Super Bowl XLIX could not be pitting two teams further apart in their ideology, players or place in the league. Let’s start with how they got here.
The Seahawks made one of the most improbable, unthinkable comebacks in the modern Super Bowl era, rallying from a 16-0 hole and a staggering four interceptions from quarterback Russell Wilson to defeat the Green Bay Packers. Despite Aaron Rodgers’ obviously injured leg, the Packers were almost inarguably the better team and deserved to make it to the Super Bowl. We all know, however, that sports don’t play fair. That’s why the Seahawks were able to rally from a 19-7 deficit in the final four minutes and take a 22-19 lead on the strength of Russell Wilson, in spite of the 0.0 QBR he posted in the first half.
The Patriots, on the other hand, showed why they are and have been the NFL’s strongest dynasty in the last decade. Over the last dozen Super Bowls, there have only been four different teams from the AFC. The Patriots, headed by Tom Brady, lead that list with five appearances in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011 and now 2014. And they didn’t do anything to disprove their legacy against the Colts, who were embarrassed in every aspect of the NFC Championship en route to a 45-7 loss.
There exists no greater discrepancy in this game than at the quarterback position. On the one hand, you have Russell Wilson, a star in college who started from week five of his freshman year onwards at NC State and led the University of Wisconsin to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl. He is a part of the ‘new age’ of quarterbacks coming up in the NFL: mobile, fast, almost as good on foot as he is with his arm. In fact, Wilson averaged only half a yard more per pass (7.7) than he did on the ground (7.2). And he also has the will to win. He can make throws that defy logic, and he can make them when it counts. If nothing else serves to prove that point, before going into overtime against the Packers, Wilson had barely thrown for 100 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. On his game-winning drive, he looked like a champion, completing his last two passes for 70 yards and a beautiful touchdown to Jermaine Kearse.
Brady, meanwhile, struggled to start at the University of Michigan, fighting tooth and nail to move up from seventh on the depth chart until he finally secured the starting role for good during his senior year. Brady nearly didn’t play professional football, taken as the 199th overall pick in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. He is a traditional, good-as-they-come pocket passer, who rushed for less yards per game (3.6) than Wilson does per carry. While Wilson has the most recent Super Bowl ring on his finger, Brady’s accomplishments (three-time Super Bowl Champ, two-time MVP, most career postseason passing yards and touchdowns. Need I say more?) tower over Wilson’s.
You could also point to the defenses of the two teams as being the greatest discrepancy between the Pats and Seahawks, and still you would not be wrong. The Patriots have been heralded all season as a big-play, aggressive defense, and it’s worked for them. The Seahawks, on the other hand, employ a different defensive strategy. Loosely, the idea seems to just be really, really good. So good that they’ve been compared to some of the best defenses in history, including the Steel Curtain and the ’85 Bears.
Amidst all these differences, it feels almost as if there is a changing of the guards. The NFL is moving in a different direction than how the Patriots earned their spot atop the league. Despite his consistent dominance, there is undoubtedly an expiration date on Tom Brady’s career that is rapidly approaching. The Seahawks, however, are led by a trio of youngsters in Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman, none of whom are more than 28 years old. Their defense is unfathomably good. With a 2014 Super Bowl ring to add to their collection, talk of the Seahawks as the next great dynasty will undoubtedly bubble to the surface.