EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Welcome to Exit 16W off the New Jersey Turnpike; where the polar vortex was supposed to meet the Roman numeral; where sideline seats cost $100,000 and a 20-ounce cup of beer goes for $14; where you can’t be sure if gameday traffic might be caused by an angry governor.
Maybe you’ve heard, they are playing the Super Bowl outdoors at MetLife Stadium this year. They’re playing the game at the home of the New York Giants and Jets, in the state that gave us Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, and Tony Soprano.
It’s a nice matchup. We have the NFL’s best offense against the league’s best defense. The Denver Broncos vs. the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos have been in six other Super Bowls, winning twice when John Elway was an old quarterback. Now Elway serves the Broncos the way Cam Neely serves the Boston Bruins and the old quarterback for the Broncos is Peyton Manning.
The Seahawks are quarterbacked by second-year player Russell Wilson, who has the same hair as halftime singer Bruno Mars. Wilson has emerged as the quarterback with the most wins in his first two NFL seasons. The Seahawks have been in only one other Super Bowl, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Detroit eight years ago.
Detroit, and now East Rutherford. The Seahawks really know how to pick ’em.
Weather has been the No. 1 topic of Super Bowl XLVIII since the site was selected four years ago. We seem to have forgotten that the NFL played its championship games in places such as Yankee Stadium and Green Bay long before the Super Bowl was born in 1967. As the event morphed into a national holiday of sponsorship and gluttony, the game was eternally bound to warm-weather cities and domed stadiums.
Not today. This is the Super Bowl in which Al Roker has been more important than Al Michaels or Terry Bradshaw.
After months of fear and frothing about blizzards and below-zero temperatures, it looks like the game will be played in tolerable conditions for the Broncos and Seahawks. The latest forecast calls for temperatures in the low 30s at kickoff (6:30 p.m.), with a chance of rain. Some of the high-roller fans might be wet and chilly, but Manning should have less trouble than he had in Foxborough a little more than two months ago when high winds had port-o-potties cartwheeling across the parking lots at Gillette Stadium.
The Manning Legacy narrative figures to carry the night. By any yardstick, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he’s not been a steady winner in the postseason. Manning has been one-and-done eight times in his playoff career, and needed his AFC Championship victory over the Patriots two weeks ago to even his playoff record at 11-11. He is 1-1 in the Super Bowl, still haunted by a pick-6 he threw against the Saints in a Super Bowl loss in Miami four years ago.
Patriots fans are conditioned to root against Manning, with good reason. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, but on five other occasions New England advanced at least as far as the AFC Championship game, and in four of those years, New England’s Super Bowl hopes were dashed by a Manning. Eli Manning’s Giants beat the Patriots in two Super Bowls, and Peyton Manning’s Colts and Broncos won AFC Championship games against New England.
The popular theme holds that Peyton Manning needs at least one more Super Bowl ring to move into the conversation of Greatest Ever. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw each won four Super Bowls. Manning’s regular-season numbers have vaulted him ahead of just about everybody, but a 1-2 record in the Super Bowl will not help if he wants to be remembered as the best who ever lived.
“At 37 years old, and in my 16th season, especially in a week like this, I think it’s healthy to take some time to reflect and smell the roses,’’ Manning acknowledged. “This legacy question keeps popping up, and I guess I had a little more time to think about it. If I had my choice, what my legacy would be, would be that I played my butt off for every team that I ever played on. I was a really good teammate and I did everything I could to win. Whatever happens along in that time is fine with me. Those are the things that I care about.’’
It’s hard not to root for the guy. Manning has been unfailingly polite throughout his career, never more than this past week. He was even a good sport when Seattle motormouth defensive back Richard Sherman said, “He throws ducks.’’
“I do throw ducks,’’ Manning acknowledged. “ . . . I throw for a lot of yards and TD ducks, so I’m actually quite proud of it.’’
Friday’s New York tabloids both featured the image of a bearded Manning with the headline, “Duck Dynasty.’’
That’s it. The words all have been spoken. The complaints all have been registered. The cocktail party shrimp all have been eaten.
It’s time for Super Bowl XLVIII.