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28 January, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII


   It's good to be back. It's been fifteen years since the Broncos last played in a Super Bowl. Fifteen years is a long time. I know there are plenty of teams who have never been or haven't been in a much longer period of time, but those teams aren't my team. The last time the Broncos were in a Super Bowl I didn't have any kids. I have three now. Fifteen years ago I lived in a condo and watched the game on a Sony "flat screen" that looked like an ATM machine and weighed almost as much as Terrance Knighton. Sly Stallone has made 19 films since the last Broncos title!
   When the Broncos won their first Super Bowl I created the 5 Year Rule, which stated after your team won a title you weren't allowed to bitch about them for five years. Given the joy winning that title gave me, it seemed reasonable. When Denver won back-to-back titles I added the addendum that when that happens, it's seven years. Well, it's now been 7 years since my No Bitching Window expired. I'm ready for another ring.


   I've navigated the superstitious waters of the playoffs pretty well so far. I've worn an article of Broncos clothing every day since the playoffs started. I haven't shaved my goatee either. I'm no Daniel Bryan but there are small cookies in my beard.
   After working early the day of the divisional game against the Chargers I broke out my new Broncos hoodie, nestled on the couch in my basement under my Broncos throw blanket and found the appropriate poses in which to watch the game. I decided to eat dinner during the second half. When the Chargers rallied I stopped eating halfway through my meal to put an end to the comeback.
   I had to work during the AFC title game. I opted to wear the clothes I wore to work the previous Sunday. Khaki pants, black long sleeve shirt, black socks, gray boxer briefs. Not a stitch of Broncos colors on me (except the jacket I wore to and from work). During the game I worked my office magnificently, finding the right spots to be when the Broncos had the ball and changing to a different locale when they were on defense. Every commercial break I left the office to fill up my cup with water and then took sips when Denver was on D.
   About six weeks ago I requested Super Bowl Sunday off, just in case (Karma Gods be damned, it was worth the risk).
   So I'll be back in the basement on Sunday, under the blanket wearing my hoodie.
   Oh, and when the Chinese New Year rings in on Friday it'll be the Year of the Horse. So we've got that going for us... which is nice.


   Let's get these out of the way. Yes, the two teams from the states where marijuana is legal are playing in the "Super Bowl." And yes, on Friday the two head coaches are having a "joint" news conference.
Moving on...


   I have always said the best part of your team being the in Super Bowl is the two week wait for the game. Everyone is talking about your team. You get extra time to enjoy the fact that they even got there. You walk around for an extra week with people congratulating you on your team being there. It's all good.
   For some reason this time around the wait seems much longer. It may be because you can't get away from the game at all. Every radio and TV commercial break there is a mention of the "Big Game."
All the sports channels are devoting 50% or more of their programming to it. And thanks to Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman and the weather, mainstream shows are talking a lot about it too.
   The good part is the extra time has allowed me to digest all the columns on-line, check out all the videos and really appreciate the great season the Broncos have had.


   If Peyton Manning had gone to the 49ers or Titans, I don't know where I would stand on the "Peyton needs to win another Super Bowl for his legacy" discussion. I probably would say it doesn't matter, he's been great, he's done amazing things, will own all the records and he has won a Super Bowl already.  Working at ESPN, you can imagine how often the conversation comes up in the news room. But Peyton is a Denver Bronco. He chose us. So it's been a weird dynamic defending a guy who has only been on my team for two years. But if Peyton and the Broncos pull this one out, I will be glad for him and I will be glad a large number of people will have to shut up. And consider this, a Super Bowl win and maybe two more seasons of huge numbers from Peyton and he will earn himself a place in the Broncos Ring of Fame. How weird does that seem?


  I'm thrilled for Champ Bailey. He has represented the Broncos for ten years with class and performed at an elite level. He took Darrent Williams under his wing when Darrent came into the league, and he took the team under his wing when Darrent was slain. There are a great number of "good guys" in a league that often gets attention for all the bad guys, but for Broncos fans it doesn't get better than Champ.
   Bailey hasn't had a pick since their 8th game of last season in Cincinnati. It would be awesome if he could get one in this game.
   Let's hope after Sunday when people see him and say "Hey Champ!" it'll have a whole new meaning.


