadium where Super Bowl 50 will be played this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET.)