It still hasn't sunk in.
The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The SEAHAWKS! Yeah, those Seahawks!
Just four years after posting a 5-11 record, the Seattle Seahawks are world champions.
After more than three decades without a championship, the city of Seattle is on top of the world.
After two weeks of practically every NFL pundit shaking their talking head at Seattle's chances in the face of Peyton Manning's offensive onslaught, the legendary QB has been humbled and sent home by...MY TEAM.
Whoa. My team. Out of all the working joes in the world, the football gods shine upon the team I'M rooting for. I get to be amongst the 3% of the world who can claim we did it.
It's over. No more games. No more breakdowns, analyses, and predictions. No more practice reports, expert prognostications, fretting over matchups, or ignoring taunts from enemy fan bases. No more digging for news on lasting injuries, substance suspensions, or appeals. No more looking ahead. No more hand-wringing over what might have been. No more cursing the referees.
The season is over. The Seahawks are on top of the pack. For the first time, the long six months of the offseason hold no angst over how close we came or what we need to reach the top next year. At long last, it's time to relax and bask in pure, unadulterated success.
Does it get any better than this?
Actually, it does. In a number of ways.
Even better than winning the Super Bowl is the impact that Seattle's victory will have on the league.
In the last three years, every big-time quarterback in the league has come before Seattle to hawk his skills, and every one of them has walked away empty-handed. Philip Rivers. Jay Cutler. Drew Brees. Eli Manning. Aaron Rodgers. Cam Newton. Tom Brady. As of Sunday morning, there was only one elite quarterback left from the pass-first era for this defense to prove itself against.
And then there were none.
That's why Denver was the perfect opponent. And not just because Peyton Manning provided the ultimate test for this defense. Not even because he brushed off Seattle's offseason, pre-Wilson courtship without so much as a handshake.
Super Bowl XLVIII was a duel of football philosophies. Manning was the epitome of the one-man show. His record-shattering 2013 season was the culmination of the pass-happy trend that has been infecting the NFL for over a decade. Teams were pass-first. 65%-35% pass-run ratio. Forget the run game, shuttle defensive priorities to the pass. I'd hate to be one of the 49 guys on the Broncos roster not named Manning, Welker, or Thomas. Nobody would ever hear of you. True story - until his midseason health issues, I'd utterly forgotten that John Fox was coaching the Broncos. Not even kidding.
Flood concepts, timing throws, big receivers, flashy tight ends, 300-yard games, finesse. That had become the name of the game in pro football. Defenses had done little to respond except stacking up on more pass rushers. And the NFL, enjoying ever-increasing ratings, stood only to benefit.
For a decade, a rebuilding team had only one real goal: find that perfect quarterback with the eyes of an eagle, the mind of a computer, and the arm of a trebuchet. All else is pointless.
The one-man show is gone. In its place, new-school after being old-school for many sad years...the football team.
That's been the true glory of the Seahawks under Pete Carroll: you can't name one single player who so utterly overshadows everyone else that he claims all the headlines. Everybody plays a role. Everyone has a game to stake as his own. Russell Wilson's interview gives way to Richard Sherman's gives way to Golden Tate's gives way to Kam Chancellor's gives way to Percy Harvin's gives way to Derrick Coleman's gives way to Doug Baldwin's gives way to Earl Thomas' gives way to Marshaw...oh, wait, he doesn't one. But every one of them matters. No sooner is Joe Buck done talking about Lynch, the heart and soul of the team, than the ball is snapped again and a different guy adds to his highlight reel. A game of musical spotlights.
And then a 7th-round pick who couldn't lock down a starting spot for years and might not even be playing in the NFL without Pete Carroll and John Schneider, outleaps all of them for the honor of Super Bowl MVP.
Who saw this coming?
If I'd told you three years ago that Seattle would win Super Bowl XLVIII with a pack of 6'3" defensive backs, a bunch of 5'11" wide receivers, a 5'10" quarterback, a run-first approach behind Marshawn Lynch, and more undrafted free agents on the roster than Peyton Manning has commercial contracts, you'd have laughed me off the podium.
Today, I'm laughing.