   I truly have no clue what to expect from this game. Every time I hear an argument on why Seattle will win it seems to make sense. Then when I hear arguments for the Broncos I think, "yeah, that's true."
   I know this, Denver hasn't played a defense like Seattle's this year and Seattle hasn't played an offense like Denver's.
   The weather looks pretty good right now, but I would much rather the game was being played somewhere warm or indoors. Cold conditions benefit the Seahawks and their slugging defense. I do think the tandem of Moreno and Ball could have success running the ball, but clearly Denver's first choice is to put the ball in Peyton's hands.
   The weather is also going to bring special teams back into play, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Denver's kick coverage was the worst in the league, but with their first two playoff games in Denver they haven't had to tackle anyone since week 17. On the plus side, Trindon Holliday will get a chance to make a difference for Denver.
   On offense I expect Denver will do what they've done all year, using bunch routes and man beaters to create space. I would expect a lot of the formations we've seen lately, with Decker, Welker and D.T. all on the same side. I do think the preseason game means something in so much as Peyton will have a sense of the speed of the Seahawks and how they will disrupt the timing.
   Denver has had great success in the playoffs with extended drives, something that will be a great challenge against Seattle. While their points per game are down in the playoffs, their time of possession is up 5 minutes. Their average yards per drive is up almost 20 yards. Their two longest drives of the season were in the playoffs. But it'll be really hard to put together 10-12 play drives against the Seahawks.
   Seattle has totally eliminated good tight ends this year, so I would expect they'll do the same to Julius Thomas. If I had to bet right now on the guys to lead the team in receptions on Sunday, I would say Decker, Welker and Moreno.
   On defense the Broncos need to stay away from the big play. I'm sure the focus will be on Lynch and Seattle pounding the ball and chewing up the clock, but Seattle beat San Francisco on the strength of two huge pass plays. The Broncos linebackers are fast and can run sideline to sideline, which should help limit long scrambles by Wilson, but when he is on the move Wilson is still looking to throw. It's those extended plays where the secondary has to cover for a long time that lead to the back-breaking completions.
   The Broncos two Super Bowl victories removed the pain from their four prior losses, but those losses molded my expectations for a Broncos Super Bowl.
   Super Bowl 12- Denver loses 27-10 as I watch in my kitchen as an 11-year old boy thrilled that his team is in their first Super Bowl and crushed when the Dallas D crushed Craig Morton all day long.
   Super Bowl 21- Denver loses 39-20 as I watch at my college roommate's family condo in Orlando. A close first half turns into a blowout.
   Super Bowl 22- Denver loses 42-10 as I watch with my friend Dominique and her two friends while visiting her at college in Boston. What started out as joke turns into a disaster as Denver took the early lead and then allowed 35 points in the second quarter. The girls couldn't understand why it bothered me so much that Denver was losing. I couldn't understand why they couldn't understand.

   Super Bowl 24- Denver loses 55-10 as I watch from my condo in Orlando. As Joe Montana was completing pass after pass and scoring TD after TD I screamed at my television, "STOP THROWING THE BALL. YOU ARE WINNING BY 30 F#*@ING POINTS!!!"
   Those experiences, each one worse than the prior, created deep, deep, Grand Canyon deep wounds. That's why the victory in Super Bowl 32 meant so much. That's why I jumped out of my chair 15 feet in the air when Elway helicoptered. That's why I cried Knowshon tears when Mobley knocked down the 4th down pass from Favre. All the pain from the first four Super Bowls washed away... but not forgotten. That's the underlying fear for a Broncos fan old enough to remember. The pain of those losses still lingers somewhere down inside and you fear it could come back.
   The journey of this season has been exciting and painful. What a joy it's been to watch them light up the scoreboard to the tune of an NFL record 606 points. Watching this machine of an offense move the ball up and down the field has been a treat. This season felt a lot like the '97 season, with an aging quarterback leading an unstoppable offense but knowing that the window was closing. There is a sense of urgency to get it done now.
   The pain of losing so many key players, guys who you thought Denver could never do without, took away some of the joy for me and added to the worry. But here they are now, in the Super Bowl. Seattle is healthier, but Denver has more than enough to win the game.
   How I'll feel if they should lose will probably depend on how it happens. I do think a #1 defense is more likely to beat a #1 offense. I do think the elements favor Seattle. So I'm kind of braced for a loss (it's that lingering feeling, ya; know?).  I'm also 15 years older and I understand that there is value in getting here, in having a great season that gave you four months of joy. The 2006 Mets season ended in a brutal game 7 loss in the NLCS, but it's one of my favorite seasons they ever had. The journey of that season was everything a fan could want. So I appreciate the 2013 Broncos and the week-after-week excitement they gave their fans.
   Is there something about "Peyton is on a mission" and "This is a team of destiny"? Maybe, but maybe their destiny is to lose in the Super Bowl. Who knows? All I know is if you told me five years ago that the Broncos were going to be in Super Bowl 48 and Peyton Manning was going to be their quarterback, I'd have been pretty damn excited.
   What I am truly most excited about is watching the game with my 11-year old son, who has been all-in on the Broncos for 3 years now. If Denver should win it'll be a lifetime memory for the two of us, sharing that moment like we shared the Mets first no-hitter two years ago. And yes, I have passed on my superstitious ways to him. He knows his spot to be in the basement. He has his jersey to wear. He knows to only go to the bathroom during commercials. It's a curse I have passed down. #FatherOfTheYear
   I recently heard a Broncos fan say "If you don't expect your team to win, what kind of fan are you?" As Mike Francesa would say, "that's uh a fair point." So I'm going into Sunday confident Denver will play well, confident that my basement will have the proper mojo and confident that in the middle of the 4th quarter it's going to be a one-possession game.

   Denver 24 Seattle 20

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