EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The Seattle Seahawks were called too young and too inexperienced.
They were called laid back, maybe even a little cocky.
There's only one thing to call them now: NFL champions.
With a nasty defense, a coach who's never forgotten football is a game, and a "Why not us?" mentality that's inspired them all season, the Seahawks shocked most people east of the Rockies on Sunday night. They humbled Peyton Manning, turning two first-half interceptions into a pair of touchdowns on their way to a 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos that gave them their first Super Bowl title.
"This is an amazing team," coach Pete Carroll said. "They've never taken a step sideways or backwards from going forward to make this team the way it is now. ... These guys right here would not take anything but a win in this ball game. They never thought anything else was going to happen."
This game was supposed to be the game that cemented Manning's place as one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks to play the game. Nothing seemed to epitomize the Seahawks' youth more than Richard Sherman's rant on national TV about San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after the NFC Championship Game.
Oh sure, he got his 15 minutes of fame and then some notice who starred in one of the first commercials of the game? but there's a lot more to winning a game than winning a war of words.
But if anyone thought the Seahawks would be intimidated or unnerved at being in the center of the spotlight, however, well, they haven't been paying attention to what is without question the most entertaining team in the NFL.
Carroll was the football version of the Pied Piper when he was at Southern California, livin' the dream and taking everyone he could along with him on the ride. He saw no reason to change when he returned to the NFL four years ago, and everyone in Seattle, from his players to the fans to owner Paul Allen, has responded to his infectious enthusiasm.
"It's not that much different what it takes to get it done at this time of year, and our guys exemplified it tonight," said Carroll, who joins Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson as the only coaches to win titles at the college and professional level.
"These guys totally understood how to do it."
His players were loose and confident all week. Seattle's "12th Man" made themselves heard above the New York din, proudly wearing their blue and green gear and shouting "SEA-HAWKS!" at every opportunity.
And while everyone else seemed to be counting them out, the Seahawks reminded each other of the story Russell Wilson told them before the season began.
Back when he was a boy, Wilson's father used to ask him all the time, "Why not you, Russ?" Wilson asked his teammates the same question last summer, and that message became the Seahawks' mantra.
"I remember that speech. I got chills," said Malcolm Smith, who returned one of the Manning interceptions 69 yards for a touchdown on his way to the game's MVP trophy. "But why not us? Why can't we be the ones?"
Wilson wasn't spectacular, continuing his maddening habit of head-shaking misses that he developed late in the season. But he was good enough, and that's all the Seahawks needed with the abuse the defense was heaping on Manning and the Broncos.
The Seattle defense can't really take credit for that safety on the first play from scrimmage, unless Manning and the Broncos got flustered at seeing Sherman, Kam Chancellor and the rest of the "Legion of Boom" up close.
From then on, though, the Seahawks wreaked havoc at every turn.
The Denver offense that averaged a whopping 457.3 yards and 37.9 points a game looked more discombobulated than some Pop Warner teams. They had the ball for all of 3:19 in the first quarter, and didn't get a first down until there were about 10 minutes left in the second.
By that time, Seattle was up 15-0.
The Seahawks were so disruptive they looked as if they really did have a 12th man on the field. The big guys up front clogged up the running lanes, and the "Legion of Boom" made sure Manning couldn't reach any of his favorite toys.
"We liked this matchup," Smith insisted. "We play with an amount of speed they haven't seen."
And any time the Broncos looked as if they were about to build some momentum, or least gain some traction, the Seahawks were there to spoil it.
"We're a bunch of misfits," Sherman said, ticking off the long list of Seahawks who were overlooked out of college or discarded by other teams. "There are a lot of guys that not a lot of people have heard of. ... But they learned tonight how complete of a team we are."
And that is the very best thing you can call the Seahawks.
(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)