EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They were by no means fighting words. They were discarded by most of the world by Wednesday in favor of seasick football player stories and talk of medicinal marijuana. But this is what happens when you go up against the Legion of Boom, a group of hungry young defensive backs that feeds off the slightest slight: It remembers everything.
On Monday, Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas was asked about the physicality of the Seattle Seahawks secondary, and Thomas said it didn't bother him because he likes getting hit. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor took note of this comment -- and waited.
Six days later, in the opening minutes of Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning found Thomas on a crossing route, and Chancellor hit him. Hard.
He jolted Thomas, knocked the 6-foot-3, 229-pound receiver back 5 yards. The hit was felt all the way across the Hudson River and set the tone for a game that Seattle's defense dominated in a stunning and gritty 43-8 victory. The Seahawks forced four turnovers, scored on an interception return by Malcolm Smith and were bold enough to believe, for much of the game, that they could shut out one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL.
Chancellor told his teammates before the game that he wanted to send a message to the Broncos, and to Thomas in particular. Chancellor, mind you, is one of the quieter members of the Seahawks' secondary.
"He wanted to make a point to get an opportunity to make a play on him," Seattle cornerback Walter Thurmond said.
"He just wanted to go out there and be physical. That's just Kam in general. Kam wants to hit anything that's moving."
This secondary was put together unconventionally, with bigger bodies and guys who plummeted in the draft, and it was the brainchild of the Seahawks front office and coach Pete Carroll. Chancellor met Carroll on the field after the game, and Carroll, soaked in Gatorade, hugged his safety and put his hand on his head. Chancellor told Carroll he loved him.
In the team's final meeting Saturday night, Carroll told his players that if they won Sunday, everybody was staying up all night to celebrate. No one was going to sleep.
And Chancellor was so confident, he never used the word "if." He envisioned a game like this, even though it was Peyton Manning, even though this was supposed to be a classic Super Bowl matchup. If Chancellor could go from the 133rd pick in the 2010 draft to the Super Bowl, if he could go from obscurity to being one of the most feared tacklers in the NFL, why couldn't they blow the Broncos out?
Chancellor is known as the team's enforcer, a safety with a linebacker's body and an undrafted free agent's resolve. Even Seattle general manager John Schneider jokes that he's afraid of standing next to Chancellor with his pads off.
The Broncos were rattled after Chancellor's first-quarter hit. Manning threw an interception on the next possession, to Chancellor.
"He does that all the time," Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell said of Chancellor's early intimidation. "When somebody comes across the middle … I remember at the Rams game he lifted somebody up off of their feet. It's just one of those things. He's crazy. I want to say he's like a loose pit bull running out there. You don't know what he's going to do.
"He's going to attack. He's a tone setter. Physically, he hits. That's who I look to when it comes to setting the tone and being physical."
The Seahawks' day started out like every other Sunday. They ate their normal breakfast -- omelets, potatoes, bacon and smoothies -- and did a walk-through Sunday morning in a giant ballroom at their team hotel. It would be the same room in which they'd celebrate their championship late Sunday night.
On the field, Sunday night wasn't much different than any practice. They flew around, they laughed and they hit people. They had a blast.
"Practice is just like a game to us," Chancellor said. "If any of you guys ever come out to practice, you would be like, 'Man, these guys are crazy.' We practice just like a game. The intensity, the competiveness, just the energy. Practice is just the same as a game to us, and it carries over to the games and it showed today."
Chancellor walked out of the postgame news conference with a scuffed-up jersey. He talked about his hometown of Norfolk, Va., surveyed the scene and then walked out of a tent and into the night. He was going to celebrate. He was going to stay up all night.