Super Bowl Run & Shootaround: Night of the Hunters

On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.

Have Percy

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Chris Ryan: “I don’t know about redemption because I’m not looking at it in that way. I’m just looking at it as an opportunity. … After all I’ve been through, to be able to know I’ve reached that goal, right here, it’s amazing.”

Percy Harvin said those words Wednesday, after a regular season and playoff run during which he played only 40 snaps of football — limited by a hip injury, and then a setback due to a concussion suffered in the NFC divisional game against New Orleans. He said them before a Super Bowl in which he gained 137 total yards. Most of those yards came off two plays; but when you can do the things he can do, how many plays do you need? His whole career, Harvin has been making the most out of the few opportunities his body allows him. A fully operational Percy Harvin is the most electric player in the NFL, and on Sunday, Percy Harvin was fully operational.

Nobody should be surprised Harvin put on the kind of performance he did. His Virginia high school games are the kind of stuff people lie about having seen; he won two national titles at Florida — including a sophomore season worth 1,622 yards from scrimmage — where he frequently confused defensive backs and defenseless cameramen alike. (Seriously, watch this DJ Khaled–scored video and count how many times the camera jolts because Harvin has slingshot out of the frame.)

The Broncos knew this was coming. Last week, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said, “You have to understand he is a guy that can play every position from the backfield, to the outside to being in the slot. When he gets in the game, I think everyone has to yell, ‘He’s in! He’s in! There he goes, no. 11, no. 11!'”

He doesn’t really play a position. He plays Percy Harvin. And when he’s playing healthy — when he’s free from the migraines, and the hip, ankle, and knee injuries that have hampered him since college — and when he can get out of his own way, there is nobody like him in the sport.

Harvin didn’t exactly leave Minnesota draped in glory, after run-ins with Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier, and there was the story of him choking a coach while at Florida. I can see why there would be a lot of people out there making a jerk-off motion at Harvin being mobbed by his teammates in the end zone Sunday, after his 87-yard Human Torch imitation of a kickoff return.

I can’t speak to what kind of guy Percy Harvin is, or whether he deserves the redemption he spoke of earlier in the week. Maybe he was talking about making good on some past mistakes, or maybe he was talking about overcoming the migraines and sleep apnea that threatened to derail his football career and severely affect his life.

Here’s what I do know: Watching the Seahawks this season, and watching them on Sunday, was an experience in punishment. They doled it out to opposing teams, and we experienced it as viewers. This was a violent, physical football team. Their quarterback put up passing yardage like 206 and 103, and their running back hit harder than most free safeties.

Percy Harvin, then, was the reward. For a few brief moments Sunday — two plays, really — he did all the things Seahawks fans had hoped he would when he arrived via Minnesota for a bundle of draft picks. He was that one game-breaking skill player who could take them from intimidating to unbeatable. On Sunday, Percy Harvin played the Percy Harvin position like, well, Percy Harvin. And unbeatable was exactly what Seattle was.

Roger Goodell Doesn’t Fear Your Weather

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Bryan Curtis: If you look at NFL.com’s roundup of Super Bowl highlights, you’ll find one titled “Roger Goodell Sits Outside for Super Bowl XLVIII.” As Dave Barry used to say, I am not making this up. This little scene was captured with 2:49 left in the second quarter. Goodell looked typically expressionless. He appeared to have an aisle seat. A man behind him was carrying a pretzel wrapped in foil.

I’m probably not alone in thinking this is the single most important highlight of Super Bowl XLVIII. There are two reasons. One, we just spent the better part of a month talking about the hypothetical weather at the Super Bowl. Only the sheer grossness of the Richard Sherman “controversy” could obscure just how dumb this was. Yes, amateur meteorology is a long-standing tenet of sportswriting. But the idea here seemed to be that cold and snow would make for a terrible, unfair game, even if the two Super Bowl participants were built to play in cold and snow. As a preemptive PR move, Goodell had to declare he was sitting outside, rather than in a cozy box. The New York Super Bowl would be “part of his legacy as commissioner,” someone wrote.

