Super Bowl XLVIII certainly doesn’t lack magnitude.
There’s a gravity to it that is undeniable, holding our attention in its orbit in a way that seems foreign even by the Super Bowl’s lofty standards. It’s the NFL’s top-ranked defense against the NFL’s top-ranked offense. It’s Peyton Manning versus Richard Sherman. It’s the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.
However, as a number, XLVIII (that’s 48 for those of you who don’t speak Roman) is almost unbecoming. A couple of years from now at Super Bowl L (that feels as odd to type as it does to read), we’ll celebrate 50 years of the Big One and take a retrospective look at the way the game has changed.
Yet, in a way, Super Bowl XLVIII is as beautiful of a retrospective as one could possibly imagine. It pits a physically strong team reminiscent of all the snaggle-toothed, playing-through-a-broken-leg, Deacon-Jones-headslapping, spit-in-your-eye-and-bite-you teams of yesteryear against a high-flying, up-tempo team that has managed to rewrite the record books and redefine greatness offensively.
Stylistically, the two teams couldn’t be more different. Seattle runs the ball and plays defense in a fashion that elicits drool (and not just because they’re old) from everybody who beams nostalgically when they hear Chuck Knoll’s name.
Meanwhile, Denver, operating out of the shotgun and rarely huddling, has managed to work football’s hottest new trends (pre-packaged concepts) into the arsenal of this generation’s most trend-setting quarterback. They’re not the first to do it, but they’re the shining example this entire generation of offensive-minded people in and around the NFL are going to reference to claim that it works.
Super Bowl XLVIII is a matchup that’s appealing to the average NFL fan at even its most basic level; however, it’s also a clash of ideology. And while it’s a simplistic way of looking at it (there are things the Seahawks do on both sides of the ball that you’d have never seen even 10 years ago, let alone 30, and there’s basic stuff that Denver does that have been staples of NFL offenses for just as long) it pits different eras of football against each other.
It’s Old School vs. New School.
The Seattle Seahawks field a defense with an absurd amount of talent (credit to the Seahawks’ front office) at all three levels that cohesively suffocates opposing offenses. During the regular season, they took a team we associate with more traditionally prolific passing numbers–the New Orleans Saints–and laid a 34-7 beating on them that didn’t truly exemplify how lopsided the affair truly was.
The Seahawks held Drew Brees and all his weapons to 188 yards of total offense. That’s less than half of what the Saints averaged for the season. In the playoffs, they essentially did it again, though a late surge by New Orleans inflated their numbers.
The pundits will tell you that Seattle’s success as a defense is predicated on a swarming secondary. That swarming secondary will tell you their success is predicated by pressure and gap integrity from their front seven, and that front seven will rhapsodize head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s system, who, in turn, will heap all that praise back to their talented players.
It’s a vicious cycle and it only stands to exemplify exactly how balanced and dangerous the Seattle defensive unit is.
Offensively, they’ve got a slew of weapons (Golden Tate, a now-healthy Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller, Jermaine Kerse and the ever-elusive Russell Wilson at quarterback) and one “Beast” (Marshawn Lynch, whose name only need be written for search engine optimization purposes), but they’re strategically careful, protecting the football and allowing their defense to often dictate the outcome.
In Denver, outcomes were also dictated by a particular side of the football, only for the Denver Broncos it was their offense that ultimately determined their success.
In Peyton Manning’s second year in the Mile High City, the Broncos went from very-very good offensively to quite possibly all-time great. And while we’ll all cite Peyton’s record-setting year as evidence of exactly that, it was the Broncos’ balance that made Denver so dangerous and give the “all-time best” claims true merit.
Yes, Peyton Manning set the NFL record for passing yards and passing touchdowns, but Knowshon Moreno’s resurgence was what allowed Manning to orchestrate beautifully from the line of scrimmage like a manic composer, audaciously checking into simple inside zones on standard passing downs to keep opposing defenses off-balance and out of sorts.
And that’s what makes Super Bowl XLVIII such a compelling matchup.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen strength on strength, but in an era that seems to be hinging between these two (seemingly) polarized ideologies, it serves as an argument-settler. It’s not like they’re battling for pink slips and the loser walks home never to be seen or heard from again, but we’ll all look to this game to validate our argument.
The reality is that the NFL is more likely to go the way of the Broncos than it is to go the way of the Seahawks–it’s simply harder to get pressure with your front four and then find linebackers physical enough to play downhill but athletic enough to cover AND THEN find a shutdown corner or two to pair with a ball-hawking safety–but this game still has that “loser’s walk” feeling of a pick-up basketball game.
If you’re a storyline guy, Super Bowl XLVIII has you covered. If you’re a casual fan who likes Old Spice commercials and Bud Light ads with eclectic ensemble casts, Super Bowl XLVIII has you covered.
However, if you’re looking to a purely metaphoric answer to the question of New School vs. Old School, Super Bowl XLVIII is your… well… Super Bowl of Super Bowls.