Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium will mark a renewal of sorts. It will be the 54th meeting of all time between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, who used to face each other twice a season when they were both members of the AFC West. Denver leads the head-to-head series, 34-19-0, according to mcubed.net.
It’s not the first time that former division or conference rivals have met in the Super Bowl. Few other Super Bowl opponents, though, have met as often prior to engaging in the “big game at the end” (the original title of the ill-fated XFL's one-and-only championship game).
Seattle and Denver have met just three times in regular-season play since the Seahawks shifted back to the NFC West in 2002, with the Broncos winning twice—but there’s still a lot of history involved between the two clubs. Though each was never the other’s greatest rival, the two teams had more than their share of moments together.
Their history kicked off on Oct. 2, 1977 at the now-demolished Seattle Kingdome, where the Broncos defeated the Seahawks, 24-13, in their inaugural matchup. Craig Morton, who would lead the Broncos to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance after a 12-2 regular season, completed 12-of-18 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown as the Broncos also rolled up 153 yards on the ground and forced three Seattle turnovers.
That first meeting was the only one that season, as the Seahawks played all 13 other AFC opponents that year, and also faced expansion rival Tampa Bay en route to finishing with a 5-9 record.
The following October, the Seahawks would drop both decisions to Denver, and would also come up short in their first encounter of 1978, although the last two losses were each by a field goal. Seattle finally broke through at the Kingdome on Dec. 8, 1979 when it bested the Broncos, 28-23. The Seahawks pulled it out in the fourth quarter on a 43-yard scoring pass from Jim Zorn to Steve Largent.
The two squads would go back and forth over the next few seasons, until the Seahawks finally made their first NFL playoff appearance in 1983 after the clubs split a pair of games in November. In a first-round wild-card game at the Kingdome on Christmas Eve that year, the home team made a bit of its own history in a 31-7 win as Curt Warner rushed for 99 yards. Dave Krieg completed 12 of 13 throws for 300 yards and three scores for the Seahawks in out-dueling Steve DeBerg and some rookie named John Elway.
The Broncos would exact a measure of revenge the following season. After dropping a 27-24 decision to the Seahawks at Mile High Stadium in late November, the season finale in Seattle came down to a winner-takes-all matchup between a pair of 12-3 teams. The Broncos hung a 31-14 loss on the Seahawks, and claimed the AFC West crown. Seattle wouldn’t win the division until 1988 and then once again in 1999 in the Seahawks’ final campaign at the Kingdome.
Elway was retired by then, with Denver’s two Super Bowl triumphs on his résumé. All told, he threw for 7,013 yards and 44 touchdowns in 30 games versus Seattle, while going 20-10 against the Seahawks, according to Seattle p-i.com.
Seattle went a franchise-worst 2-14 in 1992, but the second win came against the Broncos on Monday Night Football on Nov. 30, a 16-13 decision in overtime. It was the last Monday night game the Seahawks played in their original stadium, and was also the night that original play-by-play radio man Pete Gross was inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor, two days before he succumbed to cancer.
The 1998 season also saw Steve Largent’s legendary hit on Denver defensive back Mike Harden on Dec. 11 in a 42-14 Seattle home victory. Largent recovered Harden’s ensuing fumble, while also catching three passes for 76 yards. It was thought to be payback for a Harden hit earlier in the year at Denver that sidelined Largent and also cost him two teeth, according to ESPN.com. The week after the win at the Kingdome, the Seahawks edged the Raiders in Los Angeles to earn their first-ever AFC West title.
When the NFL moved to 32 teams and eight divisions for its 2002 campaign, the Seahawks were the odd man out in the long-time AFC West combo of Denver, Kansas City, Oakland/LA and San Diego that dated back to the old American Football League of the 1960s, even if Seattle had spent a quarter-century in their company.
As it turned out, the NFC West and AFC West were matched against one another that season, and the Broncos recorded a 31-9 decision over the Seahawks at Seahawks Stadium. Seattle would return the favor at Invesco Field at Mile High in 2006 with a 23-20 victory, the season after the Seahawks won their first NFC championship and played in Super Bowl XL, before the Broncos got the best of the Seahawks again in Denver with a 31-14 win in 2010.
The two former division rivals now usually just meet in the preseason, the last one last August at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks racked up a 40-10 decision. Preseason results, though, are usually about as relevant as a high school scrimmage once you get to the playoffs. (Ask the 2008 Detroit Lions, who went 4-0 in preseason play, and then didn't win again until 2009.)
The seasons have gone by, stadiums have been replaced and names like Zorn, Largent, Elway and Harden have given way to the likes of Wilson, Sherman, Manning and Moreno. And two teams from out west will now meet again out east, but with much more at stake.
The Broncos beat the Seahawks in their first-ever meeting. Seattle routed Denver in its first-ever playoff appearance. And now both old rivals are all alone on pro football’s biggest stage, readying for their biggest meeting—with the NFL’s biggest prize looming.