By W.G. Ramirez
As I approached my 5th annual Celebrity/Athlete/Media poll, I had a chance to catch up to former Rancho High School star Mike Pritchard, who went on to star at the University of Colorado and then in the NFL for three teams: the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Pritchard, who is the color commentator for UNLV football and co-host of the Mitch and Pritch radio show in Las Vegas, has plenty of ties to some key components in this year’s game, as he played with John Elway and has been coached by both Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips.
Retired for 15 years, Pritchard said he still gets excited this time of the year, watching the pre-game festivities leading up to Super Sunday.
“You try to live vicariously through everyone involved in the game,” he said. “You have a rooting interest and you kind of get excited about that.”
Pritchard said he remembers a time when he questioned his retirement, something most veterans go through a year after retiring, as the itch to return to the field remains for the first couple of seasons you become a spectator.
“After a season goes by, you start training and you start to think you can still do it,” Pritchard said. “It takes a couple of years to realize it’s over. It’s not like any other sport where you can retire, and then come back after a few years. There is only one guy who I can think of who did that and that was Randall Cunningham.”
But that was then, in the early 2000s.
Now, Pritchard enjoys his time behind the mic, alongside his partner and co-host Mitch Moss, during one of the busiest times of the day. The two share their thoughts with Southern Nevada, speaking on the hottest topics in sports and daily breaking news. Most recently, that included the Oakland Raiders’ pending move to a new location. When Las Vegas entered the conversation, both Pritchard and Moss were two of the first to discuss the issue.
Pritchard isn’t sold this is the opportunity Las Vegas has been looking for, and isn’t sold the Raiders are coming to Sin City. But he does believe a top-notch stadium is the first step, and there is more important priority at hand, before landing an NFL franchise.
“If they’re going to build a stadium, it should be for our city and our university,” Pritchard said. “Can we attract an NFL franchise? Absolutely. But we need to build this for ourselves. If we don’t have that infrastructure, we’ll never have that option or decision to housing an NFL franchise.”
It’s not as if there isn’t talent spewing from Southern Nevada. Bishop Gorman High School recently completed its second straight undefeated season, and has been considered a national championship team by certain pundits the last two years. UNLV coach Tony Sanchez just announced a first-rate recruiting class in his second season in charge. And in Sunday’s Super Bowl, there will be two active players who went to high school in Las Vegas, and a third who is on a practice squad.
Brandon Marshall is a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, Ben Jacobs is a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers and Cam Jefferson is an offensive lineman on the Broncos’ practice squad.
“I love it. I think it’s great,” Pritchard said. “When I was at Rancho, there were 10 schools. If you made D-I or made it to the league, every one talked about it. Because of the growth in the valley, guys are getting more opportunities. Vegas is definitely on the map. And it speaks to the talent here and the guys making the most of their opportunities once they graduate high school.”
As for today’s game, Pritchard sees a defensive tussle ensuing early on, knowing how Kubiak and Phillips coach. He said watching the Broncos this year has been like reviewing a blueprint of teams he played on, while coached by both of them. It’s also why he believes the Broncos will send The Sheriff – Peyton Manning – off into the sunset with another Super Bowl ring.
“Coach Kubak has played and coached in Super Bowl games,” Pritchard said. “He understands what it takes to get to a Super Bowl and he certainly understands what it takes to win one.”
Pritchard said this year’s team is modeled after the 1998-99 Denver Broncos, who defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
“You have two great defenses, and any time that happens, you have an opportunity for a great game,” he said. Carolina will try to dictate this one early on, because they’re confident about their speed. They run the ball successfully. Carolina has done such a great job of getting turnovers. Their turnover margin is incredible. They are a read and react football. At some point the action will be fast and furious. I think these are the two best teams in the league.
“Denver will try to run, but Peyton will have to make throws to help the Broncos win. I expect Peyton Manning to have an excellent game. I don’t think he’s going to make a lot of mistakes out there.”