It was 49 degrees and dry when the Super Bowl started.

Second, I know it’s late in the day to be complaining that the NFL is a cult of personality. But think about this: The commissioner of the NFL was at the Super Bowl, doing nothing but watching the game, and someone at NFL headquarters was moved to include that in the highlights package. If they insist on doing it next year, Goodell ought to do us all a favor and wear Namath’s fur coat.

Dying Quail, Part 1

Peyton’s Place

Robert Mays: Somewhere around Peyton Manning’s third turnover, it hit me. When the story came out during the playoffs about Manning’s clandestine neck evaluation planned for next month, I shrugged it off. If he was able to stand in and take shots from 300-pound death machines in February, I couldn’t imagine a doctor telling him in March his football career was done.

What I realized when Chris Clemons knocked the ball from Manning’s hand and the embarrassment of what was happening on Sunday truly set in is that I hadn’t really worried about Manning’s future because I didn’t really have to. As unlikely and objectionable as it might be, the prospect of Peyton Manning never playing football again didn’t scare me. Even if this were the last we ever saw of him, I could stomach it. He’d already come back from what so many thought he couldn’t — not only to play, but to have the best season we’d ever seen. Win or lose against Seattle, it felt like Manning had done more this year to build up his case as the greatest quarterback ever than in any before.

I don’t feel that way anymore. That isn’t because what happened yesterday detracts from Peyton Manning’s legacy or where he belongs in history or any of that. I would say it wouldn’t have mattered what offense ran into the Seahawks yesterday, but that’s the whole point. It did matter. Manning’s Broncos are the historical benchmark, the hypothetical matchup that would be the truest test for any defense. And the Seahawks dismantled them. There’s no defending Manning’s first interception or his undeniably happy feet, but from the safeties to the corners to the line, Seattle’s dominance was complete. Only so much of that blame belongs to Manning.

I’m not worried about whether Manning is the best we’ve ever seen; I’m worried this is the last of him we’ll ever see. The chance Manning would walk away of his own volition after this season is probably gone. There’s no way that if he has a shot to make good on what happened yesterday, he won’t take it. All I’m hoping is that, in the end, that decision is up to him. Whatever you think of Peyton Manning, he deserves that. Even if he isn’t the best ever, he’s a hell of a lot better than he was yesterday. And I want to see him show us that all over again.

Malcolm Valuable Player

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Matt Borcas: Ten years from now — hell, one year from now — nobody outside Seattle will remember that Malcolm Smith was the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII. Nobody. Ask the question at any pub trivia night where pot is illegal, and you’ll receive a torrent of incorrect responses: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Percy Harvin, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor are all names that will surely be mentioned before Smith’s. And that’s perfectly understandable! I mean, it’s not like Malcolm Smith was far and away the best football player on the field yesterday. He made one very nice play that blew open the game, and that play encompassed the totality of his MVP candidacy. There were compelling cases to be made for a number of his Seahawk teammates, particularly Harvin, and I wouldn’t have been opposed to an offensive lineman winning for the first time in Super Bowl history. They kept Wilson clean!

Contrast this with the past four Super Bowl MVPs, all of whom were quarterbacks, and you start to see why the Seahawks are the best, most structurally sound professional football team to come around in years. Wilson is really good, but unlike, say, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, his team’s fate doesn’t rest squarely on his shoulders. Smith winning Super Bowl MVP flies in the face of the hot-take artists who’ve spread the “You NEED an ELITE quarterback to win in this league!” canard that’s become so prevalent over the past few years. Yes, it certainly helps a great deal to have an elite quarterback on your roster, but that doesn’t mean all the other positions are unimportant relics of a bygone era. If the Broncos had won yesterday, there was a 99.9 percent chance Peyton Manning was taking home MVP honors, regardless of how well he actually played. In other words, they never had a chance.

Flip You for It

How Do You Cheer When You Have Nothing to Cheer For?

