The 39-year-old Manning got the better of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in their longstanding rivalry, but it was the Broncos defence which took most credit for the 20-18 victory to clinch the AFC championship on Sunday (Monday AEDT).
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others in a 49-15 romp over the Cardinals for the NFC championship.
It will be a first Super Bowl for Newton and a second for the Panthers, who lost to New England 12 years ago.
Denver’s victory was not settled until Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby picked off Brady’s pass on a two-point attempt that would have tied the game with 12 seconds left.
Aqib Talib stepped in front of Brady’s pass and deflected it skyward, and Roby grabbed the ball.
The Broncos recovered New England’s ensuing onside kick and the celebration began.
Manning is now 6-11 in his vaunted series against Brady, but 3-1 when it has counted the most – with the AFC title on the line.
“To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special and just an awesome effort by our entire team,” Manning said.
“It’s been a special rivalry (with Brady) over the course of our career … I just wanted to take the time to share with Tom (Brady) and Bill (Belichick) how much respect I have for them and just what special coaches and players they are.”
The Broncos quarterback surpassed now Denver executive John Elway as the oldest quarterback to take his team to the Super Bowl.
New England won’t get a chance to defend their title.
The Patriots lost their past two regular season games to squander home-field advantage in the playoffs.
In the end, it was a game that came down to one play.
The Patriots wouldn’t quit with Brady hitting Rob Gronkowski with a four yard touchdown pass 12 seconds from the buzzer.
Needing a two-point convert to force overtime, Denver stepped up, forcing Brady to make a hurried incomplete pass to clinch a spot in their record-equalling eighth Super Bowl.
“For it to come down to a two-point conversion obviously is a tough way to finish the season,” Brady said.
“You make some, you’re not going to make them all.”
Throughout the season, Denver has depended on a defence that gave up the fewest yards and came up with game-saving plays time and again.
Von Miller finished with 2.5 sacks and an interception.
The Broncos harassed Brady all day as he completed 27 of 56 attempted passes for 310 yards with two interceptions.
This marks a fourth Super Bowl for Manning, who could become the first quarterback to lead two different franchises to titles, having done so for the Indianapolis Colts.
His last Super Bowl appearance was ugly; a 43-8 loss to Seattle two years ago.
The 17-for-32 passing performance wasn’t one of his best, but it proved enough.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to contribute to InDaily.