John McGrath: Seahawks, Broncos Super Bowl matchup has a familiar feel

Staff writerJanuary 30, 2014 

— A Seattle Seahawks team new to the Super Bowl stage will face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday. If experience matters, the Hawks are in trouble.

Manning was named MVP of Super Bowl XLI in Miami, where he led the 2006 Colts to their first world championship since 1964. A favorite target for the quarterback, slot receiver Wes Welker, co-owns the Super Bowl record for most catches in a game (11), set in 2008. A year later, in Super Bowl XLIII, defensive back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie had a crucial role in Arizona's inspired attempt to upset Pittsburgh.

The Seahawks? Reserve receiver Ricardo Lockette made the practice-squad roster of the 2012 NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, but that's it. The Hawks, with an average age of 26.4, are the second-youngest team in Super Bowl history. (The 1971 Miami Dolphins were fractionally younger.)

For Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr., the New Kids versus Old School matchup on Sunday kindles comparisons to Super Bowl XXVII game between his 1992 Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills, then a perennial AFC powerhouse competing in its third of four consecutive Super Bowls.

"Buffalo had the 'K-Gun,’ " said Norton, referring to the no-huddle offense directed by quarterback Jim Kelly. "They had Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed and a solid defense. Our team was young. They had some experience over there, and we didn't have any experience on our side. So there's lots of similarities.

"I just hope," the former Cowboys linebacker continued with a smile, "the end result is similar."

The result was a 52-17 Cowboys victory that turned the tables on the experience factor. The Bills, supposedly accustomed to the bright lights and inevitable distractions of Super Bowl week, played the role of knock-kneed novices. Kelly and backup QB Frank Reich combined to throw four interceptions. Five other possessions were surrendered on fumbles.

A team that commits nine turnovers is not going to beat an opponent in the Super Bowl. A team that commits nine turnovers is not going to beat the Fighting Trenchcoats of Vince Lombardi High School.

Experience – the simple ability to think of the world's most watched one-day sporting event in terms of Been There, Done That – may not be paramount at the Super Bowl, but it can't hurt. The Bills' inability to convert a string of four AFC championships into a single Lombardi Trophy remains one pro football's enduring mysteries.

More relevant to fans of the 2013 Seahawks is an uncanny connection with the 1992 Cowboys. The connection begins with the head coaches: Dallas' Jimmy Johnson, whose swashbuckling Miami Hurricanes teams of the 1980's annually contended for the national championship, was thought to be in over his head as an NFL coach. Pete Carroll could relate.

Johnson wasn't an immediate miracle worker – his first Cowboys team, in 1989, finished 1-15 – but more important than wins and losses was a comprehensive roster overhaul. Johnson decided an aggressive, speedy defense would be essential for the Cowboys' revival.

An overpowering defense relaxed pressure on the offense to be spectacular. Quarterback Troy Aikman was consistently efficient, running back Emmitt Smith never collided with a tackler he feared, and while the Cowboys were capable of surviving shootouts, they weren't built for them.

They were built to win high-stakes games with a low-spark offense steeped in execution, and an inspired defense – playmakers at every position – determined to kick butt.

Any of this sound familiar?

The 1992 Bills brought a substantial experience edge into their Super Bowl contest against the Cowboys, and the issue was decided sometime between a pregame coin flip exercised by O.J. Simpson (before he was famous, he was famous) and Michael Jackson's halftime show, which set the bar – it's never been cleared – on Super Bowl entertainers.

It seems so long ago, but the fundamental things still apply.

The young and raw 1992 Dallas Cowboys, by the way, went won to win three Super Bowls in four years. If Seahawks fans are looking for a best-case template, that's as good as any.

A team new to the Super Bowl proved experience doesn't mean squat. And then the team returned, and won, and showed there might be something to this experience aspect after all.

Ah, but first things first.

"Once all of the hoopla and the buildup is over, what it comes down to is playing ball," said Norton. "Who can execute? Who can tackle? Who can block? The surroundings make a difference, but once you get to game time -- if you keep priorities right -- the rest of this stuff won't even matter."

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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