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Hua Hsu: I spent the past two weeks hoping that another Arctic cold front would touch down in New York and ruin the Super Bowl. I was bitter that my Niners had gotten bounced, I’ve always despised John Elway and the Broncos, and the only way I would watch was to see both teams suffer. But schadenfreude is bad karma and a lame form of desire.

When you wish both teams could lose, you start to weigh narratives. Having to read one kind of think piece versus a different kind of think piece. Demaryius Thomas’s hard-knock life, a man named Pot Roast, so many injuries/guys stepping up in their place, John Fox’s wounded heart. On the other hand: the corny immovability of Peyton Manning’s legacy, Elway’s skepticism toward government safety nets, a general ambivalence toward horses. The innocent bliss of Beast Mode, charmingly weird yoga regimens and the undeniably cool Legion of Boom versus Pete Carroll’s innate shadiness, and Macklemore’s potential greatest week ever.

Within a few minutes of kickoff, though, a more obvious way of distinguishing these two causes emerged. Seattle was the bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, younger squad, financed by a tech oligarch, draped in indescribable colors, sent from the future to destroy you. Having watched the Seahawks all season — always out of a glimmering hope that they would lose — I didn’t think Denver stood a chance. But I wasn’t expecting an ethering quite on this level, where 43-8 still manages to flatter the Broncos. This wasn’t the league’s best offense versus the best defense. Everything about Seattle is a leaguewide trend about to happen. Denver felt like the way things were, from Peyton hollering Omaha to the toothy gunslinger upstairs. It was like watching a parent try to turn the TV on with an Xbox controller. It was the Marlboro Man trying to figure out how a vape pen works. It was the future embarrassing the past.

Respect the Rout

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Jason Bailey: Anyone who has played NFL Blitz or Mario Kart knows the feeling. You build a gigantic lead, dodging tacklers or banana peels until you’re close to the finish. That’s when your opponent mutates into the Seahawks’ defense, forcing fumbles or car crashes at an infuriating rate. It’s an AI technique to create tension, with the underlying assumption that blowouts aren’t fun. And that’s why I can already anticipate today’s reaction: “What a terrible, boring Super Bowl.”

But don’t we watch sports because anything can happen? It doesn’t make sense to restrict that sense of awe to close contests. Sports fans understandably herald Secretariat capturing Belmont by 31 lengths and Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open by 15 strokes. So why deride Seattle’s 43-8 win over Denver? It’s human nature to like drama; let’s not overlook dominance.

When Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats crunched the numbers, he determined this was the least exciting Super Bowl since 1999; notably, it out-snoozed the contests involving two other historically dominant defenses, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But those are two teams I’ll never forget, and Seattle quite forcibly entered that pantheon. This was a team performing at its finest against a record-setting opponent with the stakes at their highest. It’s foolhardy to complain about witnessing all-around dominance from start to finish.

The performance probably frustrated companies that purchased second-half commercials and Fox higher-ups eager for record ratings. But lopsided games can be great, and not just because the Colts couldn’t have delivered an amazing wild-card rally if they didn’t first fall behind the Chiefs by 28 points. It’s cliché, but character really is what you do when nobody is watching.

And if that rubber-band effect dared to show up Sunday, Seattle would have snapped it in half.

The Seahawks appeared happy to let Peyton Manning set a Super Bowl record for completions. That gave them 34 opportunities to punish receivers for having the audacity to try to gain yards after the catch. Even as the scoring gap widened, the hits never stopped. The Seattle defensive backs played soft coverage to avoid the traffic jam of intersecting pass routes before creating pileups of their own. I cringed every time Denver threw the ball, bracing for the inevitable collisions, like Kam Chancellor knocking Demaryius Thomas backward in the first quarter and K.J. Wright stopping Wes Welker in his tracks in the third.

The Seahawks never went into a prevent defense to protect a lead, continuing the tactics that ultimately delivered the franchise its first NFL title. On offense, they even continued to throw downfield late in the game, twice attempting fourth-down conversions in the fourth quarter. That’s about when the commentators were trying to assuage their dwindling audience. “You never know how these things are going to unfold with the no. 1 defense versus the no. 1 offense,” said Joe Buck, with Troy Aikman quickly adding, “I don’t think anyone saw this coming.”

