Monday, February 3, 2014

The immovable unstoppable:
Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII



Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
                                         -- Victor Hugo


“How Ya Like Me Now?”
                                         -- song by The Heavy



NEVER, EVER BET against Eli the Oracle Ape. There are oddsmakers wrestling with the temptation to jump from hotel room windows in Las Vegas right now, sorry for not having taken that advice, or something similar from the forecasters of our own species.

Eli, of the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, predicted on Thursday that the Seattle Seahawks would prevail in Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLVIII, defeating the Denver Broncos. The Associated Press reported that the simian Nostradamus “ran into an enclosure Thursday morning and swiftly knocked down a papier-mache helmet bearing the Seahawks logo, signaling his pick.”

"He made his pick without any hesitation," said Erica Hansen of the zoo staff. Make of it what you will, but Eli had accurately selected the winner of the Super Bowl for six straight years. "He's better than the Vegas odds-makers," Hansen told The AP.

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The sports book of Eli is now seven for seven. In a Super Bowl that wasn’t as much a game as it was a drive-by, the Seahawks humiliated the Broncos 43-8 at MetLlife Stadium, in front of more than 110 million people watching on television, many of whom contributed some of the estimated $10 billion in wagers through private hands around the world.

“No Super Bowl underdog had a bigger margin of victory than the Seahawks, who became the fourth team to win the game by 35 or more points,” Bloomberg reported. “The odds that Seattle would win by between 34 and 38 points were 100 to 1.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Sunday was one of those nights the phrase “in history” was built for. The most prolific offense in NFL history was schooled by the fifth-youngest team in NFL history, a team whose quarterback is the shortest in Super Bowl history among active players, and whose coach, Pete Carroll, is the third-oldest coach in the league. The game was the third-coldest Super Bowl in history; the Broncos’ loss was the fifth in the franchise’s history, the most for any NFL team ever. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Seahawks had possession of the ball longer than any team in the history of the Super Bowl: 59 minutes and 48 seconds, out of a 60-minute game (not really, folks, I made that part up. It just seemed that way).

And nobody saw this coming, at least those whose job it is to know these things. With one exception, the Chicago Tribune sportswriters called it for the Broncos. Four out of five of the San Jose Mercury News sports scribes went for Denver too. The puppies at Animal Planet’s 2014 PuppyCam Super Bowl said Denver would win, as did the pups in the similar dash-for-the-dish event on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

Maybe the most aggressively categorical prediction of a Denver win came from The Denver Post’s Woody Paige, dean of Colorado sportswriters. In a pre-game column, Paige enumerated “XLVIII reasons Broncos will win Super Bowl XLVIII.” Have a look if you want to see just how wrong a learned man can be.

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YOU CAN look at Seattle’s victory in a lot of ways. Some will say it was the triumph of the law of averages, but that thoroughly ignores the deep, hard work required to even get to the Super Bowl, much less win the game so resoundingly. The Associated Press said look to the math: “Statistical history favors the tightest defenses in the Super Bowl over the most prolific offenses,” AP reported before the game, in a nod to Seattle’s league-leading defense. Nate Silver, the number-cruncher who correctly predicted the outcome of the 2012 presidential election (which wasn’t that hard to do, frankly), also said the Seahawks would win.

And at the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia (channel 3), Prediction Machine’s Predictalator got granular and ran a pre-game simulation of 50,000 Super Bowl scenarios, and came up with the most likely expected score: Seahawks 24, Broncos 21. Seattle won in 54.8 percent of the simulations, the station reported.

This predicted victory of numbers and history over passion and fan juju is a more data-driven way of saying what Seahawks fans had taken as a truth unrevealed all season long: the Seahawks would be there at the end, the last team standing. The team had done the hard work, season after season. They put the pieces together, and they prepared. The law of averages favors the above average. It was their turn, for all the right reasons.

◊ ◊ ◊

Why’d the hierophants of the sports world get it so wrong? Mostly, they weren’t paying attention. It’s ironic that, in an age of digital communication and a shrinking nation, Seattle as a city is still perceived as “out there,” on the fringes, at the periphery, thanks in no small part to its status as a secondary media market (relative to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco).

But also, their bets on the game’s outcome were so much dynastic wishful thinking. The assumption was that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would be the field general he’s been before; that he’d join his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, to form the only Super Bowl-winning sibling QB combination in NFL history; that the Seahawks would freeze up in this appearance in the national spotlight, performance anxiety taking over; and that the most potent offense in the history of the league would convincingly do what a great offense does.

Well, heads was tails on Sunday night. For Seattle, the Super Bowl win is at least a temporary vindication, an unassailable loft into the stratosphere of the national consciousness. Winning the Super Bowl returns the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to the western half of the United States for the first time since 1999 (when the Broncos last won it all) — a bit of comfort for anyone who gets tired of East Coast-centric weather forecasters whose bodies block out the states west of the Mississippi River while they routinely report on the weather conditions east of the Mississippi River.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the unstoppable force and the immovable object were pretty much the same thing. As a result, the national referents for your Emerald City (Boeing, Starbucks, Nirvana. End of story.) have grown by one. Eli — along with Pancake the prognosticating pig at the Fort Worth Zoo, Fred the Psychic Bunny, Teddy Bear the Porcupine, and Hugh, a manatee at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida — sets up shop in Vegas.

And from now on, it won’t be so hard for pro football fans to find Seattle on an NFL championship-winner’s map anymore.

Image credits: Super Bowl XLVIII images: © 2014 NBC/NFL. Seattle Seahawks logo: © 2014 Seattle Seahawks. Eli: AP/Hogle Zoo. 12th Man flag on Space Needle: KING5.

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