First Take can be absurd, but have you ever scrolled down a YouTube page? Sure, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless are blowhard city. But I watch them religiously because they do, to a very real and very large extent, represent the Internet age and the armchair quarterback nation that the NFL’s fan base has become.
So when the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora predicts the Seahawks will, in fact, beat the Broncos and send the Emerald City into fits of skinny jean’d, ripped jean’d, overpriced coffee-clad euphoria, I’m not surprised to see ESPN’s co-hosts shut him down.
I’m not surprised to see them almost offended by his prediction, even if it’s a perfectly reasonable one, considering that both Seattle and Denver were 13-3 this season. They looked bewildered, like it was their duty – in that 3:37 of tape above – to convince Osi otherwise.
As fans, we are upset when a broadcaster is critical of our time. We react with phrases like, “Oh, he doesn’t know anything” or “He shouldn’t even have a job on TV.” These are ludicrous comments, of course, but you hear them. Who has every truly earned their job on television? Who is knowledgeable enough to actually deserve that platform, besides Bob Costas? And why, oh why, would someone with a modem, a couch, and a laptop think they know more than anyone at ESPN, even if their last names are Smith or Bayless. (I include myself in that couch potato cloth.)
Fact is, when the First Take crew rails off against any team not quarterbacked by Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, and when co-host/doormat Cari Champion intervenes only to bring it back to whatever purple and gold travesty is dragging down Los Angeles, that speaks to America’s cultural keg and its at-large perception of the Super Bowl, the phenomenon it invented and gets fat off.
Bayless loves Brady and Smith loves Manning, but only because they don’t watch anybody else. Not enough, at least. At the start of the season, they were still high on Robert Griffin III, because they didn’t watch anybody else and because they had this crazy idea that Washington would have beaten Seattle last year if RGIII never got hurt, an absurd conclusion that offends everything Wilson and his Seahawks did offensively that day in D.C. Bayless still talks about the Cowboys, because he doesn’t care about anybody else. And Champion loves the Lakers and absolutely can’t stand when anyone – even a rapper exercising nothing but common sense and a critical tone – would dare challenge the incredibleness that is (well, was) Kobe Bryant.
Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with bias, and I enjoy Bayless’s defence for the little guys of the league, because I am a little guy myself. I love to hear him prop up Johnny Football and appreciate his Dallas ties, because we all have them and we all know what it’s like to suffer, and suffer, and suffer as a fan of a team that has never and will never turn it around, not before you’ve turned the channel in rage.
But Bayless and Smith are blind to anything West of Texas, blind to anything north of San Fran. They can’t help it, but they rarely admit it.
Seattle, we have to take their opinions – America’s opinions – with a grain of salt, although we’ve never been good at that.
We’re the forgotten West. The place above California. The team with the Fail Mary and the neon green. They tease us for Pete Carroll. They mockingly admire our 12th Man.
They don’t watch Russell Wilson, which makes Wilson at times both overrated and underrated. Overrated, because you couldn’t turn on a TV this year without hearing about him. But underrated because, even when he had MVP hype following him, we knew it was all a front to hide just how obvious Peyton Manning’s excellence was. It was the annual, “Well, this guy’s got the award wrapped up in Week 3, but that’s boring, so let’s talk about some guys and fill our hour.”
Peyton is adored from coast-to-coast. You can’t not love the guy. I’d argue the same is true for Tom Brady, but he hasn’t had the luxury of being cast-off from the team that drafted him and raised him like Peyton did, and therefore Brady isn’t a victim yet.
The Broncos bring arms, legs, and hands into this Super Bowl. They’re the favourite, I believe, and they should be. Easily.
But Russell Wilson is the X Factor. Russell Wilson is also the A, B, and C Factor. He’s not just great because he shifts out of the pocket like a lizard or because he throws with power running to his left, like a shortstop making the third out at first. Russell is Russell because of how he resets himself on every drive, because of the maturity he shows and the poise he has in the cockpit.
I call it the Halo thing, because he can get sacked, intercepted, or pick-six’d, and he simply just re-spawns.
Do I think Seattle’s gonna win this game? Honestly, I have no idea. And neither do you.
It’s been pegged as the number one defence versus the number one offence, but that’s pretty damn misleading, too, because Denver’s defence is just fine and Seattle’s offence is electric.
The Seahawks haven’t shown us everything yet, not in these playoffs and not for a full 60 minutes, but I’m not sure that matters. If the game is close, and if you need Wilson to make a throw, he’ll make it. Peyton is no different.
But we won’t be surprised by anything Denver does. We’ve seen all the Broncos can do. It’s pretty outstanding, sure, but they can’t get better. They have Peyton’s impending retirement looming, but something tells me their opponent doesn’t give a damn about intangibles.
Seattle? Somehow, despite their season, the Hawks are still the underdogs. That speaks to their opponent. Denver will score and Seattle will stop them. And then Seattle will score, too.
Final score: Seattle Seahawks 31, Denver Broncos 24
(*This was originally published on White Cover Magazine…)