When this Super Bowl ends, however it turns out, the NFL Network should replay it through the view of cameras devoted entirely to following members of the Seahawks' secondary through the game. The microphones can be on or off. This wouldn't be about capturing Richard Sherman as he campaigns for a spot in the trash-talk pantheon. In fact, noise might distract from the real purpose: documenting the arrival of defense as high art.
In the lead-up to its confrontation with an offense for the ages, the effort to place this Seahawks' defense in history has gone just wide of the mark. They're not, as some have claimed, the equal of the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Ravens or the oft-overlooked 2002 Buccaneers, who left scorch marks on all of their postseason opponents. Over at Grantland, Bill Barnwell pulled together the best available metrics and ranked the Seahawks in a tie for ninth with the 1988 Bears among all defenses since 1940. The three Super Bowl champs in the top 10 are the 2002 Bucs in second place, the '85 Bears in sixth and the 2000 Ravens in eighth. (The 2006 Ravens came in first, but lost to Peyton Manning and the eventual champion Colts.)
When we look back at these Seahawks someday, we won't think strictly about rankings. We'll remember them as the first great defense defined by the secondary. There have been plenty of elite defenses with extraordinary backs, but even those teams built their identities up front, with a terrifying pass rush and/or drop-dead run stoppers.
Seattle's back four are something else. Their nickname, the Legion of Boom, is well-earned, but it obscures the fact that they play a beautiful game. The cornerbacks mirror receivers' moves so precisely, it sometimes seems as if their team is calling the plays. If the cameras don't regularly isolate on the Seattle pass coverage, providing replays of any great match-up regardless of where the ball goes, CBS will be robbing its audience.
Whatever you thought of the theatrics Sherman generated after the NFL title game, you had to appreciate the immediate football side effect: constant replays of him soaring to tip the final pass away from Michael Crabtree and into the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith. Sherman was slightly out of position, but he recovered with aplomb, making a play that could prove as iconic as The Catch, the leaping grab by Dwight Clark that carried the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.
The Sherman replay grew more exhilarating each time it appeared on a TV screen. A different nuance would reveal itself, as if the play had been embedded in a movie classic. This wasn't unusual for the Seahawks; only the circumstances were unique.
"A lot of people want to see great offense, well you see great offense all the time,'' Sherman said before the NFC title game.
The elegant moments for this secondary all begin with a bruiser mentality, or to the skeptical eye, a propensity for pass interference that the officials somehow miss. At the very least, the receiver feels suffocated, and a close-up of Seattle DBs in man-to-man coverage may induce claustrophobia among viewers.
Manning may find that all too familiar. Ten years ago, the Patriots DBs beat up his Colts receivers, virtually drilling the tight end underground. The following season, the league cracked down on chucking receivers more than 5 yards from scrimmage, a decision that helped advance the era of the quarterback.
The Seahawks may represent the inevitable adaptation, with a secondary that does it all, booming and soaring and clinging. They're terrifyingly proficient, endlessly entertaining and unlike anything we've seen before.