I was there. The lanyard that held my ticket, the free "stay warm" kit placed on every seat in the stadium, each piece of Super Bowl shwag proudly proclaims "I was THERE," as though the bearer of these cheaply-made artifacts had witnessed an event of profound historical importance. And that was the promise that this game held: The best offense of all time versus one of the best defenses in NFL history.
But that promise was an empty one. And why? Because the best offense in the league never showed up. We didn’t get the game we were promised. Instead, we got a hard lesson in what it takes to win a Super Bowl. And I was there: a cross-country flight from LA, a bag filled with orange clothing, and I was there.
I was there when the normally unflappable Peyton Manning watched a rogue snap whizz by his head as he tried vainly to shout over an imported 12th Man. I was there when Seattle’s pass rushers made our usually stalwart offensive line look the hoover dam after Gene Hackman got done with it. I was there when we decided to kick it short right into Percy Harvin's hands. For the 69-yard pick six. For when we decided to throw on 4th and 2. And I was there when most of the Denver Broncos gave up at the beginning of the second half.
The best offense never showed up. Instead, Manning and his weapons looked drugged, slow, tentative, even resigned and bored after their first failed possession. Hell, after our only TD, Thunder trotted lamely into the end zone, snorted, and went back into his stable. The energy in the stadium was agonizing. People who had stood in a sea of orange shrank back into their seats and waited in vain for a big hit, an interception, a long pass, something—anything—to change the momentum.
We can take the game apart. We can throw up our hands in resignation and say "we were beaten by the best." Or we can learn the hard lessons and use them: We learned that no one is invincible. That hard work and preparation isn’t always enough. That passion is important. That fire is important. That a championship team is not built around just one man (see, e.g., Tom Brady’s Patriots: always good but seldom number one), but around the teams, the coaches, and fans together.
We learned that smart people can behave irrationally: sticking to a plan even when it’s clear the plan has failed. In Denver’s case, (our case), it was clear we had planned to stop the run and only the run, that we decided Eric Decker and Wes Welker were too precious to risk on kickoff returns, and that we were going to stick with short passes. When it became obvious that Trindon Holliday was not strong enough, quick-footed enough, or sure-handed enough to get us past the 20 on a kickoff, the plan should have changed. When it was clear that Seattle’s offense could do more than run the ball, the plan should have changed. When it was clear that Peyton didn't have enough time in the pocket to set up screens and play actions, that we couldn’t rely on yards after the catch, we should have tried going long.
But number 11 lined up for every kickoff even after dismal field position led to a safety and run after run ended short of the 20. And our DB’s lined up with very little cushion for Seattle’s receivers, still ready to deal with Beast Mode even after Russell Wilson had proven he could throw over their heads to receivers who seemed too fast for the likes of Denver’s secondary. And we kept trying to rely on yards after the catch on short plays. The plan needed to change. Manning must have known. Coach Fox should have known. But the plan did not change. (And seriously—we passed on 4th and 2?)
There were Broncos who played well. Who played with the same fire that burned in the eyes of seemingly every Seahawks player. Demaryius Thomas, who actually outran Seattle’s corners several times and played through a separated shoulder to break Super Bowl records and score the game's only touchdown. Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving, and Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, who largely shut down Marshawn Lynch and actually led Denver’s defense to a decent game at the line of scrimmage. (Seriously, our defense looked pretty solid at the beginning of the game).
Sadly, their fire wasn’t enough. Because it wasn’t contagious. Everyone need to be fired up. Fans need to be fired up. And we know that now. Because I was also in Seattle the weekend before the Super Bowl . I was there to see that every single building had a 12th Man flag in the window. Every one. Their fans put the "fan" in fanatic. And thousands of them showed up at MetLife Stadium and howled the entire time our offense was on the field.
But I was also in Denver for the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. And what I saw was a city that was elated at the prospect of another championship. That city was fired up. But on Sunday, there was very little to be fired up about. And we’ve learned that that’s what it takes to beat the best: Passion. Intensity. Explosiveness. To intimidate the opposition and force the momentum of the game in our direction. To push not just for greatness and success but for victory. In this, Seattle succeeded, and we failed.
People forget: twelve or thirteen years ago, we had a noisy Guinness Record of our own, and Bronco Town was known as a darn tough place to play. Admittedly, part of me wants to say "the 12th Man is cheap—how are we supposed to have a true match of skill when they can’t even hear the play calls?"—but I know that’s just sour grapes. I know it is, because I am psyched whenever Sports Authority field gets loud. We need that fire back. We needed it on Sunday. And we need it next season.
Think about this: Almost all the points that Seattle scored were within a play or two of a turnover, or right after a botched special teams play. An allegory for the Broncos’ Super Bowl performance would be Eric Decker, dropping a pass during garbage time. He didn’t reach for it, he didn’t bobble it, didn’t lunge or leap or dive. He gaped at it in disbelieving resignation, fell to his knees, and slouched forward.
Seattle had a hell of a game—don’t get me wrong. But they did the same thing they’ve been doing all season. We never saw the best offense play because they never showed up. (And, I submit to you, that debate is still not over). Seattle won on the scoreboard, but it was truly the Broncos who lost it. That is not to that we absolutely would have won even if we had shown up to play. It's not to say that Seattle's amazing team did not play well. But at least it would have been a game worth watching.
So let’s get fired up next season. Let this pain fuel us. Let’s be ready to scream our throats hoarse and raw. To make the other teams feel us. To remember that we are still proud to wear the orange, to be fans of the best team in the NFL.