NEW YORK CITY — Sure, there is plenty of excitement among the Seahawks. But from the time they won the NFC Championship, a current of calmness runs beneath the surface among players and coaches. It’s as if they know something. Since no one dares speak of it directly, we are left to guess until Sunday night.
So here’s my guess: WR Percy Harvin, Super Bowl XLVIII Most Valuable Player.
A long shot? Yes. But this is largely a team, individually and collectively, of long shots.
Russell Wilson always praises everyone connected to the Seahawks down to the grocery store clerks where he shops. So take this quote from earlier in the week with a grain of hyperbole.
“Just get the ball in Percy’s hands. He was arguably the best player in the National Football League before he got hurt.”
Whether it’s true is secondary to the potential to be true, which is what coach John Fox and the Broncos defense must prepare for. But they are missing two top defenders in LB Von Miller and CB Chris Harris, both on injured reserve and off the game roster. And the Broncos have little video record of Harvin, who had 38 snaps over parts of two regular season games.
He’s nearly a ghost.
“We don’t really have a lot of film on him,” said Quentin Jammer, the 34-year-old cornerback who is likely to be the top target of Seattle’s game plan, said Wednesday. “We do know that he can line up in multiple positions.
“We’ve got to make sure we get him stopped on kickoff, but as a receiver . . . he’s just an explosive guy.”
The only forensic evidence is one team old — the Minnesota Vikings, who traded Harvin in March to Seattle for much draft-pick treasure.
“You have to know your history on Percy Harvin,” said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “You have to go back and watch the film at Minnesota, see how they used him there and see that he can do some things.”
But that was then, and this is 2014 and for all the marbles. With two weeks to prepare, the Seahawks can be expected to devise something unseen by any NFL opponent.
Before a concussion removed him from the playoff game, Harvin against New Orleans ran fly sweep from his left slot position that went right for nine yards. It’s the kind of play that fouls the undergarments of defensive coordinators because it’s hard to have the right personnel in the right positions to account for such shiftiness, particularly if the priority is stopping RB Marshawn Lynch. The fly sweep may have been the first for the play with the Seahawks this season, because it works best for a man with jets.
It’s the kind of play that makes Harvin so difficult to prepare for, and why the Seahawks guaranteed $26 million for a player with a dubious health history.
“With the tremendous speed that he has, the intensity that he brings when the ball’s in his hands — how he carries it, he runs like a running back — he’s unusually aggressive,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s such a versatile athlete that you have a lot of opportunities to do different things with him. So, it causes a defense to have to be on guard for him.”
“We knew it from recruiting him (when Carroll was at USC), we knew it from playing against him, we knew it from watching him. We were thrilled to have the chance to put him on our team. We haven’t had the opportunity to demonstrate how that’s going to all work out. This will be an opportunity.”
Asked to describe his eagerness, Harvin shook his head and laughed.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “I’m so excited to play football, be healthy and feel the way I’m feeling right now. It’s a blessing to be able to play in the Super Bowl, a game that I’ve dreamed of playing in since I was a little kid. After all I’ve been through, to be able to know I’ve reached that goal, right here, right now, it’s amazing.”
The ordeal from his Aug. 1 surgery to repair a torn hip labrum laid him up for most of the season and nearly put him over the edge emotionally.
“I’m going to be really blunt and straightforward,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my teammates being there for me the way they were, I might’ve just shut it down. Just being discouraged . . . there came a point in time where the training staff didn’t know whether it was a smart idea to try to come back in the same season — like, anyone has ever had hip surgery and came back in the same season.
“A lot of frustration came with it. I probably would’ve been done with the season if it wasn’t for my teammates.”
Fans grew frustrated with the stories of Harvin’s progess and setbacks. But teammates had seen enough in practice to know that patience would provide them one of the NFL’s great game-changers.
“He brings another whole dimension to this offense and to special teams,” said fellow WR Golden Tate. “He’s just another weapon on this offense, a player who can break the game at any point.
“If you put anyone less than a cornerback on him, they might get run by. He’s going to open it up for me, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. I’ll say it: I’m more excited to see him on kickoff return. I expect him to make big plays.”
With Harvin playing less than one percent of the plays, the Seahawks were 15-3 and NFC champions. The one dimension the Seahawks offense lacked was world-class speed at receiver. Which is why Wilson has a hard time stifling giggles.
“He looks excellent, to be honest,” he said. “He can catch the ball extremely well. He understands the game. He’s extremely tough too. You notice that. He goes in there and blocks.
“He’s been electrifying every time he’s been in.”
If Seattle’s No. 1 defense plays to a standstill the Broncos’ No. 1 offense, the decider will come from the Seahawks offense. And it’s better now that it was any time this season.
Which may explain the Seahawks current of calm in the Big Apple madness.