No team has won a Super Bowl record after a 15-1 regular season since the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Carolina Panthers can end that drought with a victory February 7 against Denver. FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez compares the two franchises and their trappings with Super Bowl 50 fast approaching.
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Call this Sweetness vs. Superman. The Bears were fueled by running back Walter Payton, who rushed for 1,551 yards and scored 11 touchdowns as a runner and receiver. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was even more impressive this season as an all-around threat. The clear frontrunner for 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player honors, Newton accounted for 45 touchdowns (35 passing and 10 rushing) while committing a modest 14 turnovers. The better productivity of Carolina’s passing game gives the Panthers the nod. Edge: Panthers.
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Carolina’s defense is awfully good, but the 1985 Bears were in another stratosphere. The Bears allowed only 258.4 yards and 12.4 points a game. Six opponents were held without a point, including the first back-to-back shutouts in NFL playoff history posted against the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams. Chicago led the NFL in eight of 14 major defensive categories with three players (linebacker Mike Singletary and defensive linemen Dan Hampton and Richard Dent) ultimately inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Edge: Bears.
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Chicago’s prowess on offense and defense overshadowed this unit but the Bears were adept here as well. Chicago led the NFL in kickoff returns with a 25.3-yard average along with two touchdowns compared to a league-low 18.5-yard average and zero scores for the Panthers. Carolina also ranked near the bottom of the league in kickoff coverage and punting. The Panthers are sound on punt returns thanks to Ted Ginn Jr. and his game-breaking speed. Chicago’s Kevin Butler and Carolina’s Graham Gano posted almost the exact same field-goal percentage although the latter was more productive from greater distances. Gano converted 15 of 20 field goals from 40-plus yards during the 2015 regular season compared to three-of-eight kicking for Butler. Edge: Bears.
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The Panthers have now reached two Super Bowls since the franchise debuted in 1995 and are the first club to win three consecutive NFC South titles since the league’s 2002 divisional realignment. The Bears have made two appearances in the 50-year Super Bowl era although the franchise can brag of eight championships from before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The place of Bears founder George “Papa Bear” Halas in NFL history cannot be understated. Halas was one of the league’s co-founders in 1922 and remains second in coaching victories (324) behind fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame member Don Shula. Edge: Chicago.
Rivera spent all seven of his NFL seasons (1984 to 1991) as a Bears linebacker playing under Ditka. Rivera uses some of those lessons learned with his Panthers charges. One of them came this week when Rivera told Carolina players to “enjoy the moment” like Ditka told the 1985 Bears before their 46-10 stomping of New England in Super Bowl 20. Rivera has helped build the Panthers into a championship-caliber team, but Ditka gets the nod for now because of his sustained success in Chicago. “Da Bears” posted double-digit victories seven times in an eight season stretch. Chicago also had an assistant coach worthy of Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration in Buddy Ryan, who was the innovator of the “46 defense” that fueled the team’s Super Bowl run. Edge: Chicago.
Both teams are associated with having a good time. Carolina QB Cam Newton brought “dabbing” -- a hip-hop dance move that became popular last summer -- into the mainstream during his end-zone celebrations. Bears QB Jim McMahon mooned a news helicopter flying above Chicago’s Super Bowl practice field and sported a headband bearing the last name of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to protest a $5K fine he received for wearing a headband with a corporate logo (Adidas) sans league sponsorship deal. Two things put the Bears over the top: William “The Refrigerator” Perry -- a hefty defensive tackle who became a pop-culture phenomenon when used as a goal-line running back – and the Super Bowl Shuffle music video featuring Bears players that was released three months before Chicago even landed a spot in the championship game. Edge: Bears.
This depends on whether you like the hustle and bustle of the big city or a more laid-back Southern atmosphere -- although that’s quickly changing with Charlotte being the nation’s third-fastest growing city according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other factors to consider: Deep-dish pizza (Chicago) or BBQ (Charlotte)? College basketball and NASCAR (Charlotte) or four franchises in the three other major pro sports leagues (Chicago)? Brutal winters and glorious summers (Chicago) or moderate year-round temperatures (Charlotte)? Stephanie Mills (Charlotte) or Lou Rawls (Chicago)? Ric Flair (Charlotte) or CM Punk (Chicago)? Brooklyn Decker (Charlotte) or Jenny McCarthy (Chicago)? Pick your own poison. I don’t need the Twitter blowback. Edge: Even.