By Jason Keidel
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The first snap sailed over his right shoulder, and with it went the game. And thus the Super Bowl went from a coronation to a humiliation.
No need to parse the particulars here. There is no buzzword to frame the shame Denver endured on Sunday. And while it’s entirely unfair to pin the entire 43-8 evisceration on Peyton Manning, it’s entirely fair to say he blew his chance to bear the most bejeweled crown.
Manning had a chance to put a cherry on top of a perfect season, one in which he wrote his name over every meaningful passing record and beat his eternal tormentor, Tom Brady. With one more Lombardi Trophy in his brother’s building he would climb that final rung among the immortals.
Instead he threw those wobbly, misguided postseason passes he never seems to throw during the regular season, with those happy feet, a panic in his eye and a sadness over his face.
It’s also unfair to say Denver lost it. Seattle snatched it and swallowed it. This team was bigger, faster and bionic in the way that it smashed the Broncos. By any reasonable metric the Seahawks dominated Denver. Stunningly, they are the first team to not allow a sack or commit a turnover in a Super Bowl. And that’s just one stat in an annex of destruction.
If you had no real rooting interest, and just wanted a competitive game, then Sunday had no real appeal. (For the record, yours truly predicted a Seahawks victory, on this very site, and said Percy Harvin would have much to do with it.)
There were two vivid occurrences impacting this game, unforgettable moments surrounding an otherwise forgettable Super Bowl. One occurred before and the other after the game.
Moments after Seattle defeated San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, a happy but still hungry Russell Wilson leaned over at Terry Bradshaw and asked the Hall of Fame QB how to win the next game. Bradshaw, 4-0 in Super Bowls, told Wilson to treat it as just a football game, sans the historic hyperbole that surrounds America’s preeminent sporting event.
Done. Wilson played with the poise we expected from Manning, with a surgical 18-for-24 passing performance, and his usual humble mien among the mean Seahawks defense.
For some reason, Wilson has been largely lost in this narrative. Sure, watching the Seahawks’ defense reduce Manning to a screen-and-slant chucking collegiate was stunning. But the QB still is the preeminent player, and Wilson could easily have won the game’s MVP. If he is the nouveaux face of football, the NFL could do a whole lot worse than the modest, midsize QB whose supreme gifts don’t spread across a tape measure.
The next moment came when Richard Sherman, the sublime cornerback who injured his ankle in the fourth quarter and was forced to limp his way through the frenzied victory dance that surely lasted all night long, praised Manning on Sunday night via Twitter — and again this morning on the radio.
Sherman said that Manning, despite the thumping his team and his legacy took a few minutes earlier, cared enough to find Sherman after the contest and inquire about the severity of his bum ankle.
The gesture startled and impressed the loquacious cornerback, who has been wrongly typecast as just a mouthy, me-first jock who cares way more about the name on the back of his jersey than the front.
You don’t carry a 3.8 GPA at Stanford by being obtuse, nor do you complete the climb from Compton to Super Bowl champion by failing to measure a man’s character. The meeting between the two says infinitely more about each than Sunday’s score ever could.
Sherman, who admitted that his rant moments after the 49ers game was harsh, is sane and self-aware enough to know the difference between his public persona and his personal ethics. His interior and exterior monologues serve separate purposes. No one can know if some of his volume is part of a business model. If it is and it works, good for him. If it’s just his personality, it’s pretty harmless.
Manning is no less a great player because he failed on Sunday night.
He’s just not the greatest. We kinda knew that before the game. Now we’re sure. And there’s no shame in that.
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