XLVIII could be the greatest one of all

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People kept asking you to measure the failures and successes of Super Bowl week, of the gamble on a market split by tunnels and bridges that don't need a bogus traffic study to create an apocalyptic jam.

Did it make sense to go this way in a cold-weather region? Did your average New Yorker really want this? Will the NFL come back? Will the league ever put this wintertime event in harm's way again?

Only here are two truths often lost in the conversation: (1) The game itself will answer a lot of questions, (2) the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have a chance here to deliver the greatest Super Bowl of them all.

Yes, I suppose you can say that about any matchup in the days and hours leading up to it, but how often does the Super Bowl pit the most prolific offense in NFL history against the league's No. 1 defense?

How often is the central figure in the drama -- in this case Peyton Manning -- in position to claim the unofficial title of all-time best quarterback? And how often does that central figure play in the building owned by his kid brother, himself a two-time Super Bowl MVP and a one-time champ in his older brother's building?

Of course, the setting doesn't hurt. To paraphrase one of the Hoboken-born locals: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

It's easier to be the greatest this or that in New York, even when New York becomes East Rutherford, N.J. Manning is smart enough to know this, too. Even though he wanted to talk about his legacy this week as much as Marshawn Lynch wanted to talk, period, Peyton understands the magnitude of this opportunity.

If he beats that defensive backfield at his age (37), after four neck surgeries, to become the first quarterback to win Super Bowl rings with different franchises, wow, what a defining statement that would be.

This is a different Peyton Manning, too. He's not the player he was last season, the Denver recruit who was "still in shock" -- John Elway's words -- over being fired by the franchise he put on the map, the Indianapolis Colts. Manning is no longer the quarterback who threw that killer interception against the soon-to-be world champion Baltimore Ravens, no longer the quarterback who felt like a tourist lost somewhere in the Rockies.

"Last year, I felt like a visitor the entire time," Manning said. "The locker was just kind of mine for these couple of months. It wasn't the Broncos. The Broncos made me feel as welcome as they could.

"You [still] feel like an outsider. It's probably because I was entrenched in one organization for so long. You can't just transition right away. This year, I can't tell you how much more comfortable I feel."

Manning has told us with his right arm. He threw for a record 55 touchdown passes and a record 5,477 yards while his Broncos became the first team to score 600 or more points, numbers that won him his fifth league MVP award.

Meanwhile, he knows he's never faced a secondary as talented and opportunistic as this one, a secondary featuring a cover man ( Richard Sherman), a hitter ( Kam Chancellor) and a ball hawk ( Earl Thomas). Sherman was right when he said Manning has a tendency to throw fluttering ducks, and Manning was right to say those fluttering ducks often land in his receivers' hands in the end zone.

It was good copy that only threw a brighter spotlight on the special offense-versus-special defense reality of Denver-Seattle.

"Their intelligence, their ability to play together and communicate, that shows up just on the game film alone," Manning said of the Seahawks. "I certainly know that will carry over when you actually get to play against them."

Let's all hope so, for the sake of a classic confrontation at MetLife Stadium. And it's high time to get to the blocking and the tackling, the passing and the receiving, if only because the overriding narrative so far has been about everything but.

The NFL was blitzed from all sides on the decision to go outdoors in the cold, yet it made sense to try this once, and to try it in New York, on Broadway, where outside-the-box thinking is encouraged on a nightly basis.

The hassles were there this week if you confronted the Holland Tunnel traffic, Jersey side, on the way to the Denver and Seattle hotels in Jersey City, and they were there in and around Times Square. But those hassles were manageable, and the ultimate nightmare scenario -- confronting a blizzard -- is a possibility no more, as the temperature might be a tad warmer than it was for the coldest outdoor Super Bowl in 1972, when Dallas managed the conditions (39 degrees at kickoff) better than Miami did at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

Maybe that's why Don Shula thought the site of Super Bowl XLVIII was a mistake. Other observers had other reasons, including the New Jerseyans who felt big-footed by the big city that claimed all the pregame parties and hype.

For starters, Governor Christie appears to have bigger problems than worrying about the way this event has been packaged and sold to the public. As for the Garden State officials and residents feeling left out, hey, the city had to be the centerpiece of the winning bid. The only reason the game is being played in New Jersey is the stadium's proximity to New York.

For the Manhattanites put out by all the skyward-gazing out-of-towners bumping into them, here's the thing: If you want to be considered the greatest city in the world, you do occasionally have to share your city with the world.

It's pretty much worked out so far, pending the potential for traffic horror stories to come on the road to MetLife. But chances are, this Super Bowl will be remembered for what the Broncos and Seahawks do tonight, and not for what the elected and credentialed critics did and said all week long.

If a contrast in styles indeed makes fights, Denver-Seattle could be Ali-Frazier, precision and finesse against power and tenacity. It could top the Giants over the Patriots in Arizona, the Rams over the Titans in Atlanta, the Giants over the Bills in Tampa, Fla., Joe Montana's Niners over the Bengals in Miami and Joe Namath's Jets over the Colts in the same town.

So enough about the weather and the traffic. Enough about Sherman talking too much and Lynch not talking enough.

A New York/New Jersey Super Bowl was always a good idea. By late tonight, Peyton Manning's offense and the Seattle Seahawks' defense could make this one of the best ideas the NFL ever had.

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