By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) – The National Football League took a gamble when it went against convention and decided to stage the Super Bowl at an outdoor stadium in New Jersey during the winter but it proved a great success.
Especially for the Seattle Seahawks on Super Sunday.
A week after snowfall in the greater New York metropolitan area brought concerns that the Super Bowl date could be in jeopardy, a spring-like wave of weather arrived, putting more than 82,000 fans at MetLife Stadium into a party mood.
By the end of the game, it was the Seahawks’ turn to celebrate under a sky full of green and blue confetti marking their 43-8 trouncing of the Denver Broncos.
Seattle proved that defense still rules in the Big Game as they embarrassed the usually high-scoring Broncos to win their first NFL championship in franchise history.
The top-ranked Seattle defense shut down the top-rated Broncos offense and record-setting quarterback Peyton Manning, creating four turnovers and transforming what was expected to be a nail-biter into a Super Bowl XLVIII rout.
Five previous times the NFL’s top-rated defense had faced the league’s number one offense, and the defenders led 4-1 in those encounters.
Seattle and their “Legion of Boom” defensive secondary, fast-covering linebackers and determined pass rushers, upheld the tradition on an unseasonably mild night in the first outdoor venue in a winter-weather location.
“This is an amazing team,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at the Lombardi Trophy presentation on the MetLife Stadium field. “These guys would not take anything but winning this ballgame.”
Seattle turned two interceptions into second-quarter touchdowns for a 22-0 lead at the intermission, the second coming on a 69-yard interception return by linebacker Malcolm Smith, who received the Most Valuable Player award.
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“It’s just a tremendous feeling,” said Smith, who also secured Seattle’s NFC title-clinching victory over San Francisco by intercepting a last-gasp pass that was tipped by his team mate Richard Sherman.
Defensive end Cliff Avril jarred Manning as he was throwing on the play and Smith corralled the floating pass in the middle of the field and took off for the end zone.
“Man, it’s incredible,” said Smith. “It’s the way our defense is set up. We just run to the ball. I’m just the one today. It happens all the time like this. It feels great.”
The Seahawks, who led the NFL in creating turnovers, also recovered two fumbles in the lopsided contest that gave them a first Super Bowl crown in their 37-season history.
The comprehensive victory was kick-started just 12 seconds into the contest with a two-point safety on a bad snap over Manning’s head into the end zone on Denver’s first play for the quickest Super Bowl tally ever.
After Denver’s second half kickoff, Percy Harvin also took 12 seconds to score, racing 87 yards into the end zone to confirm the romp was on in taking Seattle’s lead to 29-0.
Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, leading the second youngest team ever to play in a Super Bowl, took the spotlight from five-time NFL Most Valuable Player Manning by completing 18-of-25 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We believed that we could get here,” Wilson said. “At the beginning of the season I told our guys, ‘Hey, why not us?’
“We had the talent. We had the coaching. We have the best fans in the National Football League. We wanted to win it all.”
Manning, who set NFL records for most touchdown passes and yards passing in a single season, was throttled in the first quarter as Seattle put their stamp on the game by playing Denver receivers tight and registering crunching hits when they did catch the ball.
“We knew they were fast. It was still a matter of us doing our jobs better and we didn’t do that tonight,” said Manning, who failed to win a second Super Bowl ring and saw his career postseason record fall to 11-12.
“I think we played a great football team. We needed to play really well in order to win and we didn’t come anywhere close to that.”
Seattle out-gained Denver 148 yards to 11 in the first quarter but only led 8-0. When they stepped up their pass-rushing pressure on Manning, the Seahawks harassed him into the interceptions that helped break the game open.
With the Broncos desperately far behind, Manning took to the air in a futile attempt to make it a contest, and in the end set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions, while receiver Demaryius Thomas set a record for most receptions with 13.
“It was a combination of coverage and pressure as it always is in pass defense,” Denver coach John Fox said about the Broncos’ difficulty in getting their pass attack going.
“There is a reason why they were the number one team in defense during the season. Give them credit.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)