Despite a 22-point halftime deficit, there was reason to hold out hope for the Denver Broncos—and quarterback Peyton Manning, the all-time leading quarterback in fourth-quarter comebacks—with 30 minutes left to play in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII.
Much of that hope diminished 12 seconds later, after Percy Harvin had returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown.
Harvin, who had played just 39 combined snaps and appeared in just two of Seattle’s first 18 games before Sunday, had as big an impact as anyone.
The Super Bowl’s 30-minute halftime gave the Broncos plenty of time to make adjustments and try to quickly swing the momentum of the game, after a long delay between halves. Any hope of the latter, however, was quickly dissipated by Harvin’s instant score.
It was that ability to turn any touch of the ball into a game-changing play that made the Seahawks trade a first-round pick for him on March 12, 2013.
In his first four NFL seasons, Harvin scored 20 receiving touchdowns, five kickoff return touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns. He was in the NFL’s top 10 all four of those seasons in yards per touch.
On a team that lacked a truly dynamic weapon at wide receiver and kickoff returner, Harvin gave the Seattle offense an instant X-factor.
Except he didn’t. A hip injury kept Harvin out of Seattle’s first 10 games. He finally returned for the Seahawks’ 11th game, which just so happened to be against his former team, but then missed the team’s final five regular-season games.
Because of that, it’s easy to call Seattle’s trade a bust. Had they stayed put, they could have used the No. 25 overall pick on Cordarrelle Patterson, who ended up having a Harvin-like impact for the Vikings (with the No. 29 overall pick they later acquired from the New England Patriots) by rushing 12 times for 158 yards, catching 45 passes for 469 yards and returning 43 kickoffs for 1,393 yards—all for a combined nine touchdowns—in his rookie season.
Despite that, any talk of the trade being a bust should be put to rest after Sunday night.
Seattle’s objective with that trade was the same as it should be any time a team trades a draft pick for a veteran player: Make an acquisition that puts the team in a better position to win a championship.
That’s what Harvin did Sunday.
What happens if Harvin doesn’t return that kickoff for a touchdown? We’ll never know, but maybe the Broncos come up with a big stop. Maybe that gives Peyton Manning and the Denver offense the spark—and the field position—they need to put together a scoring drive. Maybe by cutting the deficit to two scores, the Broncos gain confidence and the Seahawks start to play hesitantly.
Instead, Harvin’s kickoff return had the feel of the proverbial “nail in the coffin.” A game in which nothing had gone right for the Broncos went from bleak to in need of a miracle, and the Seahawks coasted to victory the rest of the way.
If it seems ridiculous to justify the trade of a first-round pick with one play, that wasn’t Harvin’s only contribution of the night. He gained 45 yards off two gadget running plays and caught a five-yard reception to lead all players in the game with 137 all-purpose yards.
Harvin didn’t have a perfect night. A dropped screen pass behind the line of scrimmage wasn’t far from being a fumbled backward pass that could have been returned for a touchdown. But he more than made up for it.
Harvin’s lack of playing time in the first 18 games might have actually been an asset to the Seahawks in this game. It gave Seattle the benefit of an unknown factor, a player on whom the Broncos would not have substantive film to study how the Seahawks would use him in their offense.
Nonetheless, Harvin didn’t do anything Sunday that he wasn’t already known to be capable of when the Seahawks acquired him.
Will Harvin be able to stay healthy enough over the next five years of his contract with Seattle to continue making big plays for the Seahawks offense? We’ll have to wait and see, but when a championship was on the line, he proved to be exactly what the Seahawks thought they were getting.
Any team would give up a first-round pick if it would help them win a championship that year. The Seahawks might have some qualms about owing Harvin more than $62 million over the next five seasons, but that should place no damper on Seattle’s championship celebration.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.