The play of the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII is a classic example of the ABC Wide World of Sports open with “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.
The Seahawks played their best game of the season. The Broncos played their worst.
On a scale of 1-to-10, Seattle rated a “10”. Denver rated a “1”.
The contrast could not have been more stark.
Playing Your Best
The satisfaction of performing at your highest level under pressure is a special feeling that can’t fully be described. Olympic athletes, who post a personal best at the Olympic Games, know how that feels. It’s a reward that validates the effort, hard work, and commitment that went into the accomplishment.
In team sports, the feeling is heightened because the accomplishment requires a shared effort and sacrifice.
Seattle didn’t achieve its Super Bowl win because of luck or because breaks went their way. They won by marshaling the talents of their players into cohesive units at close to peak performance. The teamwork required to play that well against such a powerful Denver offense is a source of tremendous pride for the Seahawks players, coaches, and fans.
It should be. The Seattle Seahawks earned it. For the rest of their lives, they will know that on the biggest stage, in the most important game of the season, they performed at their best and dominated a team that produced the highest-scoring offense in NFL history.
On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, we have Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Their commitment and shared sacrifice, their collective pride in a special season, cannot be felt today. It’s not because they didn’t win the game, it’s because of the way in which they lost it.
Losing vs. Being Beaten in Sports
As I’ve written about before, athletes can accept being defeated. It’s not easy to come up short, but competitors learn fairly early that the “outcome” of a game is not fully within their control. Just as its possible to perform poorly and “win”, it is possible to play very well and “lose”.
Simply put, we know that the better team on a given day doesn’t always come out on top on the scoreboard.
Hall-of-Fame basketball coach John Wooden said that in all his years of coaching, he never mentioned the word “winning” to his players. He wanted them focused on playing to the very best of their abilities, rather than being focused on the goal of “winning”.
Coach Wooden felt that each player was in the best position to judge how performance measured-up to one’s ability.
That is why Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are hurting today.
Broncos Face Another Painful Off-Season
Last season, Denver’s season ended with a double overtime loss to Baltimore. The Broncos should have won, but they made a critical mistake. In the final minute of the 4th quarter, the Broncos allowed a receiver to get behind the defense, and the Ravens tied the game on a “hail mary” touchdown pass.
This season, the Broncos returned with resolve. With League MVP Peyton Manning throwing a record 55-touchdown passes, the Broncos averaged nearly 38-points per game and finished with the most points in league history. They continued with playoff victories over the San Diego Chargers and rival New England Patriots, to reach the Super Bowl.
The championship game was predicted to be close.
If the Broncos had played well, and lost, they would have been disappointed. But, they would not feel today the way they do.
For, while the Seahawks played the ultimate game of the season with precision and minimal mistakes, the Broncos began with a botched-snap that resulted in a safety, and continued to make mistakes and play poorly the rest of the way. They failed to play even an average game, much less, close to their potential.
Perhaps even at their best, the Broncos could not have defeated Seattle in this game. The Seahawks were that good.
But, what the Broncos players and coaching staff know for sure is that in the most important game of the year, they didn’t give themselves a chance to win.
There is nothing more painful for a competitor than to fail to deliver under pressure when it really counts; to know that the performance fell far short of ability. That’s especially true when the opponent does play well.
The Seahawks and Broncos will long remember this game — for very different reasons.
For these two teams, the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” sums it up pretty well.
Photo credit: Anthony Quintano via Flickr