PRITCHARD’S PREDICTION: I believe Peyton Manning will have his the game of his life. Broncos, 24-20
Here is my 5th Annual Celebrity/Athlete/Media poll for Super Bowl 50:
Laz Alonso, actor. Going to be a defense intensive game but Carolina and Cam are on fire and too much for Denver. Panthers, 35-14
Mark Anderson, LV Review Journal. Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will help the Broncos cover, but not cover. Panthers 24-20
Paul Anka, singer/songwriter/entertainer. Panthers will win. I watched my friend Eddie DeBartolo get voted into the Hall of Fame, and now I’ll watch the MVP hoist the trophy. It’ll be close won. Panthers 24-20
R.J. Bell, Pregame.com. Carolina is the better team, but likely not as good as the Panthers have appeared so far in the playoffs. Denver likely better than they seem, and the Broncos big game experience should help them keep Super Bowl 50 close. Panthers 21-20
Kevin Bollinger, FOX-TV Las Vegas. While everybody would love the storybook ending for Peyton Manning, the diminished skills make it tough for Denver to come back after falling behind. Panthers 27-16
Bryce Brentz, MLB player. Logic says to go with Cam’s Panthers, but I would love nothing more than to see Manning go out on top (if he does call it a career) so screw logic! Broncos 35-28
Jared Brentz, long-drive golf champion. I have to believe Payton goes out on top. I mean he deserves this ending. Broncos 21-17
Cindy Brunson, Pac 12 Network. I’m going with the guy/team that has me trying Dannon Oikos yogurt and I don’t even really like yogurt. Call it the power of Cam Newton, the MVP who threw 35 TD passes and ran for 10 more this season. Carolina reminds me so much of the Super Bowl XLVIII Champion Seahawks with a stifling defense and dual threat QB. The game will be close early, but I think the Panthers will prevail. Panthers 35-21
Chet Buchanan, KLUC-98.5 FM, Las Vegas. I like The Sheriff riding off into the sunset, mostly on the shoulders of the #OrangeCrush16. Pat/Caitlyn Bowlen is able to get his face to move enough to say, “And THIS one’s for PEYTON!” Broncos 27-20
Frank Caliendo, Comedian. Panthers 30 – Broncos 17 or flip that. Broncos 30 – Panthers 17. Can I do that? (In his own voice)
Steve Carp, LV Review Journal. Cam Newton backs up all the talk and Carolina closes out a magical season in style. Panthers 38-13
Freddie Coleman, ESPN. I think the Panthers defense makes the Broncos offense play one dimensional and their defense won’t be able to hold up. Panthers 27-16
Kevin Curry, founder Fit Men cook. I’m rooting for Cam Newton! He’s a beast. Any dude that can throw the ball and run it like a linebacker has my vote. He takes me back to the early Vince Young days, and of course he’s from Texas and I’m a Texas guy. Panthers 28-24.
Tim Dahlberg, Associated Press. Peyton Manning falls one Super Bowl ring short of his brother, thanks to Josh Norman, who cements his place on Thieves Avenue with a last minute pick to seal the first SB win for the Panthers. Panthers 27-24
Dave DeNatale, ESPN 850 AM, Cleveland. Peyton Manning in his Nationwide voice: “Painful way to call it quits.” Panthers 31-20
Randy Faehnrich, UFC, I’ve been a big believer in Denver’s defense all year. If there is a way to stop Cam, it’s to put pressure on him, and you’d be hard-pressed to find two better at applying pressure than Ware and Miller. I think the game really depends on how those two perform, and I’m banking they perform well. Give me the Broncos and Peyton Manning w/ the storybook ending. Broncos 24-20
Royce Feour, Retired Las Vegas Review-Journal sports writer. Cam Newton will be better than the old veteran Peyton Manning. Panthers 27-17
Chris Fedor, Cleveland.com. The Panthers proved to be the league’s best team during the regular season and will punctuate it Sunday, led by Cam Newton, who will show he belongs on the league’s biggest stage. Panthers, 27-17.
Marcus Fizer, retired NBA player. My pick is with the Carolina Panthers and with #SuperCam. They are playing on a level unmatched. Although you can never count out “The Sheriff” Peyton Manning, I think Cam is ready to change the dynamics of the NFL QB! Hoping for a close game, I love thrillers. Panthers 48-42
C.T. Fletcher, Powerlifter/Fitness, no score, just a mother fu*kin Broncos win! Manning and the Broncos. Admittedly not a huge fan of either team. But it’s probably Manning’s last game. He’s 40 and the underdog. I gotta pull for the “old man” cause I’m one. Gotta pick the underdog cause I’m one. I think Manning and I love to prove all the fu*kin experts wrong!
