Seattle's vaunted 12th man roared itself hoarse in a primal scream of a game Sunday and earlier Peyton Manning kept shouting "Omaha" as he barked out signals. It must be easier to say than "East Rutherford," where the Seahawks and Denver Broncos are headed for Super Bowl XLVIII.
With a win Feb. 2, Manning would earn his second Super Bowl ring, as many as little brother Eli, who happens to call New Jersey's MetLife Stadium home. The Seahawks, who beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 Sunday in a hard-hitting, back-and-forth NFC title game, will be looking for their first Super Bowl title.
"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there," said Manning, who lost Super Bowl XLIV to the New Orleans Saints four years ago.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is going in his second season. "Man, it's been a blessing," he said. "We talked at the beginning of the year and we said, 'Why not us?'"
Sunday, Manning beat an old nemesis in Tom Brady but next he'll face a young gun in Wilson. The story lines are taking shape: Denver's top-ranked offense vs. Seattle's top-ranked defense, Manning's golden arm vs. Wilson's active legs — and what might Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman say next?
"You can't get inside Peyton's head," Sherman said. "If you do, you'll get lost,"
Both teams are 15-3, and this will be the second time in the last 20 Super Bowls that the No. 1 seeds from both conferences will meet.
The game will be played in potentially adverse weather, and the Seahawks have bulldozer-back Marshawn Lynch, who battered the 49ers, and a ball-control style of keep-away offense that has at times been Denver's undoing.
The Broncos' 26-16 victory against the New England Patriots on Sunday was clinched when Eric Decker recovered an onside kick with just over three minutes remaining, and the home fans began chanting "Super Bowl! Super Bowl! Super Bowl!"
A sign spotted in the madding crowd said simply: "New York State of Mind." Hours later, the Seattle crowd would match that, singing New York, New York.
Seahawks owner Paul Allen accepted the George Halas Trophy and said, "This feels even sweeter" than the Seahawks' first Super Bowl trip after the 2005 season.
As Broncos coach John Fox accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy, he turned to face the crowd, his arms raised above his head. "I've got a trophy!" he yelled.
Tight end Virgil Green was the first Bronco to run up the tunnel and he exulted, "We made it! We made it!" That was largely thanks to Manning, who threw for 400 yards, mastering his arsenal like an adept teenager manipulating his Madden video game.
"We wouldn't have it any other way," said Sherman, the outspoken Seahawks corner of the matchup, "a Hall of Fame quarterback with the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense."
REDEMPTION FOR BRONCOS
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Denver's season has been the perseverance shown to reach this point. The Broncos' 13-3, AFC West-winning, top-seeded regular-season performance replicated what they did in 2012. But it almost seemed a preamble as they battled for a redemptive opportunity after their late-game meltdown against the Baltimore Ravens in last season's divisional playoff flameout.
"So we've definitely come a long way in the last two years," Manning said, "and bouncing back from last year's playoff loss to put ourselves in this position, it feels very gratifying."
Over the past year, the Broncos endured the loss of elite players to injury, including all-pro left tackle Ryan Clady and all-pro outside linebacker Von Miller; the scrutiny of Miller's somewhat bizarre suspension to start the season; the embarrassment of two high-ranking team executives arrested (and later suspended) in separate offseason DUI incidents; the exodus of pass rusher Elvis Dumervil because of (of all things) a snafu with a fax machine; and the unexpected heart surgery in November that sidelined Fox for four games.
"Just standing here feels pretty good," Fox said after the win, "because I almost wasn't."
Most impressively, Manning and Co. engineered a huge comeback this season against the toughest of Dickensian adversaries: great expectations. Manning broke one single-season NFL record (passing yards, 5,477) and shattered another (TD passes, 55) while the offense established a new standard for points (606).
Wes Welker, Louis Vazquez, Shaun Phillips and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie managed something few free agent hauls of this caliber achieve — exceeding significant advance billing.
"It's a heck of an accomplishment," Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon said, "but I want the next one."
SEAHAWKS DEFENSE RULES
The Seahawks also traveled an interesting journey. After establishing themselves as an ascending power a year ago when they went 11-5 behind then-rookie Wilson, the Seahawks stamped themselves as elite this season with an 11-1 start that enabled them to wrest the NFC West crown from the 49ers and claim home-field advantage.
Regardless of the conditions in two weeks, the Seahawks are winterized.
Lynch, who began his NFL career in Buffalo, has run for more than 100 yards in both playoff games this year. He is best known for his game-icing "Beast Mode" runs but also can keep the chains moving if Wilson struggles to establish the pass for an offense that's only had often-injured game-breaker Percy Harvin in the lineup twice this season.
Perhaps even more important for the Seahawks is a defense that allowed the fewest points and yards in the NFL in 2013 while generating the most turnovers. Seattle and its "Legion of Boom" secondary also boast the league's stingiest air defense, so Manning probably wouldn't be throwing at will against it even in ideal weather. Though the defensive backs garner most of the attention, Seattle also features a formidable front seven and depth that allows highly regarded coordinator Dan Quinn to rotate fresh bodies.
And this team could be stronger come Super Bowl kickoff than it was Sunday. By then, Harvin will have had three weeks to recover from a concussion, and linebacker K.J. Wright will be nearly two months removed from surgery on a broken bone in his foot.
Seattle safety Earl Thomas said in the bedlam of Sunday night that it all felt surreal. "A good defense," he said, "is always going to live those moments when you have to stop them."
Eli Manning huddled with Peyton in the Broncos locker room after the AFC title game, enjoying a private moment. He declined to comment, but Cooper, the oldest Manning brother, said he had offered Peyton this advice a day before the title game:
"Just have fun."
And now the fun moves to East Rutherford.
Contributing: Jarrett Bell and Lindsay H. Jones in Denver, Jim Corbett in Seattle