The build up to the Super Bowl is always like a fanfare – but two unheralded people who are key to this game are the general managers.
The furore in the media this week has been naturally manic, as the attention has been directed firmly towards Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Seahawks duo Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch. Manning, chasing a second Super Bowl ring in a glittering career, broke the record for the most touchdown passes in a season and is naturally the focus of much of the media this week, such is his superstar status.
But on the opposing side, cornerback Sherman has been the talk of America since his explosive post-match interview after the NFC Championship Game. Sherman broke up Colin Kaepernick's pass, which led to Malcolm Smith's game-winning interception, and proceeded to talk up his own abilities – as well as diminish San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree's own talents – in his words with Erin Andrews.
And whilst one Seahawk seemingly can't stop talking to the media, another would rather focus on the game. Running back Lynch came in for criticism this week for repeatedly snubbing the press, saying; “I ain't never seen no talking winning nothing.”
All three players deserve to be taking part in the world's biggest sporting event, but none of them would be there without their general managers.
Firstly, Manning was brought to Denver by John Elway, who made the same Colts-to-Broncos switch in 1983, albeit in different circumstances. Manning played for Indianapolis for 14 years, becoming an all-time great there before his eventual release in 2012 after neck surgery put his future in doubt. Elway, on the other hand, was selected #1 by the Colts in 1983 – then in Baltimore – but refused to play, forcing a trade to the Broncos.
Elway then embarked on a stunning career, winning two Super Bowl rings which would eventually land him in the Hall of Fame, before taking over as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations with the Broncos in 2011, and eventually assuming GM duties following Brian Xanders in 2012.
Elway helped bring Peyton Manning to Colorado following his release by the Colts, but he has followed up that up with strong free agency signings that make up much of the Broncos roster. Wide receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and guard Louis Vasquez have all been vitally important to the Broncos' success this season, and whilst recent draft picks DT Sylvester Williams, RB Montee Ball, QB Brock Osweiler and RB Ronnie Hillman have yet to really stamp their authority on the team, Elway has a nice mix of youth and experience in Denver.
Whilst Elway's work at Mile High Stadium has been impressive, the work of his opposite number John Schneider has been incredible in Seattle. Schneider arrived with the Seahawks in January 2010, taking over a team with a disappointing 5-11 record. With Pete Carroll installed as the head coach following an impressive reign with USC, there was renewed optimism in the Pacific Northwest – but surely even the most ardent of Seahawks fan couldn't have predicted their transformation.
The 2010 draft got them LT Russell Okung, FS Earl Thomas, WR Golden Tate, CB Walter Thurmond and SS Kam Chancellor, all integral parts of the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl. Schneider followed that up with selections of LB K.J. Wright, CB Byron Maxwell and, arguably most importantly, CB Richard Sherman, before landing LB Bruce Irvin, LB Bobby Wagner and the key addition of QB Russell Wilson in 2012. Thurmond, Chancellor, Wright, Maxwell, Sherman and Wilson were all selected after the second round, showing the value of hitting on picks late in the draft.
Even though the 2013 class has yet to really have a strong impact, Schneider has continued to add significant pieces through free agency and trades, with RB Marshawn Lynch, DE Cliff Avril and DE Michael Bennett playing key roles this season, and even undrafted free agents like G Michael Bowie, WR Doug Baldwin, WR Jermaine Kearse and CB Brandon Browner – plucked from the CFL – have contributed hugely during Carroll's tenure as head coach.
When you hit on as many mid-to-late round draft picks as the Seahawks have, it makes it easier to take risks like the shock first round selection of Bruce Irvin in 2012 and the blockbuster trade for receiver Percy Harvin. The tendency to draft athletic players who play hard and have specific roles has worked superbly for Schneider and Carroll, whose use of tall, press cornerbacks has now changed the dynamic of cornerback play, as more and more teams seek to draft corners over 6ft tall.
The game tomorrow will naturally be used to praise the greatest players and coaches in the sport, but whilst we watch either the Seahawks or Broncos lift the Lombardi Trophy, we should also praise the executives charged with building rosters that can get to the Super Bowl in the first place.
image: © Matt McGee