SAN FRANCISCO — The NFL decided to ditch the Roman numbers for Super Bowl 50.
But in many ways, Sunday is all about No. I vs. No. II.
Cam Newton, the Panthers’ dynamic quarterback, was the first pick of the 2011 draft.
Von Miller, the Broncos’ dynamo linebacker, was the second selection.
“The relationship that me and Cam have — it’s a unique opportunity to go against a great quarterback, another great in the National Football League,” Miller said. “It has been two totally different paths.”
All roads this weekend lead to Santa Clara, even for these two who shared the NFL waiting room years ago.
“I knew him, but I don’t know him personally like a friend,” Miller said. “If I see him out we will kick it and talk. It’s just that type of respect you have for your draft mates.”
While Newton is hogging this week’s spotlight, don’t forget about Miller.
You can bet the Patriots won’t.
Miller, along with DeMarcus Ware, made life miserable for New England quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game. They had the lion’s share of hits on Brady, a number which reached XX — oops, sorry NFL, make that 20.
Miller had 2 1/2 sacks with a performance which helped lift Denver to its second Super Bowl in three years.
When Miller was a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Texas A&M, he envisioned being on the NFL’s grandest stage. But he missed the Broncos’ appearance in Super Bowl 48 with a bum knee.
That knee, obviously, is healed after Miller collected a team-high 11 sacks.
The Broncos, obviously, have a defense which has few peers. Its ranked No. 1 overall and against the pass; No. 3 versus the pass.
All of which makes for a juicy matchup on Sunday.
The Newton-led Panthers delivers more than 31 points per game, another top distinction in the NFL.
But those numbers and stats will soon be yesterday’s news. Instead this game, as do all Super Bowls, will hinge on which players make the most plays.
And two of the most critical participants are Miller and Newton.
Neither have been in a Super Bowl. But both have visualized it, and what football-loving kid doesn’t?
“When I was a rookie, I had dreams and aspirations of coming in and doing great stuff,” Miller said. “But what got me through everything was just keeping my head down, just focusing on what I needed to do. I just focused in (with) my teammates.”
He won’t go unnoticed by the Panthers.
“My main focus right now is the Denver Broncos, specifically Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware,” Newton said.
It’s that combination which has led to Denver parties in rival backfields.
Ware, who was in the same draft as ex-Charger Shawne Merriman 11 seasons ago, had 7.5 sacks in 2015.
And Ware appreciates Miller riding shotgun in their race to the quarterback.
“It just helps us to get singled out to where you can make plays where you’re not getting double-teamed the majority of the time,” Ware said. “So, you complement each other when you’re out there rushing. When you have a running quarterback that can string plays out, it’s not just beating the tackles, you have to also get to him and take him down.”
Miller knows about a compass pointing south. Not only did he miss a chunk of 2013 with a knee injury, but he was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“It’s another chance at greatness,” Miller said of Sunday.
And another opportunity for two names called back-to-back in 2011 to meet again.
“No. 1 and 2 are only 30 seconds apart,” Miller said. “It is not really a huge difference. We both had pretty good careers up to this point.”
With one on the verge of becoming considerably better.
+ Contact Jay Paris at jparisbcaradio.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jparis_sports.