Monday, February 03, 2014

Super Bowl 2014: It Wasn't Cold, and It Wasn't Close

The Seahawks' Percy Harvin scoring a touchdown during Seattle's 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. Rich Schultz for The Wall Street Journal
East Rutherford, N.J.

Be wary of a big windy prediction! Let's start with the weather, shall we? For nearly four years, weather was all the anxious talk about this Great Northern Scary What's Going to Happen Outdoor Super Bowl. Weather consumed the conversation. It was going to be cold, frigid, frosty enough to numb well-heeled heels, in fancy cashmere socks. Then there was the threat—or was it a promise?—of snow. There had to be snow. This was the whole idea of this stunt. Would it be a light dusting or steady flurries—or an untamable, menacing blizzard? Maybe you found the snow talk romantic. Maybe you saw it as evidence that you can't have Games Like This in Towns Like This.

And then: It was warm! Warmer than Denver or Seattle even. Warm enough not just for football but for badminton on your lawn. Warm enough for frozen margaritas. OK, maybe not frozen margaritas. But still: warm.

At least the game would be great. How competitive it was expected to be! A tossup of tossups. The Broncos were the pregame favorite, acclaimed, but not overwhelming, even with the all-timer Peyton Manning at quarterback. Seattle, so fierce and fluid on defense, would be a serious challenge. The hedgers were hedging. It would be close. It would be thrilling. It was the best of scenarios: a Super Bowl, too close to call.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw two interceptions. Associated Press
And then—like the snow—the Broncos didn't show.

Ugly? It was ugly immediately. On the game's first play from scrimmage, a snap sailed over Manning's shoulder and into the end zone. Denver recovered, but a safety was awarded to Seattle. A safety on the first play? Congratulations if you had that as a pregame prop bet, you can probably buy a Caribbean archipelago. And yet for Denver it somehow got worse. Seattle's shortchanged offense moved the ball with few problems, and Manning struggled terribly. He threw two interceptions in the first half, the second returned 69 yards by linebacker Malcolm Smith.

The halftime score was Seattle 22, Denver 0. There hadn't been a halftime score that ugly since 1990, when the Joe Montana Niners whomped…well, they whomped Denver, back when John Elway had yet to win the big one. Suddenly MetLife Stadium, poised for a thriller, felt like it was hosting a Turn Back the Clock Night. After a wave of close Super Bowls, it was an old-fashioned, send-the-guests-home-early blowout. Then Seattle's Percy Harvin ran the opening kick back in the second half. Nearly two full quarters left with a Hall of Famer under center, and it was time for Denver to call a cab.

Let's be clear about what happened here: The Seahawks handled the Broncos. They made the uneasy look easy. Heading into the game, there was generous respect for groovy head coach Pete Carroll and Seattle's obstinate, obsessive D, the way it swarmed and grabbed and played aggressively, right up along the edge of allowable. But the presence of Manning gave everyone pause: Couldn't Manning unlock what prior Seattle victims Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees had not? Surely Denver would find something.

Nope. The final was 43-8. The offense, led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, played with the fever of men who felt underappreciated. Harvin, plagued by injuries, a question mark before the game, was electric. The MVP went to Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round pick. After the game, Carroll rhapsodized about Seattle's culture of underdogs. So did the wide receiver Doug Baldwin, one of a number of undrafted players on this Seahawk team.

The books will look weird on this one. Manning managed 34 completions, an empty Super Bowl record. After a brilliant career—let's stop the motor on the "legacy" talk, it's so tedious—he'll surely want to chuck this one in the can. The Broncos were never in it. The turnover ratio: 4 to 0. For Denver, it was still a cold night.

"It's not an easy pill to swallow," Manning said when it was over, "but eventually we'll have to."

This was a test: the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city—or cities, if you give due diligence to both New York and under-loved New Jersey—and it didn't cooperate with the assignment. Even at 10 p.m., with confetti fluttering onto the Seahawk celebration, the temperature hovered in the mid-40s. The complimentary earmuffs that came with stadium seats would be unused keepsakes from a one-sided game.

The margin of victory may have been a surprise, but the champion was formidable and deserved. Seattle in a rout. You cannot always predict the weather. And you definitely can't always predict football.

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