EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — This Super Bowl has just about everything a fan, a player, a coach — and certainly a league — could ask for.
Denver’s record-setting offense versus Seattle’s relentlessly stingy defense. Coaches who actually smile and think football should be fun. A wintry setting, and the best two teams in the NFL.
“It’s very special to be here,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of Sunday’s big game. “Look at this event that our players are having to take part of. The game, the matchup, the culmination of the season, all of this is just extraordinary.”
This Super Bowl could also have a profound effect on the immediate future of pro football.
It may be a referendum on whether the NFL’s showpiece event should ever again be held outdoors in a cold-weather city. But more likely is it being a strong indicator about the future of the quarterback position.
The game will feature the classic pocket passer emblematic of the old guard — Denver’s veteran Peyton Manning, who has had an extraordinarily prolific season.
Against him is Seattle’s quick-footed, quick-witted scrambler Russell Wilson, who represents the new guard along with the likes of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, even Andrew Luck.
Seattle’s miserly defense wants to force Manning into uncomfortable territory, which means anywhere outside the passing pocket. Denver’s defense will be intent on giving Wilson a taste of claustrophobia by keeping him hemmed in the pocket.
Both QB approaches work for their offenses, or else these two teams wouldn’t each be 15-3, top seeds in their conferences and facing off for the championship. The quarterback differences — aside from age, time of service in the pros, or even their height — Manning is about 15 centimeters (6 inches) taller than Wilson — make this Super Bowl even more intriguing.
There will always be a place in anyone’s starting lineup for a Peyton Manning, who deserves strong consideration in the debate about the greatest quarterback in history, regardless of whether he adds a second Super Bowl ring on Sunday. Teams construct their offense around a talent like that.
Whether most teams will stick with convention or choose mobile, creative and elusive passers such as Wilson won’t be decided by who wins at the Meadowlands. But it could play a significant role.
“As a talent evaluator for college and even free agency, the toughest thing to evaluate is process,” Broncos quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp said. “Can the guy process in the pocket during the heat of battle?”
Everyone knows Manning has had that skill throughout his career, and Wilson has provided strong evidence in his two NFL seasons that he’s got it, too.
“Peyton might be one of the best I’ve ever been around that can process, ‘Ok, I’ve got these tools to use, and in 10 seconds I’ve got to make a decision, and execute in less than four,”’ Knapp added.
Wilson’s multi-faceted abilities on the field might differ in method to Manning’s, but Carroll sees many similarities off the playing field.
“He’s an incredible competitor in every way,” Carroll said of his quarterback, who at 25 is 12 years younger than Manning. “In preparation, in game day, he’s the epitome of what you want in your competitor. He’s got tremendous work habits. He’s got extraordinary athleticism. He’s got a general all-around savvy that allows him to make great decisions under pressure.
“He’s extremely confident, too, so no matter what is going on, he’s not going to waver in his focus and ability to handle things.”
Manning believes elements of all styles will always be in demand.
“I could describe the perfect quarterback. Take a little piece of everybody,” he said. “Take John Elway’s arm, Dan Marino’s release, maybe Troy Aikman’s dropback, Brett Favre’s scrambling ability, Joe Montana’s two-minute poise and, naturally, my speed.”
After the laughter stopped, Manning continued:
“I could take a piece of everyone, of some of my favorite quarterbacks, and I could take 30 traits from different guys, and put them in that perfect quarterback.”
But will that perfect QB in years to come feature more of Manning and his mold or of Wilson and his ilk?
Sunday’s game could provide a glimpse into that future.
Denver’s pocket passer (Manning) opposite Seattle’s scrambler (Wilson)
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