And I'm laughing at myself, too. My worries of earlier years ("draft a first-round QB, the run doesn't matter anymore!") are hilarious now. Old-school football is cool again. The run matters after all. Defense can handle every facet of the NFL's most powerful offensive attack. Special teams has survived Roger Goodell's fury. Passing yards are not everything. There's room for innovation. Injuries aren't death to a season. And every guy on the 53-man roster can find a way to contribute.
The entire league will be scrambling to mimic Seattle's success, but they won't succeed. NFL executives are too bound by conventional thinking and the fear of failure. They'll still laugh each other out of the room at the Carrollian ideas of letting players be themselves, accentuating strengths instead of minimizing weaknesses, gambling on injury histories, or taking the final three rounds of the draft seriously. They won't be able to pass up tantalizing quarterbacks or passing weapons. They'll shoot themselves in the foot with misguided loyalty, burdensome contracts, and free-agency races. They'll still choose proven short-term talent over risky projects. They'll be lucky to find a GM with the synergy and savvy that John Schneider possesses.
And they'll keep failing.
Willingness to risk has taken Seattle so far beyond every other team in the league that I no longer think Peyton Manning EVER had a chance in XLVIII. Just like everyone else, I expected Manning to get his yards and points. I still wonder if he had looked better without that early safety. Denver's defense did look sporting until the second quarter, and his offense is not crap. Momentum is something I believe in, after all. There's good reason even Seahawks fans spotted Manning some points in their predictions.
Instead, depth ruled the day and only the Seahawks had a platoon. Manning's center betrayed him with the safety. His receivers couldn't play a physical game. They kept dropping passes. RB Montee Ball wasn't up to the challenge once Knowshon Moreno went out. Defenders missed tackles, five of them on one Jermaine Kearse run (karma for the tackles the 2006 'Hawks missed on that Brandon Marshall TD). Their D-line, though surprisingly disruptive, couldn't contain Russell Wilson. Their coverage unit - well, it's Percy Harvin, but you still can't let that happen.
In short, the entire team had to show up. Only Manning did. And despite a few bad plays, I thought he performed well. His team let him down from the first snap. They owe him crab dinner every day for the rest of the year.
But really, it's clear that Seattle just had Denver's number early on, schematically and philosophically. The Broncos aren't built to handle Seattle's blinding speed or their bruising, cloud-of-dust physicality. San Francisco is. Carolina is. The Rams and Cardinals might be soon, if they ever find a quarterback. The Broncos are not, nor are any team designed around the passing game. If mere lip-service was paid previously to the one-dimensionality of such pass-first teams as the Packers, the Saints, and Manning's Current Team, the cat is truly out of the bag now. The fad of the passing league is now passe.
At this point, the best matchups are in-conference. The NFC West has gone from the laughingstock of the league to a division that nobody wants to play. Seattle is leading the pack thanks to careful drafting for the clutch gene, the chip on the shoulder, and indomitable spirit, not to mention a simple eye for talent.
And the kind of team we Seahawks fans respect/fear now? Well, it's no longer the high-flying passing juggernauts than we did in previous years. We've knocked them all off now. The only teams that will ever give us pause now, are teams like us.
Good thing, too. Because I'm not satisfied. Neither are the players. Not until we win a second Super Bowl.
You see, questions remain. It'll be a herculean task to keep this team together financially, barring some generosity from the players. I'll bet the Darell Bevell haters are still out there grumbling. Wilson has more growing to do, as any sophomore QB does. I don't know how we're going to survive the increasing presence of Joe Buck covering our games. And there will always be that handful of neanderthal fans and pundits who question whether this win was a fluke, and whether Seattle can repeat and build a dynasty.
But for me, our Super Bowl win doesn't just close out an amazing Seahawks year - it sets the tone for the next ten. The defense can now officially handle anything. Percy Harvin, finally healthy, hints at a completely revolutionized offense and special teams next year. The draft is still ahead. The 12th Man - now more of a reality than ever, having traveled brilliantly to the Super Bowl - is not going anywhere. And this team is young. Young, young, young. Whomever we lose this offseason, if anyone, take to the bank that some of the studs who outshone Peyton Manning last night will wind up career Seahawks. They'll grow, improve, and compete for many years. That's exciting.
Had Peyton won a Super Bowl last night, it would have been merely an exclamation point on a sentence already ending, a sunset on his day.
For the Seahawks, it's still morning.