Super Bowl XLVIII: Legacy Watch for Title Game's Key Players

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII: Legacy Watch for Title Game's Key Players

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    The biggest entertainment event in the country is set to take place outdoors in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday at 6:25 p.m. ET.

    The Super Bowl's main players are certainly fired up and hell-bent on writing out their NFL story, complete with triumph and glory. The Super Bowl is the ultimate contest with regard to forging a legacy that can stand the test of time.

    Lose, and these key players may never be able to shake the defeat and agony of coming so close just to fail while the world watches. Win, and the football gods will hoist you atop NFL royalty. 

    Find out what each key player stands to gain and lose with their legacy in the frigid temperatures of a New Jersey winter. 

Peyton Manning

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    If Super Bowl hardware is a big component to a quarterback’s legacy, then Peyton Manning suddenly falls into the same class as guys like Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Joe Flacco.

    Even his younger brother Eli has one more Super Bowl championship than he does. Yes, that is the same Eli Manning who has a career passer rating of 81.2, the same player who threw 27 interceptions in 2013, the same guy who has a career completion rate of 58.5 percent.

    Meanwhile, Peyton has a career passer rating of 97.2 and a career completion percentage of 65.5.

    Yet even with such a great statistical divide between these two brothers, Eli has a playoff record of 8-3 in 10 NFL seasons, while Peyton’s postseason record is 11-11 (including his two wins this season) in 15 NFL seasons.

    This essentially means that Peyton can’t even claim all bragging rights within his immediate family, let alone every quarterback to ever strap it up on Sundays. At least one more Super Bowl victory will mean a tremendous amount to one of the greatest to ever play the game.

    Furthermore, if he wins in New York against the Seahawks, he’ll get to add the distinction of being the second-oldest quarterback to ever start and win a Super Bowl in NFL history.

Russell Wilson

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    Well, it didn’t take long for second-year quarterback Russell Wilson to make his first Super Bowl appearance. The future is obviously bright for this underdog-turned-burgeoning star. 

    When it comes to legacies, there’s no game that carries more weight than the Super Bowl. Wilson has the rare opportunity to take out one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

    These two men could not be entering this game with more divergent backgrounds. Wilson was an afterthought coming out of college after measuring under 6'0". Manning, on the other hand, was one of the more highly touted quarterbacks from day one as a pro and towers over the line at 6'5".

    Wilson loves to run, Manning can barely move. Wilson is at the beginning of his career at 25 years old, while Manning is more than a decade his senior at 37. 

    But Wilson is indeed writing his own history. Dan Marino made it to the Super Bowl his second year and never returned again. Could this be the fate of Mr. Wilson?

    It’s important that Wilson realizes just how difficult it is to make it to the Super Bowl. He won't need to put up huge numbers to win with the defense and running game behind him, but will he be able to make plays downfield with his arm while standing in the pocket?

Wes Welker

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    There wasn’t much expectation surrounding Wes Welker as he looked to make the transition from Texas Tech to the pros.

    When draft day came, every single team in the NFL passed on this 5’9”, 190-pound kid who ran a 4.61 40-yard dash. The undrafted Welker eventually stuck on the Miami Dolphins, primarily as a kick and punt returner.

    The Patriots saw something they liked in Welker, and he put up six huge seasons in New England, topping 1,000 yards receiving five times. After six years and 672 catches as a Patriot, Welker packed his bags and headed to the Denver Broncos after the two sides couldn't work out a new contract. 

    Despite years of elite production from Welker, he and the Patriots were never able to close out the year with a Super Bowl victory. The team certainly deemed him as a "system" wide receiver under Hall of Famer Tom Brady, and you can bet he will have that on his mind Sunday. 

    Welker’s legacy is that of ambiguity. There’s no real gauge on just how good he really is, although his talent is unmistakable.

    The last time Welker played in a Super Bowl, he was widely criticized for dropping a key 2nd-and-11 pass late in the fourth quarter versus the New York Giants. 

    There’s no room for him to have a poor outing against Seattle. His greatness and perception as a clutch player will hinge upon this final showdown against the best secondary in the NFL.

Marshawn Lynch

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The heart of Seattle’s offense is none other than Beast Mode himself.

    This hard-nosed running back has only one gear, and it’s a gear that may shorten his longevity given the brutal nature in which he takes and delivers punishment. Yet somehow, perhaps with Skittles, Marshawn Lynch keeps right on truckin'.

