Super Bowl XLIX: Legacy is on the line as two would-be dynasties clash in Arizona

If the Vegas oddsmakers are to be believed, there is no separating New England and Seattle.

Super Bowl XLIX: Legacy is on the line as two would-be dynasties clash in Arizona

Both roll into The Copper State for Sunday’s game with identical 14-4 records and similar season trajectories, teams once beset by dramas that managed to hit their straps at the right time.

To truly appreciate the parallels on the field, however, it’s important to frame the stark disparities between the two franchises off it.

The Patriots, despite having apparently established themselves as the NFL’s flagship organisation in recent times, amount to but one jewel in the crown of New England’s famed sporting metropolis.

In fact, having come to town long after the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, they’re very much the baby of Boston in that regard. Their hat-trick of championship wins at the turn of a century were merely apples in the orchard of a region which already boasted 30 plus.

Seattle, for its part, has no such heritage. At one point it seemed the Seahawks’ 1976 arrival in the pacific north-west might actually spark something of an upswing in the city’s meagre sporting fortunes.

The Mariners entered MLB the following year, and the Supersonics went on to register Seattle’s first major championship in over 60 years with victory in the 1979 NBA finals.

By 2008, however, the Sonics had outgrown the city, ultimately relocating two thousand miles east to Oklahoma. But 12 years earlier it had seemed that the Seahawks were set to take evasive action of their own. Provisions for a move to southern California were put in place long before Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen offered to buy out then owner Ken Behring.

Allen’s request for $300m in taxes to fund the construction of a new stadium was put to referendum soon after. Just shy of two million ballots were cast, with the vote ultimately passing by the thinnest of margins: 51 per cent to 49.

Fast forward to 2015 and CenturyLink Field stands alone as the preeminent fortress in American sport, its tenants bidding to become the first club in over a decade to retain the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Ironically, their opponents this weekend were the last team to achieve that particular feat. In spite of the fact that the Patriots’ offence has shifted rather more from the expansive to the efficient in the intervening years, Tom Brady still remains very much at the hub.

The concise passing attack and spread offence which has steered them to Arizona lives and dies by the now 37-year-old’s ability to adapt to different pressures and coverages under centre.

Seemingly incomprehensible, then, is the notion that his merits were being called into question as recently as October. An opening day loss to divisional rivals Miami and a subsequent mauling at Arrowhead three weeks later saw the Patriots start 2-2.

The knives were out when a highly-fancied and unbeaten Bengals outfit marched into Gillette Stadium in week five. An emphatic 43-14 triumph for the home team arrested not only Cincinnati’s development but also any talk of a crisis in New England.

A 10-2 record thereafter and the procurement of the AFC’s number one seed put paid to it entirely.

On the west coast, meanwhile, the defending champions experienced similarly inauspicious beginnings. An impressive win over Green Bay was bookended by a trio of defeats in their next five.

Losses during free agency were compounded by further personnel problems. Percy Harvin, star of the win over Denver at MetLife stadium, was jettisoned back to New York permanently in exchange for a conditional mid-round pick.

Along with a blow to the coffers, the departure of Harvin, coupled with a year-ending injury to Zach Miller, rocked an ailing offence already adapting to life without Golden Tate.

Things weren’t exactly rosy on the other side of the ball either. With Chris Clemons and Red Bryant gone and Brandon Mebane on injured reserve Seattle’s 2014 defensive line required a complete overhaul.

The much vaunted Legion of Boom lost one of its enforcers in corner Brandon Browner, while Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner were found to be MIA at various points throughout the campaign as well.

It really wasn’t until the return to fitness of those two stalwarts that the Seahawks found their feet. In fact, they conceded only 39 points in the regular season after Wagner was restored to the line-up.

Likewise, having yielded an average of one a game over the first ten weeks, just a single touchdown to a tight-end was allowed over the course of the subsequent eight.

Besides their notoriously miserly defence, the Seahawks’ dual-threat on the ground was again crucial to securing the first seed in the NFC.

Even though Marshawn Lynch ran up a stellar 1306 yards in 2014, it was more so the 849 yards which Russell Wilson tallied with football in hand that left opposing co-ordinators sleepless in Seattle.

