EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If Super Bowls are about legacies, how’s this one fit?
Defense still in fact wins championships — even against arguably the best quarterback of all time in inarguably the best season ever by a quarterback.
Peyton Manning owns the regular season. But he was no match for Malcolm Smith and the Seahawks’ unrelenting defense when it mattered most.
Smith, Seattle’s anonymous linebacker, returned an interception for a touchdown and also recovered a fumble to spur the swaggering Seahawks’ 43-8 beatdown of the Broncos in Super Bowl 48.
His reward: the Super Bowl MVP award, becoming just the third linebacker to win that honor.
“No way,” Smith said, when asked if he thought that this was possible. “I’m just here to represent the defense. … [Sunday night] was my turn, and I’m here, but it’s definitely on behalf of them.”
And because of them, the Seahawks are champions for the first time after 37 years of futility. As for the Broncos, it was the latest chapter in a largely fruitless history:
They’ve now lost in the Super Bowl five times — more than any other franchise.
And like two of those previous setbacks, this one was in humiliating fashion.
Their 35-point drubbing will join 42-10 and 55-10 in the annals of all-time title-game skunk jobs.
As for Manning, he had hoped to cement his legacy and become the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two teams. Instead, his more malicious critics who believe his Super Bowl 41 title was the exception, and not the rule, will have fresh fodder.
Manning, to put it kindly, stunk. His 34 completions were a Super Bowl record — and yet completely irrelevant.
Far more important: the two interceptions he offered up, the fumble he lost and the ugly 5.7 yards-per-attempt he managed.
“This is disappointing for our entire team,” said Manning, who is now 1-2 in Super Bowls. “We worked hard to get to this part, overcame a lot of hurdles to get here. But certainly, to finish this way is very disappointing. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but eventually we have to.”
Said Broncos coach John Fox, when asked about Manning’s doubters: “I can’t really say it out loud. Ludicrous would probably be the proper English.”
Still, no one could argue that something was amiss on this night.
Most everything Denver had in the passing game was underneath. Seattle’s famed Legion of Boom ensured that. Kam Chancellor set the tone early when he rattled Demaryius Thomas’ fillings on a crossing route. Chancellor later corralled an interception on a plain awful overthrow by Manning.
It was clear from literally the opening snap that Denver, which prides itself on preparation, was out to lunch. While going through his presnap protection calls, Manning fooled his center, Manny Ramirez.
The shotgun exchange came before Manning was ready, went over his head, rolled backward some 15 yards and resulted in a safety. The play came just 12 seconds into the game, making it the quickest score in the Super Bowl’s nearly five decades.
And, ironically, it was only the eighth- or ninth-worst thing to go wrong for the Broncos on the night.
Smith, the 24-year-old linebacker who played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC, was a major reason why.
With the MVP award, Smith now is one up on his brother Steve Smith, the receiver who won a title with the Giants six years ago.
But he was just one of many unexpected heroes for Seattle.
Another one: Percy Harvin, the former Florida Gator who has a gimpy hip and a recent history of concussions.
As for his will? Never stronger.
After a season spent mostly on the shelf, Harvin looked out-of-the-box fresh on the game’s grandest stage Sunday.
Harvin’s second-half-opening, afterburner-firing, 87-yard kickoff return turned a Seattle rout into a laugher.
Then there’s Russell Wilson, who becomes just the second black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. (The other: Doug Williams with the Redskins 26 years ago.)
Wilson completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback of the heralded class of 2012 to raise the Lombardi Trophy.
“The thing you want to do at the end of the season is play your best football,” Wilson said. “We did that [Sunday night].”
Then there’s arguably the longest shot of them all: Carroll, who many believed could never win at this level after failing with the Jets and the Patriots.
Now he’s just the third coach to ever win both a college football national title and a Super Bowl title.
“This is an amazing team,” Carroll said. “These guys started a long time ago. It took four years to get to this point. We never took a step sideways or backwards. These guys would not take anything but winning this ball game.”