Vernon Fox, Retired NFL player. While I would love to root for my Broncos and fellow Vegas Cimarron Memorial-alum Brandon Marshall, I have a hard time believing even with the stellar defense, that Denver slows down this high-powered Panther team! Panthers 28-17
Randy Gatewood, Retired AFL player. I like the Panthers because they have been very consistent all year and they have the league MVP in Cam Newton. As great as Denver’s defense is, I don’t think they completely shut down Newton. And I think Cam Newton will also be the Super Bowl MVP. Let’s get ready to rumble! Panthers, 24-20
Bud Geracie, San Jose Mercury News. Panthers too fast and too hot. Panthers 23-14
Mike Gillespie, ABC-TV Columbia, S.C. Despite it being Manning’s last game and a pro-Denver crowd, Von Miller won’t be dabbing. That Panthers secondary is far too fast and smart to allow Manning to throw like he did against the Pats. Plus Newton, unlike Brady, is a true threat with his legs. Manning’s last game is a loss to the Panthers in Santa Clara. Panthers, 27-13
Geoff Grammer, Albuquerque Journal. I cover college sports in New Mexico so what do I know about big football games? I’ll take better story (Peyton rides off a winner) over better team for this one. Broncos 20-17
Ed Graney, LV Review Journal. If Peyton Manning can’t win this on his own, I’m sure his attorneys will send a few guys in black coats to do it for him. Panthers 24-20
Paul Gutierrez, ESPN, Panthers 27, Broncos 26.
Merril Hoge, ESPN. Teams win championships and the footers to a Champion football team are the Offensive and Defensive lines!! The Panthers win both of those match ups. Panthers 28-21
Jay Kornegay, Westgate LV SuperBook. Broncos start off on a good foot and puts the Panthers in an unfamiliar position. Denver’s D forces two critical 4th quarter turnovers and holds on. Broncos 24-20
T.J. Lavin, BMX Legend, Tom Brady 35-27!
Gilbert Manzano, LV Review Journal. The ferocious Broncos defense will give the Panthers fits early, but I see Cam Newton rallying in the fourth quarter and dabbing with the Lombardi. Panthers 27-24
Brian Mahoney, Associated Press. They’re Stephen Curry’s team, and Curry’s teams don’t lose in the Bay Area. Panthers 27-17
Chris Murray, Reno Gazette Journal. Cam Newton and the Panthers dance and dab their way to a Super Bowl title as a scourge of white Baby Boomers flood their local newspapers with letters to the editors title “What about the kids?!?!?” Oh, my, gosh, the kids! Panthers 27-17
Rock Newman, Retired Boxing Manager/Promoter. Owner Gibraltar Promotions LLC. It’s the year of Cam and the Panthers. Dab baby Dab! Panthers, 31-28.
David Purdum, ESPN. The best thing Peyton Manning has done this season: throw interceptions. Carolina’s D is a turnover machine. I feel like Manning’s good for two picks, which is just too much to overcome, at least for me to bet on the Broncos. I know all the sharps are Denver, but here’s a pro tip: Sharps lose, too. Panthers 27-16
Tim Reynolds, Associated Press. Peyton Manning gets the fairytale ending. Broncos 27-23
Anthony Rodriguez, KMET Online Radio, Denver. Broncos 23-20.
Jeffrey Seals, UNLV Media Relations. Luke Kuechly and the Panther defense will turn the lights out on Peyton Manning’s storied career. Panthers 33-13
Marc Spears, Yahoo! Sports. I’m a Raiders fan. Panthers 99, Broncos 0.
Danny Webster, Bleacher Report. The Broncos did well against Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Denver’s defense hasn’t played a quarterback like Cam Newton. Not only will Carolina’s defense do enough to stifle Denver’s offense, but this year’s MVP will throw for 225 yards and run for another 100 as Carolina wins its first Super Bowl. Panthers 27-17
Jamieson Welsh, The Score 670-AM Las Vegas. It’s Cam’s league now. Panthers 24-20
Matt Youmans, LV Review Journal. The Panthers pack more big-play firepower, but the Broncos’ top-ranked defense can do enough to contain Cam Newton. I like Carolina to win, but on a neutral field this line looks high. Panthers 24-20
FINAL TALLY: Panthers 31, Broncos 10, Caliendo 1, Lavin 1