PHOENIX (AP) — An historic Super Bowl is before us.
Next Sunday, Seattle goes for a second straight title, seeking to be the first team to repeat since the Patriots a decade ago. A victory, particularly a convincing one, would stamp the Seahawks as one of the great teams of the Super Bowl era.
Meanwhile, New England's coach and quarterback chase a record-tying fourth Super Bowl ring.
Yet, as has been the custom this season, major distractions have taken focus away from the field.
As much as Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Richard Sherman might want the spotlight to shine only on the game itself — and the potential achievements at hand — much of the buildup to the kickoff will be about anything but.
From the New England under-inflated balls saga to injuries for All-Pro defensive backs Sherman and Earl Thomas to Marshawn Lynch being fined yet again for his code of silence with the media, the 49th Super Bowl has taken on a circus atmosphere.
Which seems fitting given all that has gone wrong for the NFL off the field — even as pro football remains as popular as ever.
Just finding any comments about the matchup of the dynamic defense from Seattle and the potent offense from New England has been a chore. Everything else, it seems, has been in play.
Indeed, here's how Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Sherman, recalling last year, describes the upcoming week:
"To us, it was just another week in the season, obviously. You're with these guys 180 or 190 of the 365 days, so you get to spend a special week with them. You get to know their families a little better because it's not just them there, but it's their families, their sons and daughters.
"A lot of times you don't get to meet them during these weeks, we're always at work from eight to six and everyone goes home. You get one day during training camp to meet people's family, but that's about it. So you have a good time getting to know people more."
Notice, no mention of football.
But Sherman does insist the left elbow he hurt in the NFC title game will be no factor.
"If I had to slap my brother, I'd be able to do it," he said jokingly.
Not much light-hearted stuff coming from New England. Not much football talk, either.
Belichick, who can equal Chuck Noll's four Super Bowl rings as a head coach, is grilled about the air pressure in a football, not about the pass pressure Seattle can bring on Brady.
Brady, in turn, gets cross-examined about the weight of the footballs, not about the weight of trying to reach Joe Montana/Terry Bradshaw territory with a fourth Super Bowl triumph.
"Obviously I'd much rather be up here talking about the Seahawks and preparing for the Super Bowl, which we've been trying to do for the last few days," he said.
As for Lynch, while it's certain the Patriots are scheming how to slow down Beast Mode, the league is trying to figure out what to do with him on media day and beyond. Lynch was fined $20,000 Thursday for an obscene gesture in the NFC championship win over Green Bay.
In November, he was nailed for $50,000 for not adhering to the league media policy. Another $50,000 from 2013 that was withheld with the expectation he would cooperate in the future also was collected because, well, Lynch didn't speak up when required to.
Some folks in the NFL offices must be wondering what else could happen to shift the focus from Patriots-Seahawks.
What the football-watching world hopefully prefers is to get back to the machinations on the 100-yard gridiron. Such as the key showdown between All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, perhaps the only defender who can somewhat match Gronk's power and speed.
Such as how Seattle avoids the pitfalls that plagued it for much of the NFC title game, when it fell behind 16-0.
And how high-priced Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis performs in his first Super Bowl after seven seasons of falling short (on the field if not at the bank).
There's also what some have dubbed "Pete's Revenge," recalling how Carroll was canned by the Patriots after the 1999 season and replaced by Belichick. Carroll went on to phenomenal success at Southern California even as his successor was turning New England into a power. He's displayed no animosity toward the Patriots organization — anything otherwise would have fit in with the theme of the 2014 season and the past few weeks, of course.
"It was a real challenge," said Carroll, who went 28-23 in three seasons with the Patriots. "It's a great place to be in sports: a great town, a great following, much like it is here (in Seattle). Just tremendous support and all, really heartfelt.
"That was the old days and all of the old facilities; it wasn't quite as nice as it now, I am sure. Still, the whole setup was really exciting to be around, they had such history. It didn't work out. We did some good stuff while we were there, but it didn't work out and time to move on."
Yep, maybe it's time to move on from all the tangential stuff and concentrate on what the Super Bowl is supposed to represent: football.