A QUARTER century ago I was Russell Wilson: a young QB going to his first Super Bowl. In my case it was XXIII, in Miami. And while some of my teammates had played in the Bengals' previous Big Game, in '82, it was a new deal for most of us, as it is for every Seattle starter. Our opponents back then: the 49ers, led by Joe Montana, who beat us 20--16. You can guess which player I'd compare him to in XLVIII.
While much has changed since 1989, I have a good idea of what Russell and the Seahawks are going through. The distractions are endless. The phone starts ringing the day you win your conference; everyone you've ever met wants tickets. (I must have had 250 to 500 requests.) You suddenly have more off-the-field opportunities than you've ever dreamed of: your agent saying, Wear this logo, say this, and I can get you $50,000. In the two-week span before the game I was a guest veejay on an up-and-coming network called MTV, and I was on the national news talking about the race riots near our team hotel. Different guys react to that pressure in different ways.
Everybody remembers the 49ers' final drive in that game—but I had a unique experience. Before and during that 92-yard march, Disney reps were all over me. I must've practiced saying, "I'm going to Disney World!" 100 times. They even wanted to put makeup on me. But when I turned around after Montana's winning TD pass to John Taylor, they were already running across the field, looking for Jerry Rice. That's how my game ended, and I'd stress this to any young player today. Don't think you'll be back here again. I never was.
And now, here stands Wilson. He's a great kid—polished, poised. I know he's going to handle it perfectly. And I'm sure Pete Carroll is doing his best psych job right now, telling his team that the world believes in Peyton Manning; nobody believes in Seattle. Our coach, Sam Wyche, played that same card with us and Montana.
Indeed, there's no match for Peyton's experience.... Or is there? If the weather is dicey—windy, with precipitation—I'm picking the more defense- and run-oriented team, with Wilson handling his business just fine: Seattle 24--20. If the wind is minimal, though, I'll go with Denver 27--20. Peyton's on a mission, and only Mother Nature can stop him.
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