EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — This Super Bowl has just about everything a fan, a player, a coach — and certainly a league — could ask for.
Denver’s record-setting offense versus Seattle’s relentlessly stingy defense. Coaches who actually smile and think football should be fun. A wintry setting, and the best two teams in the NFL.
“It’s very special to be here,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of today’s big game. “Look at this event that our players are having to take part of. The game, the matchup, the culmination of the season, all of this is just extraordinary.”
This Super Bowl could also have a profound effect on the immediate future of pro football.
It may be a referendum on whether the NFL’s showpiece event should ever again be held outdoors in a cold-weather city. But more likely is it being a strong indicator about the future of the quarterback position.
The game will feature the classic pocket passer emblematic of the old guard — Denver’s veteran Peyton Manning, who has had an extraordinarily prolific season.
Against him is Seattle’s quick-footed, quick-witted scrambler Russell Wilson, who represents the new guard along with the likes of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, even Andrew Luck.
Seattle’s miserly defense wants to force Manning into uncomfortable territory, which means anywhere outside the passing pocket. Denver’s defense will be intent on giving Wilson a taste of claustrophobia by keeping him hemmed in the pocket.
Both QB approaches work for their offenses, or else these two teams wouldn’t each be 15-3, top seeds in their conferences and facing off for the championship. The quarterback differences — aside from age, time of service in the pros, or even their height — Manning is about 15 centimeters (6 inches) taller than Wilson — make this Super Bowl even more intriguing.
There will always be a place in anyone’s starting lineup for a Peyton Manning, who deserves strong consideration in the debate about the greatest quarterback in history, regardless of whether he adds a second Super Bowl ring today. Teams construct their offense around a talent like that.
Whether most teams will stick with convention or choose mobile, creative and elusive passers such as Wilson won’t be decided by who wins at the Meadowlands. But it could play a significant role.
“As a talent evaluator for college and even free agency, the toughest thing to evaluate is process,” Broncos quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp said. “Can the guy process in the pocket during the heat of battle?”
Everyone knows Manning has had that skill throughout his career, and Wilson has provided strong evidence in his two NFL seasons that he’s got it, too.
“Peyton might be one of the best I’ve ever been around that can process, ‘Ok, I’ve got these tools to use, and in 10 seconds I’ve got to make a decision, and execute in less than four,’” Knapp added.
Wilson’s multi-faceted abilities on the field might differ in method to Manning’s, but Carroll sees many similarities off the playing field.
“He’s an incredible competitor in every way,” Carroll said of his quarterback, who at 25 is 12 years younger than Manning. “In preparation, in game day, he’s the epitome of what you want in your competitor. He’s got tremendous work habits. He’s got extraordinary athleticism. He’s got a general all-around savvy that allows him to make great decisions under pressure.
“He’s extremely confident, too, so no matter what is going on, he’s not going to waver in his focus and ability to handle things.”
Manning believes elements of all styles will always be in demand.
“I could describe the perfect quarterback. Take a little piece of everybody,” he said. “Take John Elway’s arm, Dan Marino’s release, maybe Troy Aikman’s dropback, Brett Favre’s scrambling ability, Joe Montana’s two-minute poise and, naturally, my speed.”
After the laughter stopped, Manning continued:
“I could take a piece of everyone, of some of my favorite quarterbacks, and I could take 30 traits from different guys, and put them in that perfect quarterback.”
But will that perfect QB in years to come feature more of Manning and his mold or of Wilson and his ilk?
