Tuesday, January 21
Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos and Richard Sherman's Seattle Seahawks were the NFL's best all season, so it's fitting that they'll meet in the Super Bowl.
Nobody scored as many points or gained as many yards as the Broncos.
Nobody allowed as few points or gave up as few yards as the Seahawks.
And nobody won as many games as those clubs, either.
What a way to finish the season. When the AFC champion Broncos (15-3) play the NFC champion Seahawks (15-3) on Feb. 2 at what could be a chilly MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it will be the first Super Bowl since 1991 pitting the league's highest-scoring team in the regular season against the team that was scored on the least, according to STATS.
It's also only the second time in the last 20 Super Bowls that the No. 1 seed in each conference reached the NFL championship game.
"It will be a great matchup," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think it's an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game."
That, of course, would be Manning, the 37-year-old quarterback who is the only four-time NFL MVP — and no one would be surprised if No. 5 arrives the night before the Super Bowl. He established marks by throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, helping Denver lead the league with 37.9 points and 457.3 yards per game. Manning is an inescapable pitchman, too, seen Sunday after Sunday during TV commercials. Hey, there he was selling cars during breaks in the broadcast of the NFC title game. Expect even more face time now.
Manning's oft-told tale, certain to be repeated a million times in the coming days, includes his comeback from a series of surgical procedures to his neck, attempts to cure problems that led him to sit out the entire 2011 season. That also led the Indianapolis Colts to send him packing despite two Super Bowl appearances with that club, including a title in 2007.
"It's certainly well-documented what my journey the past 2½ years has been," said Manning, who could become the first starting QB to lead two franchises to titles, "but this team's overcome a lot of obstacles this year."
None more serious, perhaps, than coach John Fox's absence for about a month because of a heart operation. Other issues included the fax faux pas that precipitated the departure of pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, star linebacker Von Miller's drug-testing suspension and season-ending knee injury, and the losses of a handful of other starters on defense.
"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl — I know how hard it is to get there," Manning said.
He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday. Manning's offense scored on six consecutive possessions, accounted for more than 500 yards, had zero turnovers and zero sacks.
Ol' No. 18's opposite number in two weeks, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, provides a real contrast as he seeks his — and the Seahawks' — first Super Bowl trophy.
Wilson is 6 inches shorter, 12 years younger, a skilled scrambler in only his second pro season after slipping to the third round of the draft; he's a guy who had to transfer colleges to get playing time and thought about pursuing a baseball career instead.
"Any time you get to the Super Bowl," Wilson said after Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 on Sunday, "it's a special time."
Other members of the Seahawks getting the chance to introduce themselves to a wide audience include rugged running back Marshawn Lynch — fans tossed packs of his favorite candy, Skittles, onto the field after a 40-yard TD run in the third quarter — and Carroll, a rah-rah sort who was a title-winning college coach at Southern California.
And maybe, just maybe, some of Manning's less-heralded defensive teammates — the ones who clamped down on New England's running game Sunday and limited Brady much of the afternoon — will get their chance to shine, too.
Seattle's defense, led by Sherman, allowed an average of 14.4 points and 273.6 yards, and topped the NFL in takeaways.
On Sunday, the Seahawks forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, including a victory-sealing interception by Malcolm Smith after Sherman stretched his left hand to tip Colin Kaepernick's pass away from receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone.
"I'm the best corner in the game," said Sherman, an All-Pro. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get."
Seattle's only other trip to the big game ended with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. Denver will be playing in its seventh Super Bowl and eyeing a third title, to go with those from 1998 and 1999, when current executive John Elway was the QB.
In addition to Elway, Manning can match his younger brother Eli with a second Super Bowl crown. Eli, a spectator on Sunday in Denver, won two trophies with the New York Giants, whose stadium hosts this year's Super Bowl, the first to be played outdoors at a cold-weather site.
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