Jan 28, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To save you a whole lot of time between now and Sunday night’s football game in New Jersey with a Roman numeral title that decides the championship of the National Football League, here is the lazy, tired narrative that will get repeated millions of times before they kick it off.
Peyton Manning – he’s good, virtuous, unimpeachable, he’s what every kid should ever aspire to be and deserves all the glory thrown his way. Richard Sherman – bad, vulgar, reprehensible, talks too much, he must be put in his place.
There, it’s done. No mention of the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos. No consideration of the tremendous effort both teams and coaching staffs and front offices have made to get to the Super Bowl. No insight, no nuance, no need for silly concepts like context and depth.
If you’re looking for that simplistic tale, look elsewhere.
What makes XLVIII so exciting is seeing the best go up against the best, something that’s rarely happened in the last two decades, as NFL parity led to a lot of recent champions (Giants twice, Packers, Ravens) that just got hot at the end.
Both Seattle and Denver are 15-3. Both went 7-1 at home in the regular season, 6-2 on the road. Both of them beat the Giants at that Stadium Named For An Insurance Company that will house the final act. Each of them parlayed deep disappointment in the second round of last year’s playoffs into hunger this season and impressive runs to their respective conference titles.
The Broncos did so with a record-setting offense with nearly 38 points and 457 yards per game, with Manning throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, both of them records, with four different receivers recording double-digit TD catches.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks leaned on the league’s top defense. They’ve only allowed 14.4 points a game and 273.6 yards, surrendering more than 30 points just once in 18 games (to Indianapolis), and oh yes, leading the NFL in takeaways.
They both flourish because they do their homework. Forget the silly “Omaha” stuff. Manning’s real genius is his work ethic, relentless film study, and tendency to address whatever puzzle a defense throws at him and always find open guys. It helps to have Wes Welker, Eric Decker and the Thomas guys (Julius and Demaryius) to throw to, each of them match-up nightmares.
Just the same, Seattle’s defense has owned opponents with sheer depth, shaking off injuries and suspensions by putting together a heavy rotation in the front seven that causes havoc. Plus, Sherman is a brilliant corner, quickly able to read and dissect pass patterns and then shut them down, if anyone is foolish enough to throw at him. Wild guess – Manning is not foolish.
This leaves the other parts of the game as an undercard, but don’t forget them. Denver’s defense has played its best in the post-season, as Tom Brady can tell you about. They will deal with the improvisational Russell Wilson and a diverse Seattle offense that will want plenty of Beast Mode from Marshawn Lynch in order to be fully effective.
Each coaching story is rich, too. John Fox, in Denver, overcame criticism of his play-calling in that epic Baltimore playoff loss, not to mention a life-threatening heart attack that sidelined him for a month this season, emerging with the same positive spirit. His presence made a big difference the second time around against New England.
Pete Carroll, nearly two decades after the Jets (unfairly) fired him after just one season in his first head-coaching gig, brings it full circle with his Seahawks. Carroll just missed the Patriots dynasty and then built a superpower at USC, having a lot of fun along the way. He lets his players be themselves, and they take it to heart, never giving anything less than an all-out effort.
Beyond all that, someone will find redemption. Really, Manning doesn’t need it, but in this era of unrelenting analysis and nit-picking, becoming the first QB to win Super Bowls for two different teams, in a cold-weather setting that he supposedly hates, ought to quiet the last silly criticism he still faces, though I’m sure some fools will move the goalposts again, as they’ve always done.
Then there’s Seattle, so often forgotten or put on the back burner in the American sports landscape. The city has exactly one pro sports championship, from the NBA’s Sonics in 1979, and they got moved out of town. The Mariners have never even made the World Series, and don’t ask Seahawks fans about Super Bowl XL. It would be great if, for once, Seattle won in the end.
In some ways, it’s too bad this one is all the way across the country from the Northwest and Rocky Mountains. Imagine the hordes of Seahawks and Broncos fans if this Super Bowl was in either of the next two venues, Arizona in 2015 or the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara in 2016.
Alas, we’re stuck with East Rutherford, in the shadow of Gotham, in the state with a governor named Chris in deep trouble because of that whole bridge thing and a poet laureate named Bruce with a new record out. Those analogies, plus the tales of Vince Lombardi coaching high school ball in Jersey, will be tiresome by Sunday night.
And when the clock runs out, the confetti flies and the silver trophy named for Lombardi is handed out, greatness will be rewarded. Whether it’s Denver putting up the points, 31-24, or Seattle holding the line, 21-17, a very worthy champion will have the ultimate talking point.