EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin didn't win the most valuable player award in Super Bowl XLVIII, but he did make the most valuable play. It came at the start of the third quarter, when he fielded a short kickoff by Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater and settled his eyes on his opponents. Within seconds, Harvin had raced right, cut upfield and exploded through the middle of Denver's coverage unit. In the process, he stole whatever remnants of hope the Broncos still clung to in a game they would eventually lose by the shocking score of 43-8.
That 87-yard kick return didn't just enable the Seahawks to take a 29-0 lead at that point. It also validated everything Harvin was supposed to be for Seattle this season. This is a man who was limited to 19 plays during the regular season because of preseason hip surgery, and he was unable to finish Seattle's NFC divisional playoff win over the New Orleans Saints because of a concussion. Until he devastated the Broncos on Sunday night, it seemed as if Harvin wouldn't be nearly worth the six-year, $67 million and three draft picks Seattle gave up to acquire him in a trade in March.
Now we know differently. It didn't matter so much that Harvin missed the bulk of this season. He was there when his teammates needed him most, and he left the impression that plenty more great moments lie ahead in his Seahawks career. "It's a big [monkey] off my back," Harvin said. "I was finally able to give my team something for four quarters. I've leaned on those guys so much that to give back means a lot to me."
Harvin wasn't shy about discussing how much this entire season tested him, both emotionally and mentally. He spent four months watching the Seahawks produce the best record in the NFC, all the while knowing that he could help them do even more. His presence was supposed to open up an offense built around a strong ground game and a rising star quarterback. Harvin arrived in Seattle to be the designated difference-maker, the kind of talent who could blow open a game any time the ball landed in his hands.
That's exactly what Harvin became against Denver. Although he caught just one pass for 5 yards, he added two rushing attempts for a game-high 45 yards. Every time Harvin took a handoff from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on a "jet sweep," he glided around end with the look of a man hell-bent on breaking the Broncos' collective spirit. One of those plays went for 30 yards, the other for 15.
Those two runs foreshadowed Harvin's touchdown in the third quarter. He said Seattle had never run that particular play on such a return -- it was called "counter right" -- and that element of surprise made it more effective. "It was amazing," Harvin said. "Those guys had so much belief in me. Even when I wasn't practicing, those guys were saying, 'You're going to score on this.' And I'm like "I'm not even on the field practicing yet. [Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll] saved that one return for me hoping I would get a look. And it came through."
As much as this contest was about the defensive dominance of Seattle and the flawless execution of Wilson, it was impossible to miss the impact Harvin had beyond his highlights. His mere presence created a sense of dread within the Broncos' defense. Even when he dropped a pass in the first half (on a play that Broncos head coach John Fox challenged for the possibility that it might have been a lateral), there seemed to be a sense of relief along the Denver sideline.
That confirms that Seattle did the right thing in gambling on Harvin during the offseason.
It's no secret that Seattle has built the foundation of its roster through players who either were low-round picks or undrafted. That approach has created a sense of unity and resilience throughout a locker room that prides itself on mental toughness. But no team can thrive solely on the sense that some of its members have been overlooked and ignored. Eventually, you need stars to do what they are so adept at doing.
That's what we saw Sunday night -- someone who plays much bigger than his size and with little concern for how that recklessness could impact his long-term future. The longer Harvin plays in Seattle, the more that attitude will turn him into a fan favorite. He is the lone standout among a group of receivers who are pedestrian at best. The more he settles into the Seahawks' offense, the more that franchise will be thrilled by all the various assets he brings to that organization.
Of course, Harvin wasn't talking much about those possibilities in the wake of Super Bowl XLVIII. He was more interested in discussing the first major sports championship in the Seattle area since the now-defunct Sonics won the NBA title in 1979. "[Winning this championship] means everything," Harvin said. "To be the first team in this organization's history to win it means a lot."
Harvin was more interested in savoring the Seahawks' victory than discussing the future of the NFL's latest champion. The Seahawks look exceptionally dangerous in the coming years, mainly because they have such a young, deep roster. They are even scarier when you consider what Harvin might do over the course of an entire season. At this point, it's difficult to doubt their chances to repeat this scene at next season's Super Bowl in Arizona.
There are several keys to such a scenario playing out, including the team's strategy for locking up young stars such as Wilson, cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas. All three of those players are likely to ask for huge contracts, with Wilson being in the neighborhood of at least $17 million per year. It's the price of winning big with such a young team. It's impossible to keep everybody happy when so much money hangs in the balance.
The great news for the Seahawks is that Harvin is locked up for a long time to come. He's also well aware of what this season could've been had he been healthy for a full 17 weeks. But that's a question Harvin can worry about another day. He was on the field for Seattle when it mattered most this season, and the end result was an effort that easily can be hailed as a suitable return on investment.