Tonight’s game could provide a glimpse into that future.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Super Bowl XLVIII
At East Rutherford, N.J.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (15-3)
vs. DENVER BRONCOS (15-3)
Tonight, 5:25, FOX
OPENING LINE — Denver by 1
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Seattle 12-5-1; Denver 12-6
SERIES RECORD — Broncos lead 34-19
AP PRO32 RANKING — Seahawks, No. 1; Broncos, No. 2
LAST MEETING — Broncos beat Seahawks 31-14, Sept. 19, 2010
LAST GAME — Seahawks beat 49ers 23-17; Broncos beat Patriots 26-16
SEAHAWKS OFFENSE — OVERALL (17), RUSH (4), PASS (26)
SEAHAWKS DEFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (7T), PASS (1)
BRONCOS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (15), PASS (1)
BRONCOS DEFENSE — OVERALL (19), RUSH (7T), PASS (27)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Super Bowl features matchup of NFL's top-rated offense (Denver) and league's No. 1 defense (Seattle) — sixth time that has happened. Team with top defense has won four of previous five, with only exception being Denver falling to San Francisco 55-10 in 1990. ... Only once have teams ranked first in yards gained and allowed met in Super Bowl: 11 years ago when defense-minded Tampa Bay routed Oakland 48-21. ... Teams were AFC West rivals until Seahawks moved to NFC West for 2002 season. ... Seattle playing in second Super Bowl in team history, having lost to Pittsburgh in only other appearance in 2006 game. ... Seahawks' Pete Carroll in first Super Bowl as head coach. ... QB Russell Wilson has 27 wins in first two seasons, including playoffs, which ties him with Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger for most in Super Bowl era. Could join Roethlisberger, New England's Tom Brady and St. Louis' Kurt Warner as only QBs to win Super Bowl within first two seasons. Wilson had 101.2 passer rating, only QB in NFL history with 100-plus rating in rookie and second seasons. ... RB Marshawn Lynch, who created stir during week by cutting short media availabilities, rushed for 1,257 yards and 12 TDs this season, his third straight with at least 1,200 yards and 10 or more scores. Has run for six TDs and has four 100-yard rushing performances in six career playoff games. Needs 5 yards rushing to pass Shaun Alexander (564) for most in franchise postseason history. ... WR Percy Harvin was knocked out of NFC divisional playoff game against New Orleans with concussion, but has been medically cleared. Has yet to play in full game while healthy in first season with Seahawks. ... WR-PR Golden Tate led Seahawks with career-high 64 catches and 898 yards, while Doug Baldwin had 778 yards receiving in regular season and caught six passes for 106 yards in NFC championship game. ... CB Richard Sherman highlighted Seahawks defense that led NFL in takeaways (39), INTs (28), points allowed (231), total defense (273.6 yards) and pass defense (172 yards). Sherman's eight INTs led league, first Seahawks player to do so since Eugene Robinson in 1993. He tipped pass intended for Michael Crabtree that was intercepted by Malcolm Smith to seal NFC title game win over San Francisco. ... K Steven Hauschka made 33 of 35 FGs in regular season & led NFC with franchise-record 143 points. Has converted all six FG attempts in playoffs. ... Broncos playing in seventh Super Bowl, tied with New England for third-most in NFL history and just one behind Dallas and Pittsburgh. ... Denver has won its last two Super Bowl appearances, both coming in consecutive years (1998 and '99) with John Elway, now team's executive VP, at QB. ... John Fox, who missed month during season to have open-heart surgery, is sixth head coach in NFL history to lead two franchises to Super Bowl. His Carolina Panthers lost 32-29 to New England Patriots in 2004. ... QB Peyton Manning 1-1 in career Super Bowl appearances, both with Indianapolis. Set NFL's single-season marks with 5,477 yards passing and 55 TD tosses. Needs 116 yards passing to surpass Brady (6,424) for most in NFL postseason history, and his 36 postseason TDs rank him fourth all-time. ... RB Knowshon Moreno had 1,038 yards rushing, first time he reached 1,000-yard milestone, and had career-best 13 TDs, including 10 on ground. ... WR Demaryius Thomas had seven catches for 134 yards and TD in AFC championship game. First Broncos player with two seasons of 1,400 yards receiving. ... WR Wes Welker has 79 catches for 762 yards and five TDs in 11 career postseason games. ... Julius Thomas set team record for TEs with 12 TD catches. ... CB Champ Bailey playing in first Super Bowl in his 15 NFL seasons. ... K Matt Prater over flu bug that caused him to miss three practices before team flew to New Jersey. Set NFL record with 64-yard FG in December, and is 30 of 31 on FG attempts, including 5 for 5 in playoffs.