It’s 6:33 PM local time on February 2nd, 2014. Peyton Manning has three receivers bunched to his left, Julius Thomas is down to his right, and alongside him stands Knowshon Moreno.
The fiercest creation the NFL has seen since Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan’s Bears stood a few yards before him, waiting to pounce.
You know what happened next.
It’s the most famous botched snap in Super Bowl history. The first two points of Super Bowl XLVIII stood for what the Seattle Seahawks had been building for years. A defence so dominant, that it struck fear in even the most unflappable of NFL veterans.
That veteran never recovered on the night. The first play was just page one of a painful story that never seemed to end for the Denver Broncos. What followed, from Malcolm Smith’s pick six to the late strip sack with the game already well out of reach, are the crowning images in franchise history. This historic defence gave the Seahawks their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, and left footprints on this league that will be here long after its members have gone their separate ways.
With Michael Bennett being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and Richard Sherman now a San Francisco 49er, it seems like the writing is on the wall for the Legion of Boom. Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor are both dealing with serious injuries and both K.J. Wrigh and Earl Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after next season.
Calling this the death of the Seahawks is premature. Russell Wilson is still there.
There’s a certain aura about the ’85 Bears. This team full of swagger with a thunderous defence that obliterated everything in its path en route to their first Super Bowl. A unit that only allowed opposing offenses to score more than 10 points in five of their 19 games, including the postseason. For a long time, they were the standard. The Legion of Boom not only raised the bar on elite defences in the NFL, but also blew it away in terms of how they were assembled.
On the opening snap of their 43-8 Super Bowl triumph, eight of the 11 Seahawks on the field were either drafted no earlier than the fourth round, or went undrafted. And to throw two more hats in the ring, Jeremy Lane was not on the field for the bad snap, but he was a sixth round pick who played 14 snaps on the night, and eventual Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was a late seventh rounder, with just 11 players between him and Mr. Irrelevant.
The players and where they were picked Seattle had has been covered nine ways to Sunday. Chancellor and the undisputed best cornerback in the game Sherman were both fifth round picks in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Byron Maxwell, while never grabbing the headlines as others did, was a sixth rounder and was on the field for every single defensive snap in Super Bowl XLVIII.
When you place teams in context for where they stand in the history of the sport, it’s about how they changed the game.
These Seahawks did not have the long term, sustained success of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers or even Bill Belichick’s Patriots in the modern era, but at their peak, the consistent home run hitting on late round draft picks set a blueprint for the rest of the NFL on how to win. But what makes their success so remarkable is that while everybody knows what to do, none have done it as well as the Seahawks since.
The Jaguars have been on a similar path in recent years. The defensive coordinator behind Seattle’s run, Dan Quinn, has since left for Atlanta and instantly tried to replicate the Seattle model. His team came within a whisker of doing so in 2016. The jury is still out on whether Jacksonville or Atlanta can reach the ultimate height the Legion of Boom did.
From owner Paul Allen down to John Schneider and of course Pete Carroll, this entire front office etched their names into NFL lore in a way few others who only won one Super Bowl have.
But the greatest lasting legacy of this collection of players is putting Seattle on the NFL map. Pre Legion of Boom, there was almost nothing about the Seahawks that you could say was permanently woven into the fabric of the NFL.
The Seahawks are not a member of the NFL’s old guard, coming into the league as an expansion team in 1976. There are no tales from before the merger. Only four players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame played the majority of their career in Seattle. In 1983, they went to Miami and dumped Dan Marino’s Dolphins out of the playoffs with ten unanswered fourth quarter points. That comeback stands as one of just three-road playoff wins in franchise history.
The other two were both courtesy of the Legion of Boom.
They went two whole decades, from 1985-2004 without a playoff win. Even in their trip to Super Bowl XL, they ended up playing second fiddle to the storyline of Jerome Bettis winning it all in his final game.
It’s fitting that the team of players that came next was nicknamed the Legion of Boom. The title was certainly appropriate for the hard hits and destruction caused by the defense. But on a deeper level, the Seahawks lacked something they could hold onto in NFL history.
And then Sherman, Bennett, Chancellor, Thomas, Wagner, Wright, Avril, and company blew that up.
These names put Seattle on the map. They brought their city and region together to form the most hostile environment in sports. From 2012-2017, the Seahawks went 40-10 at home including the postseason, including a stretch of 28 games within those 50 were they were a staggering 26-2 at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks won’t fall off the face of the Earth. They’ll continue to do what got them this far with carefully measured drafting. Chancellor, a pillar of the defence, is still under contract for three more seasons, and will be valuable if he gets healthy. The sky is not completely falling but in terms of this group of players and what they meant to NFL history, I think it’s safe to say the last chapter of the story has been penned.
They set the gold standard on how to scout players and develop late round talent. They carried themselves with the confidence that no matter who they played and where they played, they would win. Their run at the top of the NFL was one of the most breathtaking in league history.
They were the Legion of Boom.