That being said, Sunday’s opposing coach has made no secret of his admiration for the Wisconsin alumnus.

“He’s just got an uncanny sense of awareness of what’s around him.” said Bill Belichick of Wilson. “It looks like he’s going to get tackled and he doesn’t. It kind of reminds of watching Staubach. I don’t know how you coach it; it’s just an awareness that all great players have.”

Dubbed ‘Roger the Dodger’ for the scrambling skills which led him to a pair of Super Bowl wins in the seventies, hall of famer Staubach was also known as ‘Captain Comeback’ due to his uncanny ability to rally in the fourth.

Judging by the performance Wilson produced in the NFC Championship game versus The Packers, the 26-year-old may well have designs on that particular moniker. Trailing by 16 at the half and 12 with less than three minutes to go, he led the Seahawks to an over-time win with 15 unanswered points.

That win was the largest ever comeback in a conference final, and if Wilson was the conductor of the revival, Pete Carroll was the composer. Indeed, the decision to stake his franchise’s future on a trick-play that required a punter to find a rookie offensive lineman in the end-zone was symptomatic of the man as much as the coach.

After all, it is upon such unwavering self-assurance that the 63-year- old has built a legacy in Seattle. And yet, Carroll’s unconventional, California-cool approach hasn’t always been to everyone’s liking.

Just ask Patriots owner Robert Kraft. After succeeding the great Bill Parcells in 1997, ‘Pom-Pom Pete’ was bombed out of Foxboro before the decade was out.

Even if his public platitudes in the last few days would suggest otherwise, Carroll would be forgiven for having a personal axe to grind when he faces his former team on Sunday night.

Belichick, who supplanted him as head coach, has subplots of own his to contend with. Chief among them is the fallout from the Patriots’ most recent outing against the Colts.

Unlike Seattle, New England had little trouble dealing with their home championship game, on the field at least. Having run roughshod over Indianapolis to the tune of 45-7, it was really only after the final gun that they started to break a sweat.

Allegations abounded that 11 of their 12 match-day balls had been knowingly underinflated, and whereas the layman would probably find the widespread assassination of his character and legacy a distraction, Bill Belichick doesn’t seem that way inclined.

This, of course, is the same guy who in 2007 received the largest fine ever imposed on an NFL coach and proceeded to lead an undefeated team to the Super Bowl that very year. Ruthlessness is his calling card, everyone from Adam Vinatieri and Randy Moss to Logan Mankins and Jonas Gray can attest to that.

Although more reviled than revered, having a résumé that reads 21 play-off wins makes you a difficult person to undermine. The fact that himself and Brady are about to extend to 6 the record for most visits to the season decider by a coach/quarterback duo is further testament to that.

There are no prizes for simply getting there, however. The ‘Welcome to Arizona’ sign which greeted both men this week will have been reminder enough of that.

Needless to say, it was at the University of Phoenix Stadium in 2007 when the Patriots suffered the first of two Super Bowl defeats to their noisy neighbours. On that occasion, and again in Indiana four years later, the Giants defence annihilated New England up front. Their pass rush got to Brady 17 times and sacked him on 7 occasions across the eight quarters.

Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and company will fancy their chances of administering a similar dose on Sunday. In fact, so open are the Seahawks about their strategy on defence that Earl Thomas might as well stroll into the other team’s locker room before kick-off and draw them on the tactics board.

They line up three-deep coverage, bring pressure at the line and see if the opposition has the wherewithal to beat them underneath. With number 87 in tow, Brady might be content to call their bluff.

After all, if Chancellor and Wagner can’t prevent Gronkowski from completing his customary hitch routes then Seattle will be going home empty-handed. On the flip side, even though those in New England tend to keep their cards a little closer to their chests, Belichick won’t have needed a spy to work out that his team’s prospects in this game hinge almost entirely on whether they can keep Russell Wilson in the pocket.

While the outcome of the Super Bowl is as uncertain this year as it’s ever been, what’s not in doubt is that this match-up will ultimately come down to who can convert their marginal gains up front into maximum rewards.

Unfortunately for Messrs Sherman and Revis, it looks like their best chance of having a say in the action will be if they’re sent forward for the coin toss.

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