By Danny O’Neil
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Pete Carroll has never been here before.
Wait. That’s not exactly right. He has been at the Westin where his team is staying. The Seahawks stayed there back in December, in fact.
But he hasn’t ever attended the Super Bowl as a participant nor as a spectator.
“Never,” he said. “I really had the thought a long time ago that I’m not going until we’re playing in it.”
So like every one of the players on his team, this week is a first for Carroll. Well, everyone except receiver Ricardo Lockette, who was a member of the 49ers’ practice squad a year ago.
Seattle is the first team since the 1990 Buffalo Bills to reach the Super Bowl without having a single player who had ever played in a Super Bowl before. So given the fact that this is unfamiliar territory for most everyone associated with Seattle, here’s a map on the storylines that are going to be expected:
1. Embrace the Cornucopia Majesty
No, that’s not what Carroll has dubbed his Wednesday practice during Super Bowl week. It’s the cruise ship where the Denver Broncos will be conducting their media interviews. Hard to tell which is better: The view of Manhattan from the ship (which is simply breathtaking) or the fact that Cornucopia Majesty will be a refrain we hear all week.
2. Peyton Manning’s legacy on the line
The man with a Mile High hairline will be the single biggest NFL storyline throughout the week as two years after missing a season following neck surgery, Manning is playing in his third Super Bowl for his third different head coach and his second different franchise. He wins this game and it will go a long way to erasing the one criticism that could be hung on his career, which is that his regular-season success was contrasted by fairly consistent postseason failure. Unlike Dan Marino, Manning has won a Super bowl, but if he wins a second the debate will begin whether it’s Manning who’s the best quarterback of this generation and not Tom Brady.
3. Richard Sherman can’t help but make news
Seattle’s cornerback is going to be the focus of attention no matter what he does. If he says something provocative the story will be how Sherman is at it again, acting out. If he doesn’t say anything provocative the story will be about how – and why – he has mellowed. Last week Sherman was expertly able to express his regret at having created a spectacle that obscured the accomplishments of his teammates without ever really backing down from what he said. It’s not the last time he’s going to have to navigate that path, and this week the whole country is going to be watching for even the whiff of something that’s compelling, and even if Sherman is outright boring, he’s going to be the subject of conversation.
4. Seattle’s defense and its place in history
The Seahawks have allowed the fewest points in the league in back-to-back seasons and haven’t given up so much as 20 points in a game since November. Now they face a Denver team that scored at a historical pace over the first month of the season and a quarterback who threw more touchdown passes than anyone in history. Seattle isn’t going to be able to measure up to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl run in which that team allowed 23 points in four postseason games, but the Seahawks are playing their way into the conversation as one of the great once-in-a-decade kind of defenses like the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the 1985 Chicago Bears.
5. Super Bowl or soap opera? Sometimes it’s both
Super Bowl week follows its own news cycle. Eight years ago, Joey Porter’s blood feud with Jerramy Stevens seemed to materialize overnight. A relatively benign comment from Stevens regarding Jerome Bettis’ homecoming to Detroit being spoiled by a Seahawks victory sparked a rant from Porter that put Stevens on center stage. No one really remembers that Porter was pretty much a non-factor in that game, erased as so many pass rushers were by Walter Jones, but everyone remembers those three passes Stevens dropped that very well would have made the difference in the outcome.