    In seven years, Lynch has amassed 7,389 yards rushing while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. His iconic legacy moment is still the incredible run he had in a Wild Card Game against the Saints in 2011.

    Perhaps he can trump that run with another performance in what will be the biggest game of his life. 

    Lynch is able to create plays with a unique combination of power and elusiveness. What better stage than the Super Bowl for this introverted star to take command of the spotlight. It’s nice to see a player who elects to do his talking with his play on the field.

Champ Bailey

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    When you talk about Champ Bailey, you talk about a cornerback who has been the hallmark of consistency—a true champion of attrition.

    This 12-time Pro Bowler has been shutting down receivers with uncanny athletic ability and impeccable concentration since 1999, yet this will be his first Super Bowl appearance. 

    The Hall of Fame-caliber corner is one interception away from tying Deion Sanders’ career number (53) and two away from Darrell Green (54). Both are Hall of Famers, and both are Super Bowl champions.

    He's a seven-time All-Pro, is on the 2000s all-decade team and is a member of the Broncos' 50th anniversary team. 

    A Super Bowl ring could be the clincher for Bailey’s claim to Canton, Ohio. Consider this the final chapter in the 35-year-old's fantastic career.  

Richard Sherman

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Richard Sherman has been anything but the soft-spoken type.

    From the moment he arrived on the scene, Sherman had a chip on his shoulder the size of Godzilla. After being drafted in the fifth round and passed up by everyone several times, he set out to prove to the world that he was by far the best cornerback in the 2011 draft.

    When he spoke with Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver, he had this to say:

    Some of those guys who got drafted [ahead of me], I was like, "Wow, this is ridiculous." I thought, "What's the point of playing good ball if it doesn't matter?" By the time the fifth round rolled around, the damage was done. I was like, "When I get to the NFL, I'm gonna destroy the league, as soon as they give me the chance." And that's what I've been doing ever since.

    As Sherman’s career unfolds, the legacy he’s cementing is one that will be difficult to quantify by normal football measures. His is a personality and intellect that transcends the football field, yet his play between the lines is equally spectacular. 

    Of all the characters in the NFL, none are as well-suited for the villain role as Sherman is. His intelligence is well-documented off the field, but he’s also a guy who knows exactly how to get under the skin of his opponents with his constant jabbering and insults.

    In his maiden Super Bowl, he will have ample opportunity to build his legacy against the best offense in NFL history. If Sherman can shut down the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, he may end up with the first postgame Super Bowl interview angrily yelling that he’s going to Disney World.

Demaryius Thomas

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Demaryius Thomas is quickly putting together an impressive postseason resume.

    In just four seasons, the 26-year-old has been to the playoffs in three consecutive years. But Thomas doesn’t just appear in the playoffshe dominates.

    In only five postseason appearances, Thomas has racked up 522 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He is by far the most dangerous player on the Broncos roster not named Peyton Manning.

    That is in line with his gaudy regular-season numbers. In 2013, he had 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns. The year prior, he had 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 scores. 

    At 6’3” and 230 pounds, this mammoth receiver has the added advantage of being one the fastest players on the field any given Sunday. He can add to his accomplishments versus the imposing Seahawks defense. 

Earl Thomas

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Although Richard Sherman grabs the headlines, Earl Thomas is arguably just as valuable a member of this defense.

    Thomas is one of the most instinctive players on the field and plays the game with a rare combination of reckless abandon and intelligent decision-making. He is already considered one of the best safeties in the NFL and is in the prime of his career at 24 years old, as noted by ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha:

    Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has talked so much -- and so continually -- this week that many people have ignored some of the more interesting subplots of Super Bowl XLVIII.

    One is that it's highly unlikely that Denver quarterback Peyton Manning will spend the bulk of his time challenging a talented defender like Sherman. Manning didn't get this far in his career by being reckless or dumb.

    However, how Manning fares against Sherman's less bombastic teammate, free safety Earl Thomas, is a more fascinating angle to ponder as this game nears.

    If Seattle can lock down Peyton Manning and co., the defense will be remembered as a dominating unit, much like Ray Lewis' 2000 Ravens team. 

    This defense is certainly worthy of being in the Super Bowl, and Thomas is a huge part of its success. Legends are made in games like these.