The Big Apple welcomes the biggest NFL game of the season they only way it can.
Super Bowl 48 rivals Seattle and Denver arrived Sunday in metropolitan New York to kick off the last week of preparation for the Broadway debut of America’s biggest sporting spectacle.
The Denver Broncos, boasting the NFL’s best offense with record scoring and passing totals, face the top-rated NFL defense of the Seahawks in next Sunday’s title game at East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Seattle and Denver each finished 13-3 this season, sharing the best record in the NFL, and both western US clubs flew to the east coast, where their suburban hotels offer New York skyline views.
“It’s extraordinarily fun to be here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We just crossed the country to play in the biggest football game you can play in. It’s pretty darn impressive.”
The Seahawks are the first Super Bowl team in 24 years not to have any players with Super Bowl experience while the Broncos have a handful, but the only one to have won a title is star quarterback Peyton Manning.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” Manning said. “We have worked hard to earn this opportunity. It’s a big deal. I know how hard it is to get here.
“I know how much time and sacrifice our team has made in order to have this opportunity to play in this game. We were excited to get on that plane. We were excited getting off that plane.”
The Super Bowl has been an off-Broadway production since its inception, playing in warm-weather cities or domed venues until Sunday, when one team will reign like the Lion King and the other will be an NFL version of Les Miserables.
The Broncos go into the game slight favorites, but the weather could be a leveler — forecasters say it is likely to be the coldest Super Bowl on record and may even snow.
“It would be one thing to experience and enjoy this experience being at the Super Bowl, but it would be an awful experience if we walked away not winning,” Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said.
A dozen blocks of Broadway will be closed around Times Square, with the famed showcase of playhouses becoming Super Bowl Boulevard, a fan fest area complete with a 60-foot toboggan ride.
Beyond the hoopla and parties that surround every Super Bowl week will be two teams desperate to shrug off distractions and focus on the biggest game of their lives.
Manning won a Super Bowl crown in 2007 with Indianapolis but his Colts lost the 2010 Super Bowl to New Orleans, surrendering an interception return touchdown while driving for a potential late tying touchdown.
Manning set one-season NFL passing records for touchdowns and yardage this year but he will be tested by a Seahawks defense that allowed the fewest yards and points in the league and picked off an NFL-best 28 passes.
“Their defense is very talented. They are as good as advertised,” Manning said. “If you are just a little off your game they can make you pay.”
Richard Sherman, who leads Seattle’s hard-hitting defensive backfield known as the “Legion of Boom”, led the NFL with eight interceptions but sees the Broncos as their ultimate challenge.
“It’s historically as hard as it gets. It can’t get any tougher,” Sherman said. “They have broken every major record in the throwing game, points and everything. Peyton has been extraordinary.
“He has had the year that everyone would dream to have. We’re up against it. It’s an extraordinary challenge for us.”
Manning hopes to match the two Super Bowl titles of his younger brother Eli, who guided the New York Giants to Super Bowl wins in 2008 and 2012, the most recent of those wins coming in what was then the home stadium of Peyton’s club in Indianapolis.
Now the elder Manning is trying to win a second crown in the home stadium of Eli’s Giants.
“Eli and I have talked about playing in this stadium,” Manning said. “I’ve talked to him a number of times these past couple of weeks and he is excited for me.”
There will be the biggest age gap between starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history Sunday when Manning, 37, goes against Seattle’s Russell Wilson, 25. Wilson was a high school sophomore when he attended a quarterback camp run by Manning.
“You have to look at one of the best football players to ever play the game as an example in all facets of life,” Wilson said. “He is just so consistent with his approach. He wants to do everything right. So you want to be like that.”