EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The 12th Man came to the Big Apple this week, hoping to make some noise. He had a plan to make the Super Bowl another game of 12-on-11 football, the way they play it in Seattle. So he arrived via LaGuardia, JFK, Newark International and even Philadelphia International. He took the C-train and New Jersey Transit. He was spotted in Times Square and in the MetLife Stadium parking lot. He could be heard shouting through taverns and across train platforms.
But New York and New Jersey have a way of cancelling out even the most joyous noise. Scream at the top of your lungs and stomp with all your might, and you still cannot be heard amidst the jet engines from three airports, the rumble of a hundred subway trains, the honking of countless car horns and the millions of voices speaking dozens of languages. The 12th Man (often a woman, actually, but best thought of as a legion) could be seen in Super Bowl country in numbers far greater than Broncos Nation, and they could be heard in MetLife Stadium. But they did not drone, thrum or agitate seismographs. The Seahawks would play Super Bowl XLVIII a man short.
It did not matter. A Seahawks team worthy of comparisons to the 1985 Bears does not need an extra man. The 46 they activated for the Super Bowl did the trick. The Seahawks crushed Peyton Manning and the Broncos, 43-8. They led from the first offensive snap of the game -- which sailed past Manning's astonished face and into the end zone for a safety -- until the final gun, shutting the Broncos out for three quarters. They delivered a thumping that conjured memories of the Bears' 46-10 Super Bowl win over the Patriots, 28 years ago. Except that wasn't Tony Eason in the other huddle. It was a Hall of Famer, leading one of the best offenses in league history.
"Twelfth man, we did it!" Richard Sherman said after the game. "Seattle deserves this more than any other city."
Monsters of the Meadowlands
We expected a nip-and-tuck Super Bowl XLVIII, but Super Bowl XX broke out. Instead of the 12th Man (who was hardly silent, mind you), we heard "The Super Bowl Shuffle" wafting through our memories. We worried about a whiteout; instead we got a blowout, a flashback to the days when Super Bowls were over before the halftime show.
The Seahawks are that good: Ditka good.
When Manning tried to throw deep, no one was open. When he tried to find secondary receivers, he was either hit or forced to stumble out of the pocket. When he threw a shallow cross, Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas got hammered, gaining less than five yards. When he threw a wide receiver screen, the defense converged before the receiver got very far. When he threw a running back screen, linebackers and lineman chased Knowshon Moreno down.
When Manning stepped to the line to call a huddle -- every time after the first time, when center Manny Ramirez suddenly snapped the football before Manning was ready -- the Seahawks' Bobby Wagner stepped up to meet him. Manning made his call, and Wagner channeled Mike Singletary with a call of his own. Wagner said after the game that the calls and counter-calls were mostly bluffs, yet the Seahawks always seemed to be in perfect position for draw plays and delays. "We made it a chess match," Wagner said. "We feel like we won it."
Nine of Manning's first 11 completions in the first half netted just 26 yards. A 2.9 yard-per-completion average will get you nowhere, particularly when your big plays travel 16 and nine yards, and your big mistakes include a Pick-6.
The Seahawks got big plays from nearly every defender on their depth chart. Kam Chancellor made the first interception against Manning, but Avril applied the pressure that rushed the throw, and Wagner's hand was close enough to alter the ball's trajectory. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith returned a second interception for a touchdown, but only after Avril and Chris Clemons bull-rushed their blockers into Manning from both directions. Smith recovered a third-quarter fumble, thanks to Byron Maxwell, who poked the ball from Demaryius Thomas' hands at the end of what appeared to be a rare Broncos positive play. Michael Bennett ran one screen down from behind, Clinton McDonald another.
Sherman tried to list all of the players who made their mark on the game during his press conference, citing the defenders above and many more. The names kept coming and coming. "We're a bunch of misfits in some ways," he said. Kind of like those brash, overly talkative 1985 Bears, whose Super Bowl MVP was eighth-round pick Richard Dent.
As for Sherman, Earl Thomas and the Legion of Boom, most Broncos pass plays began with Manning looking here, looking there, growing impatient and (at best) settling for one of those 2.9 yard passes. Sherman and Thomas were here and there. Manning attempted a bomb to Demaryius Thomas along the right sideline early in the third quarter, and Sherman's coverage was so tight that Thomas could do nothing but run up the defender's heels, clutching him from behind to prevent an interception.
