As much as Seahawks fans craved a repeat thrashing of the Broncos, as much as Broncos fans obsessed over beating the Seahawks, the rest of football America that was unaffiliated was given what they needed Sunday afternoon — a dramatic game between two splendid teams in the sport’s most wildly visceral setting that reminded discerning fans why they go to the trouble of enjoying pro football.
As Russell Wilson put it, “If anyone doesn’t like football, if you turn that game on, it was a game for the ages.”
It was hardly perfect, but no NFL game ever is (well, maybe one, depending on your perspective). The heavyweights threw hands hard and often, and doubled each other over. They clinched, forcing extra time.
Then there was the irrational majesty of randomness that confounds every great sports event — in this case, the overtime coin toss.
“(The rules) put a premium on the coin toss,” said Peyton Manning. “(We) called tails at the beginning of the game. Went with it in overtime. It was heads, and proved to be a significant call.”
But only if the chance is exploited, as Manning had just done moments earlier — taking his team 80 yards in less than a minute with no timeouts against the game’s best defense in the worst atmosphere for an opposing offense, to score the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
“That’s not easy to do,” said Manning. He practiced during the week by shoving a camel through the eye of a needle.
But then, randomness gave the turn to Wilson. And he duplicated the exploitation — going 80 yards, without the burden of time but with the knowledge that his offense made only 90 yards in the entire second half — for the game-winning touchdown.
Time will tell if the moment represented the passing of the torch between the greatest quarterback who ever was to the greatest who is, but certainly it was a sequence of events that riveted all who were hanging on the cliff with the two.
“The key to taking advantage of those moments is still playing smart football . . . to the edge — and not falling off the ledge,” Wilson said. Then he went further, explaining his lust for the crucible had him wanting Manning to tie the game.
“Even though they came back, it was almost — I don’t want to say this the wrong way — I was almost hoping it would happen,” he said. “I believed our defense would make a stop, but if it didn’t happen . . .I couldn’t wait for (the moment).”
It case there were any doubters left from the previous season, now you know how a champion quarterback thinks. That how it works with Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter — as a matter of fact, those were two Wilson himself cited in his post-game reverie. He is moving steadily toward the dreadnought class.
In the overtime drive, against a defense that was upgraded in the off-season with $110 million in salary commitments for just such an occasion, Wilson completed four of six passes for 35 yards and scrambled from the pocket for 21 more. That’s 56 of the 80.
But running meant risk to his valuable hide. Wilson has been trained to get out of bounds, or to slide, to minimize harm. This drive, not so much. At the end of his dashes, he took a couple of licks when he sought the valuable extra yard.
“That’s not one of those times, I don’t believe,” he said. “When the game’s on the line and you have Peyton Manning over there on the other side, you know you have to make some plays.”
The outcome was obviously about much more than Wilson: RB Marshawn Lynch had 88 yards rushing, the game-winning TD as well as a TD catch, WR Ricardo Lockette grabbed a spectacular TD pass, denied the Broncos an almost-sure interception and made a great special teams tackle. Jon Ryan’s spectacular punting was decisive, and until the final drive, the Seahawks defense held the Broncos offense to 252 yards and 10 points.
But lesser feats in lesser moments also told the tale of passion and edge. Early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks were on their own seven-yard line when Wilson surprisingly dropped to the goal line to pass, whereupon he was clobbered from behind by DE DeMarcus Ware.
The 6-4, 258-pound kitchen appliance of mobile meanness also knocked loose the ball, and a prodigious goal-line pileup ensued for possession, which could have meant a touchdown for Denver, or at least a first down at the one. Seconds passed as players and referees dug through the haystack of sweaty humanity.
At the bottom were Wilson and DeWare, going at it. Here’s how Wilson saw it:
Wilson: “You’re not going to get this ball.”
Ware: “I’ll wait all night.”
Wilson: “I’ll wait all night too.”
Ware (to the ref): “No, I got it, I got it.”
Wilson: “DeMarcus, I’m not letting you have this.”
The refs awarded the ball to Wilson, but triumph was short-lived. The next play, third-and-17 from the one, resulted in a safety when Lynch was tackled in the end zone by T.J. Ward — the first of 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter that turned the game.
Until it was turned back in overtime.
In times like these, when more important arguments about culture, behavior, morality and law induce guilt in people of conscience for savoring mere games, the recording of this Sunday afternoon might be forwarded to fair-minded skeptics to help them understand.
Led by gentlemen warriors, two great sides filled with spectacular athletes and clever strategists strained mightily at each other to discover the barest of differences. It doesn’t often happen, but when it does, it is a thrill and privilege to witness those at the acme of human endeavor.
The best place for light is upon the darkness in human behavior. Often, the best source of light is sports. Sometimes, it’s fun for its own self, in spite of itself.