JOHN RIORDAN: Manning legacy in own hands

New York takes all the credit, talking a big game and laying on the hottest Super Bowl bashes.

But all that nonsense will be stripped away when NFL fans make the bleak trek across the cold Hudson River, deep into the unforgivable marshes of the New Jersey Meadowlands where forlorn wildlife and dead mobsters share blissful ignorance.

The Super Bowl is one of those world sporting events where no news would be better news. The preamble is jarringly inane and the kick-off can’t come quick enough.

There’s more than enough excitement and intrigue to deal with tomorrow night when the nonsense ends and makes way for the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, two of this NFL season’s most formidable outfits.

Maybe it sounds self-defeating for the always hungry sports pages but there’s enough in the game itself to render all the other stuff null and void.

Almost every prediction will be wrong — including the one a few paragraphs down — and every piece of advanced analysis, statistical precedent and snowfall forecasting will be wide enough of the mark to allow the players live and die by their own performances and on their own terms.

There’s no arguing against the fact that the most dominant teams of the year have made their way through to the long awaited first Super Bowl in the cold US north-east. The Broncos topped the AFC, breaking multiple regular season records on the way: passing yards, touchdown passes and points scored, more than 600 for the first time ever. The Seahawks, meanwhile — just like their opponents — have taken their steady development as a team over the last couple of years onto the next level and, similar to the Broncos, managed to learn from last year’s play-off heartbreak, taking the NFC title back to the Pacific North-west for the first time in eight years.

However, this being the jewel in the crown of the money-making behemoth that is the NFL, there was as determined an effort as ever to fill the notebooks and the week long build-up with vapid quotes and inconsequential newslines.

Every single player is obliged by the terms of their contract to make themselves available to the press but, more than any other year, this mandatory activity didn’t quite have the effect it was supposed to.

While the majority of players without the luxury of stardom or big contracts played with a straight bat, Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch stole the show on Tuesday and Wednesday when he deployed the tactics of a silent sit-in to avoid a $50,000 league fine for having avoided all media this season.

He relaxed his attitude on Thursday, reaching a deal with the football writers’ association which saw to it that questions would be limited to football.

Lynch is Seattle’s most dangerous weapon, a phenomenal athlete who eats yards when rushing and celebrates touchdowns with low key handshakes.

His temporary shunning of the media was a double-edged sword — a worthy pinprick of a vacuous circus but also a betrayal of the industry which enriches him.

But no one walks the walk quite like him and, in any case, his refusal to provide a story ended up being the best story of the week.

Meanwhile, his quote-machine Seahawks teammate, cornerback Richard Sherman, adhered to the role of pantomime villain but inevitably failed to draw the always safe Peyton Manning out of his safe place.

On Wednesday, Sherman delivered his honest assessment that Manning was a great quarterback who occasionally throws imperfect passes.

Manning’s response on Thursday was a well-constructed agreement, full of his trademark wit.

“I believe it to be true as well,” said the veteran quarterback, a future hall-of-famer who can cement his reputation tomorrow night with a second Super Bowl.

“I don’t think that’s a real reach what he’s saying. I’ve thrown a lot of yards and touchdowns with ducks [passes which wobble rather than arrow]. I’m actually quite proud of it.”

This is an extremely tough game to predict and when it’s considered that the best team in the NFL may not even be here, it just goes to show that the way the Seattle Seahawks dispensed with the San Francisco 49ers a fortnight ago could impact on how effective the Broncos’ passing game will prove to be.

Manning needs this one for his legacy. Opposing quarterback Russell Wilson, just two years in the league, still has time. Even Lynch and Sherman can wait a while and realistically hope to secure a pair of titles.

The Broncos need to work out a way to stifle the Seahawks running game and when those rare holes appear in Seattle’s incredible defence, which is deprived of the services of Brandon Browner, Manning can punish like no other.

If the last line of the Seattle rearguard is tuned in, Denver will need to be ready with a back-up plan that involves their talented running backs. Should those options become available through the middle, the Seahawks will find themselves overwhelmed and the Broncos will take glory back to the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 15 years.


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