Sounds like great television to me.

New Traditions

Charlie Pierce: I have accustomed myself to accepting the fact that the Super Bowl pregame is going to be the kind of militarized patriotic pageant that would have occurred had Leni Riefenstahl immigrated to Manhattan and gone to work with Don Draper. (By the way, did anyone check to make sure the Black Hawks that did the flyby weren’t circling David Wildstein’s house by halftime?) But imagine my surprise when Curt Menefee told me we were now going to have the “traditional” Super Bowl Sunday reading of the Declaration of Independence. When did that become a tradition? Did I miss a memo from the Founders Beyond?

Anyway, what a letdown it was to see that they weren’t going to read the whole thing. How does that fat bastard, George III, get off the hook? Why not have, say, Rooney Mara talking about “plundering our seas,” or Bob Costas intoning about “erecting a multitude of New Offices,” or, god knows, Dan Snyder warning us about attacks on the frontier by “merciless Indian savages”? I mean, if you’re going to do it, read the whole thing. And that’s not even to mention that, had he been alive when it was drafted, Adrian Peterson would not have been considered a person, let alone an American.

I was further disappointed that it wasn’t a theme. We could have had Letters From a Farmer in Pennsylvania at halftime, and a postgame reading of the Notes on the State of Virginia. Founderpalooza! Why wasn’t Jon Meacham in the booth?

Musical Interlude

Safety in Numbers

Louisa Thomas: My great-grandmother’s nickname was Rover — either because she liked to rove the craps tables or because she liked to bet on a horse named Rover (a family debate). She married a gambler of another kind — a man she’d met as a student at the University of Washington in Seattle. He went to work for Boeing when Boeing wasn’t much more than the founder’s name, and then started his own airline, which went belly-up. He invested in gold mines that failed; he became a lobbyist. He ran off with his secretary. Rover moved to Las Vegas for the divorce laws. She stayed to play cards on the Strip.

I thought of Rover when the football sailed past Peyton Manning’s head on the first play from scrimmage. Damn it, I thought. Rover would have put money on that prop bet. Some things you just know.

Rover was born in Port Townsend, Washington, on a peninsula northwest of Seattle. Her real name was Osceola House. When she was young, she and her siblings were told to stay away from the water, since merchants — known as crimps — sometimes snatched people off the docks and enslaved them onboard ships. When she was 18, a best-selling novel was published about an Englishman kidnapped by crimps. Liberated by the Barbary pirates, he became a pirate himself and took the name Sakr-el-Bahr — Hawk of the Sea. The novel’s title was The Sea Hawk.

Family lore has it that when Rover died, she was buried with a pair of dice seven-up in one hand and two chips from the Sands Casino in the other. By then, though, she had left Las Vegas and moved back to Washington. She was 79 when the Seahawks began playing, and I have no idea if she was a football fan. But I like to think she would have found kindred spirits on this particular Seahawks team: guys who took risks, who faced long odds, who kept pushing themselves, who made their own identities. A team of Hawks of the Sea.

Dying Quail, Part 2

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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Mays: As Demaryius Thomas pulled in a pass over the middle of the field, Kam Chancellor — all 232 bad-intentioned pounds of him — came flying into view to send Thomas sprawling about five yards back in the wrong direction. Thomas hung on, but it was about as disheartening a 2-yard gain as any you’ll ever see. Seattle’s message was unmistakable: We’re coming for you.

Chancellor isn’t the best player in the Seahawks’ secondary. In this defense’s pursuit of being the greatest coverage unit ever, he might actually be the worst. What he is, though, is the most terrifying. That’s why, MVP or not, he was the one who defined the best defensive performance in Super Bowl history.

