When I was younger, I used to practice football in my friend’s front yard with his dad. He’d throw, we’d catch and then, whichever one of us wasn’t the receiver, made a tackle. My friend’s dad became a fan of the phrase, “Impose your will!” when instructing me to tackle his son. It’s safe to say Seattle imposed their will on Sunday night.
For all the hype that surrounded this contest, from the first snap of the game it was clear there was only one winner. That safety, which sailed over Peyton Manning’s oblivious, Omaha-filled head, was two points, literally and metaphorically. One, the snap itself was symbolic of how the game would go: a routine task – usually completed with ease – but embarrassingly mishandled to the point of incredulity and, oh, two: giving up points, a lot of them.
Other than that one moment of painful incompetence for Denver, no spectator can say that Denver beat themselves – that takes away from the brilliant spectacle that was the Seattle Seahawks defense on Sunday night.
Led by Malcolm Smith’s Super Bowl MVP-worthy performance, they limited Peyton Manning to 280 yards – he averaged 343 yards per game during the season. Malcolm Smith had 10 tackles (four on third down to stop a conversion), forced a fumble, and had a 69-yard INT return touchdown. Kam Chancellor repeatedly deked out Manning in coverage, making him believe he would follow the crossing route only until the final moment that he pounced the other way, forcing an incompletion.
The Seahawks defense, who dubbed themselves the “Legion of Boom,” had the relentlessness of a legion and their hits certainly made a crack, if not a boom. They forced four turnovers and demolished what was termed “the greatest offense in the history of the NFL.” A demolishing serves a disservice: they limited a team that scored 38 points per game in the regular season to eight. EIGHT. They limited a team that averaged 136.8 yards rushing all season to 26 on seven rushes. TWENTY SIX. Peyton Manning’s total Quarterback Rating (QBR) this season was 115.7. The Super Bowl? 72.1 That’s a near-40% drop. The Seahawks secondary won the knock-down, drag-out battle.
The Seattle defense didn’t stop at the decimation of just the Denver Broncos; they went for Peyton’s legacy. The Seattle Seahawks let Manning break a few more records this season, his 34 completions and Demaryius Thomas’s 13 catches, but, like his regular season stats, they’re empty and hollow. They mean nothing because he couldn’t win when it mattered. His inability to succeed in crunch-time is crippling. The only thing football teams care about is winning and that meaningless stats will not change a game that was 36-0 until the final play of the third quarter. Peyton won’t be remembered for 55 passing touchdowns and 5,477 yards (both all-time records) because this Super Bowl choke will overshadow all of it. His 11-12 career postseason record will be the one stat people will fixate on. Fans don’t love you for records, they love you for victories.
“I’ll never use that word,” Peyton Manning said. He was referring to the media question of, “Is this embarrassing for you?” Peyton went on to agree: you can take nothing from Seattle’s defense like they took the ball from Denver. Seattle’s defense shut down Denver like the lights at the Super Dome last year. Peyton’s generosity of giving the ball to the other team was not lost upon Seattle and Richard Sherman even said a nice word this week when he called Peyton, “the classiest player/person he’s ever met” on Twitter because Manning asked Sherman about his ankle right after the game ended.
Manning ended the game just as he started, with his helmet on. If this were a novel, that would be symbolism. Peyton didn’t want anyone to see his face; he hid behind the facemask – the only one of the eight captains to keep his helmet on during the coin toss. Perhaps he wanted to go into the game and be on offense and wanted to remain ready, or maybe he tried to mask his disappoint. And Manning was disappointed. For a man coming off four neck surgeries, this was his most talented team he has ever played with and he royally disappointed the city of Denver, as well as himself. In fact, with this showing, Tom Brady and Joe Montana and ole Jonny Unitas distance themselves from him in “the greatest Quarterback of all-time discussion.” That performance hurt his stock, rather than aid it like many prognosticated.
No one predicted the ultimate beat-down that Seattle would instill upon Denver – not even the Broncos themselves. Neither did Vegas – the Broncos were 2.5-point favorites.
The Seattle Seahawks went out Sunday night unconcerned with numbers, or facts, or figures. They did what they knew how to do: play defense and win games. Oh, and impose their will.