Gene Collier: Seattle's 'Legion of Boom' flies high



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

On the night "Omaha! Omaha!" got changed to "Oh my God! Oh My God!," a typically furious flock of Seattle Seahawks plastered Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos with one of the most dominating defensive performances in Super Bowl history.

The so-called Legion of Boom, the defense that had more takeaways, more interceptions and the most dramatic turnover ratio of this entire NFL season, laughed off Denver's record-breaking offense as though it couldn't possibly be serious.

Your final from the first outdoor, not-so-cold-weather Super Bowl:

Immovable 43, Unstoppable 8.

Although Manning's outing was poisoned from the opening kickoff by various Broncos atrocities including his own, the shocking course of Seattle's first Super Bowl victory was established on Denver's second possession with the score already 5-0, Seattle.

Manning was calling a second-and-7 from the shotgun and flicked a completion over the middle to his favorite target, Demaryius Thomas. As Thomas turned right to head upfield, he was struck by Seattle safety Kam Chancellor.

Had he been struck by a taxi cab blowing through a Manhattan intersection, he might not have flown backward so far or so fast.

Legion of BOOOOM!

Chancellor, who later in the opening quarter came up with the first of Seattle's four takeaways, just happens to be the kind of giant, game-changing safety the Steelers lack, and the distance Mike Tomlin's team has to travel on that side of the ball to get back to a Super Bowl looked like a very long road indeed to anyone watching Chancellor, fellow safety Earl Thomas and nonpareil cornerback Richard Sherman play pass defense Sunday night.

At no time after Chancellor drilled Thomas, not even when Manning finally found the end zone to stop a lava spill of 36 Seattle points, did the Broncos appear to have any real interest in dealing with a situation in which it seemed Seattle's defense included about 15 players.

"That's just us being normal," Chancellor said. "What we do every day in practice. If you guys could come and see practice, you [would] think, 'Man, these guys are crazy!' "

But it wasn't just the secondary that turned this venue into what it had been for most of the season, the place where Manning throws multiple interceptions -- oh, wait, that was Eli and the New York Giants. This was big brother, a five-time NFL MVP. Seattle's defensive front, led by defensive end Cliff Avril, hectored Manning constantly, disrupting his footwork and rhythm, and it was Avril who pushed right tackle Orlando Franklin back into Manning early in the second quarter, forcing his pass to fly almost straight up. That one came down in the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith, who returned it 69 yards for the touchdown that made it 22-0.

"Our team just played so well that there were opportunities all over the field," Smith said. "We had good coverage on the back on that [interception]. Peyton was looking the other way and started coming back to my side, then the ball just came out high, somebody bumped him, Cliff. The running back was just sitting there waiting for it but it came right to me."

Smith was the game's MVP, probably because he came up with two of the four turnovers, but the Seahawks appear to be pretty deep at the playmaker/difference-maker/game-changer position. Avril and defensive end Michael Bennett are testaments to the kind of personnel direction at the core of Seattle's championship. Avril and Bennett wound up combining for 16.5 sacks this season, even though they were relatively inexpensive acquisitions by general manager John Schneider.

The defense he has put together keeps everything in front of it, gives up precious few yards after the catch and lays a deflating layer of punishment on receivers and ballcarriers alike.

Manning's 49 passes netted only 280 yards, which is fewer than 6 yards per attempt, barely 8 yards per completion.

"Straight Seattle football," Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "Assignment football, fast and physical."

Even with their defense on the sideline, the Seahawks got an unexpected adrenaline boost from wideout Percy Harvin, who had been struggling with concussion issues. Harvin gave 'em 137 all-purpose yards, 45 on two end-around plays in the first, then 87 on the kickoff that started the second half, a backbreaker that made it 29-0.

"We had bounce-right, counter-right, something we were calling for all week," Harvin said. "We knew it was a good chance. We'd put that on film all year so the guys did a heckuva job blocking. As soon as I caught it there was open field."

Any chance Manning had of bringing his team back methodically vanished at that moment, and the Seahawks seemed to think all of last week that their moment was coming.

"It's all about making history," Thomas said. "This was a dominant performance from top to bottom. You had guys that stepped up that you wouldn't even think would step up. That's what this team is all about."

Fair enough, but it looked more like it's all about the BOOM!


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com

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