Seattle’s defense has relied all year on individual players winning individual matchups, but this was so much more than that. This was complete and overwhelming domination. It didn’t matter what the Broncos tried. When it was a collection of screen passes, there were a half dozen Seahawks teleporting to the ball. When it was a shot downfield, there were at least two rushers crumbling the pocket and tangling their arms with Peyton Manning’s. Early in the third quarter, desperately needing a score, Manning threw a perfect strike to Wes Welker; Chancellor not only made up the two yards he needed, he jarred the ball loose while seeming to swallow Welker whole. Seattle is famous for its 12th Man, but last night, it didn’t need it; it actually felt like they were playing with 12.

At the center of every pivotal moment was a player any team in the league could have had but Seattle ultimately claimed. Chancellor was a fifth-round pick. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and game MVP Malcolm Smith went in the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds of the 2011 draft. By stocking a defense with young, cheap talent, the Seahawks can afford players like Cliff Avril, who got to Manning on both his interceptions. Avril was one of the two best pass-rushers available in free agency last season — and, oh yeah, the Seahawks got the other one, too.

Part of turning late-round players into Super Bowl–winning players is building a coaching staff that can make that happen. Not every team can make Maxwell into a cornerback on the best pass defense ever. On top of everything else he does, Pete Carroll is generally considered one of the best secondary coaches in the world, and his fingerprints are all over this game and how this team was constructed. Eventually, all those cheap price tags will expire. Sherman will need a new contract. Russell Wilson will too. But for at least next season, this is a team positioned to do it all again. Seattle’s core won’t just be back — it may be even better.

Michael Bennett is one of the few players who could leave, but as of Sunday afternoon, it sounded like the Seahawks planned on keeping him in town, ensuring that the defense that won them their first Super Bowl would be around to pursue their second. Before Sunday, four of the past 30 Super Bowls had defensive MVPs. Three of those teams — the ’85 Bears, 2000 Ravens, and ’02 Bucs — are generally considered three of the best defenses of all time. When Bennett was asked about his teammates, and where they belonged in that group, he didn’t mince his words. “We’re the best defense since the ’85 Bears,” he said. Go ahead. Tell him he’s wrong.

Out in the Streets

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Spike Friedman: There was little precedent for how to behave in Seattle in the wake of a major sports championship. But other important things have happened in this city, so, lacking any sort of championship template, we went to where everybody goes when important things happen. 10th Ave E and Pike in Capitol Hill, or University Avenue, or Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, or Westlake Center downtown, or wherever the center of any given neighborhood is. It doesn’t matter. An important thing happened so you go to a place.

An hour or so after the game ended, thousands of people in this formerly championship-starved city were massed in their respective places of gathering. But what do you do when you get there? What are you actually supposed to do?

Again, little precedent, but yelling made sense. At strangers. With strangers. With friends. At cars that drive by. High fives also seemed appropriate. Hugging strangers, also suddenly appropriate. Smoking cigarettes: appropriate. Hugging more strangers. Jumping up and down to shake the feelings you haven’t felt before around inside your chest to make sure they are real. More yelling. I got my picture taken with a friendly-ish police officer. That seemed appropriate.

But then restlessness set in. Thousands of people standing, voices hoarse, adrenaline still flowing. This is where fireworks were important. As dangerous as fireworks may be, hopefully someone has some, because they are way safer than just fire, which may seem to be the only other option. And yes, people did have fireworks, good ones. And yes, they shot them into the sky, and it was terrifying and amazing to see a rocket shoot out of a mass of a thousand people and explode above them. And it was beautiful, because fireworks are beautiful. Because they aren’t anything. Just as sports aren’t life, fireworks aren’t missiles.

We indulged, briefly, in the simulacrum.

Then we yelled some more and high-fived and hugged and smoked and drank. And at some point I imagine people went to sleep, but I can’t imagine when. There’s no precedent in this city for sleeping after you win a Super Bowl.

Filed Under: NFL, Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Louisia Thomas, Charles P. Pierce, Robert Mays, Chris Ryan, Jason Bailey, Matt Borcas, Spike Friedman