The teams still alive in the NFL playoffs are among the most storied franchises in NFL history. Even prior to signing Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos had played in six Super Bowls, with their Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway winning two. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is tied with Elway for the most Super Bowl appearances by a quarterback with five. The San Francisco 49ers have a Super Bowl ring for every finger and played in their sixth title game just last season. It adds up to 10 championships in 19 Super Bowl appearances between three teams.
And then there’s the Seattle Seahawks.
Their lone Super Bowl appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 was one of the ugliest championship games in recent history, as Pittsburgh’s 21-10 victory is probably remembered more for the horrendous officiating than anything else. Since joining the NFL in 1976, the Seahawks have played in just one other conference championship game, in 1983, when they lost 30-14 to their AFC West divisional rival the Los Angeles Raiders, who would go on to win the Super Bowl. Sure, the Beast Quake was one of the 10 most memorable plays in NFL playoff history, but there's also Matt Hasselbeck's infamous "we want the ball, and we're going to score” moment. The aforementioned games pretty much encapsulate the entirety of the Seattle Seahawks postseason history.
All that would change with a win over the 49ers on Sunday.
Should they advance to the Super Bowl, Seattle’s quarterback Russell Wilson will go up against either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, two aging veterans who, like Joe Montana and John Elway, are among the defining players of their era. And if Wilson pulls out a win against either one of them, the narrative will be read as a passing of the torch between the old guard and the new.
With a Super Bowl victory, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks would also assume a place alongside the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens as one of the greatest defensive teams of all time, especially if the win comes against the Broncos, who have a similar legacy at stake on the offensive side of the ball. A showdown between those two teams would carry the promise of one of the most compelling offense-vs-defense battles in championship game history.
But first they must get past San Francisco, and here too there’s much more at stake than a trip to the Big Game. Just as Brady vs. Manning has become the signature quarterback rivalry in the AFC, the games (on and off-the-field) between Wilson and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick are fast becoming must-see-TV, as the two QBs have collectively posted an astonishing 6-2 playoff record in just their second seasons as starters. The fact that they’re close in age and play in the same division (thus guaranteeing twice-yearly meetings) means this could easily develop into one of the great quarterback rivalries the NFL has ever seen.
For reasons outlined above (as well as the 49ers own recent playoff success), Seattle needs this game much more than San Francisco does. Because of their geographic isolation out in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, America doesn’t see a whole lot of Seattle, and what they do see, they don’t like. Outside of the Beast Quake, the Seahawks franchise is short on the type of memorable playoff moments that have largely defined teams like the 49ers (“The Catch”) and the Broncos (“The Drive”).
Those iconic moments both occurred in conference championship games, not the Super Bowl, and yet they’re possibly the most iconic moments in each franchise’s history. With a showdown looming between two evenly matched opponents who are similar in style and well acquainted on the field, there’s a very good chance a Super Bowl berth will hinge on a similarly defining moment or series late in the game. Should the Seahawks come up with their own two-word, Capital-Letter moment on Sunday -- best guess would be "The Pick," followed closely by “The Stop” -- they can finally join the Broncos, Patriots, and 49ers at the postseason grown-up table.