Just before the two-minute warning of the first half, Manning finally got a clean pocket and pump-faked twice to move Chancellor and Smith, so there was room to thread an 11-yard pass. When one of history's greatest quarterbacks needs double-pump-fake calculus to gain 11 yards, the defense is doing something really special.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn offered few secrets for Manning domination. "We prepared for the no-huddle for two weeks," he said. "When you give these players and coaches two weeks, you're gonna like the result."
That film study, according to Wagner, revealed that the Broncos might be the team that arrived unprepared. "Watching the film coming into the week, we saw that they never played a defense like ours," he said. "They weren't flying around like us, and they weren't hitting like us."
"Everyone played our behinds off," Sherman said, putting it simply.
The Other Side of the Ball
The Seahawks offense held up its end, as usual; this team is a reincarnation of the 1985 Bears, not the 2000 Ravens. Percy Harvin, crystal centerpiece that he is, sparkled under the brightest lights with 50 offensive yards, 45 of them on two reverses, and a kickoff return touchdown to start the second half. Luke Willson and Michael Robinson converted third downs. Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette had huge receptions late in the third quarter, when the Seahawks slammed it into fourth gear to stave off any Manning magic. Just about every Seahawks player but long snapper Clint Gresham had a signature moment. And snapping in the Super Bowl ain't easy.
"That's the first time anyone's seen our offense 100 percent for the whole game," noted Sherman; injuries had held Harvin to just 37 snaps during the entire regular season. "On offense, we were firing on all cylinders," Russell Wilson said.
Wilson's impact cannot be overlooked. He's not a "punky QB" by any stretch, but he is a creative, resourceful leader -- like a certain headband-wearing '80s icon known as McMahon, except that Wilson is faster and far healthier. He managed the early game and then took control of the late game. Wilson finished with 206 passing yards, 26 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He did his best work when his team had a lead, and he could pick his shots against a demoralized opponent.
And Marshawn Lynch? Beast Mode was the only thing the Broncos successfully corralled. But there was little Sweetness in Super Bowl XX, either; Walter Payton gained just 61 yards in that game. Stacked to stop Lynch, the Broncos were vulnerable to Harvin's reverses and late-game play action. The Seahawks victory was a pure team effort, and so many players said so in postgame interviews that it feels ridiculous to belabor the point.
Defensive coordinator Quinn passed on a Pete Carroll coaching point that better illustrates what made the Seahawks so unbeatable on Sunday. "Let's find what a player can do well and accent that," Quinn said. The Seahawks had an accent on every syllable on Sunday.
Twelve Happy Men
The 12th Man was not totally absent from the equation. As the game tilted toward the Seahawks, so did the crowd noise. The Broncos never established rhythm, and as they slowly lost their composure, then their hope and finally their resolve, the crowd could be heard pressing the issue -- making Manning audibles harder, slipping into respectful silence when Wilson went to work. At one point, Sherman crumbled to the turf after a tackle, and he appeared to be hurt badly. He tried to stand, then fell again, at a point in the third quarter when a comeback for the ages was still imaginable. Then Sherman sprung to his feet, and so did the crowd, throaty and thrilled to play even a small part. (Sherman later left the game permanently, but the injury is not serious).
In a true team effort, the 12th Man finished 47th of the 46 active Seahawks in terms of impact, but they will take it. They were part of one of the most emphatic blowouts in Super Bowl history. Through ten home games, they made a modest but real contribution to one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. And they return home to celebrate one of the greatest seasons in football history.
"The 12th man wanted it so bad," Kam Chancellor said after the game, citing divine provenance as a factor in Seattle's first Super Bowl victory. "He put us in Seattle for a reason, so the 12th man could watch us play, and we could bring this trophy back to them." If heaven really was on the Seahawks' side, a bunch of noisy fans was the least of their opponent's worries.
When asked if the Seahawks defense belongs in the same category as the 1985 Bears or other historic defenses, Wagner said, "I definitely feel like we're up there. We went up against a legend today." Wagner noted that the Seahawks still have more to accomplish before they rank among the all-time greats. "We're still young," he said, but humility only goes so far.
"A hundred years from now," Wagner said, "y'all are gonna remember this team." We may also remember the fans that crossed a continent, so they could follow their team every step of the way.