EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Pete Carroll couldn’t stop smiling. His son, Brennan, his wife, Glena, and their two grandchildren were standing to his left. Two pieces of green confetti were lodged in Carroll’s silvery hair, which had been slickened by a pair of celebratory Gatorade shows.
Carroll couldn’t stop smiling because he knew this was going to happen. He knew his Seattle Seahawks were going to beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Maybe not by a score of 43-8. But Carroll knew.
He knew because he had seen this before. He knew because he had done this before.
Much was made of the youthful Seahawks not having a single player who had appeared in a Super Bowl. But Carroll had participated in tons of bowl games. At USC, he led the Trojans to nine bowl appearances, winning seven times.
Carroll knew how to get his team ready for football’s grandest stage. He knew his players would respond.
“For years I’ve been watching this happen at the end of the season,” Carroll said Sunday from a tent outside MetLife Stadium. “I felt it was exactly on course. It’s not that much different (than college). Our guys exemplified that perfectly.”
At the end of Carroll’s fourth season at USC, his team beat Oklahoma by 36 points to win the BCS title. At the end of Carroll’s fourth season in Seattle, the Seahawks beat the Broncos by 35 points to win the first world championship in franchise history.
Carroll joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win championships in college and the NFL. As he stood on the makeshift stage to accept the Lombardi Trophy, confetti tumbling from the night sky like a hard Seattle rain, what was going through Carroll’s head? Redemption, perhaps, after his first NFL run didn’t go as planned?
“That you can’t share it with enough people,” Carroll said. “All the 12s back home. This is everybody’s accomplishment.”
It was obvious from the first play from scrimmage that it was going to be Seattle’s night — that it was going to be the 12th Man’s night.
Broncos center Manny Ramirez and quarterback Peyton Manning — who had been in perfect sync all season — got their wires crossed. Ramirez’s snap sailed over Manning’s head into the end zone, where Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety — exactly 12 seconds into the game.
Marshawn Lynch scored Seattle’s first touchdown with exactly 12 minutes left in the first half. And exactly 12 seconds expired from the time Percy Harvin fielded the second-half kickoff to when he crossed the goal line for an 87-yard, back-breaking touchdown.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Carroll said. “That’s the magic of the 12s right there. That’s awesome.”
With their loyal fans bringing a surprising amount of noise for a supposed neutral-site game, the Seahawks played the way they so often do in Seattle. Their defense flew around the field, running to the ball and taking it away. Their offense protected the ball, converted critical third downs and made just enough big plays. Their special teams were practically flawless.
But Carroll is a defensive coach, and this team is a defensive juggernaut. The Seahawks ranked first in the league in most significant categories, including scoring defense, total defense and passing defense. If anyone was equipped to slow down the Manning-led Broncos — who ranked first in scoring, total offense and passing offense — it was them.
“We wanted to win with fundamentals,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “We talk about tackling and talk about turnovers every day that we practice.
“We were fast. We were physical. We played this game on our terms.”
The Broncos had scored at least 20 points in every game and averaged 36.4. The Seahawks held them to eight.
They did it by taking the ball away — they won the turnover battle, 4-0, just the way Carroll likes it — and by punishing Denver’s receivers after the catch. Manning completed a Super Bowl-record 34 passes — a meaningless mark if there ever was one, and more fodder for his detractors — but averaged only 5.71 yards per attempt. His season average was 8.28.
Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks’ jackhammer of a strong safety, set the tone on Denver’s third offensive play when he drilled Demaryius Thomas on a crossing route, limiting him to a 2-yard gain.
Asked if being physical with Denver’s receivers was part of the game plan, Chancellor said: “It wasn’t part of the game plan. It’s part of the way we play.”
The Broncos didn’t play the way they had played all season, leaving Manning to wonder where it all went wrong. He fell to 1-2 in Super Bowls. He’ll be 38 in March. Who knows if he will ever make it back?
“We worked hard to get to this point and overcame a lot of obstacles to be here,” Manning said. “It is a really good thing just to have this opportunity, but certainly to finish it this way is very disappointing. It is not an easy pill to swallow. But eventually, you have to.”
Manning learned Sunday what others before him already knew: Opposing Pete Carroll in a bowl game generally is a losing proposition.