By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks won their National Football League conference championships in brilliant style on Sunday to set up a historic Super Bowl between the top two ranked teams in the United States.
The Broncos, led by their unflappable quarterback Peyton Manning, beat the New England Patriots 26-16 in Colorado to make it to their first Super Bowl in 15 years.
The Seahawks overturned a 10-0 deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in Washington state and advance to the NFL’s title game for just the second time in the franchise’s history.
“This feels even sweeter,” said Seattle owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. “What an amazing job in a super tough game.”
The two teams will meet in the 48th Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on Feb. 2 in a game that has all the makings of a classic with the Broncos boasting the best offense in the league and the Seahawks the best defense.
The Broncos will be appearing in the Super Bowl for the seventh time, one less than the record jointly shared by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, and chasing their third win after back-to-back victories in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Manning played in two Super Bowls with his former team the Indianapolis Colts, tasting success in the 2006 season, and has the chance to win a second ring at age 37 after another masterful display against the Patriots and his old rival Tom Brady.
“Well, it’s an exciting feeling,” he said.
“You do take a moment to realize that we’ve done something special here and you certainly want to win one more.”
Manning broke the record for the most touchdown passes in a regular season with 55 strikes and continued his devastating form against the Patriots, completing 32-of-43 passes for 400 yards and touchdowns to Jacob Tamme and Demaryius Thomas.
Brady threw one touchdown pass and rushed for another but was unable to prevent his team from suffering another agonizing loss.
Although New England has been the dominant force in the NFL for the past decade and a half, winning three titles between the 2001 and 2004 seasons, the Patriots have lost their last two Super Bowl appearances and have now lost the last two AFC Championship games.
“It’s tough to get to this point, two weeks from now there’s only one team that’s going to win that game and that’s a tough one to win,” Brady said.
“Anytime you come up short of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s not a great feeling but I’m proud of our team and the way we fought.”
HOPES DASHED AGAIN
The 49ers were also cursing their postseason ill-fortune.
Beaten by the New York Giants in the NFC title game two years ago, then by the Baltimore Ravens in last season’s Super Bowl, the Niners still had a chance to beat the Seahawks.
But their hopes were dashed when Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted a pass from San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick with just 22 seconds left on the clock.
“I didn’t play good enough to win,” said a dejected Kaepernick.
“I turned the ball over three times, I cost us this game.”
Seattle trailed 17-10 in the third quarter but piled on 13 unanswered points to seal the win, highlighted by a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse in the final quarter.
“This team was ready to finish,” said Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
“We knew we weren’t in the lead but that didn’t matter.
“They were going to go out and get it done no matter what it took.”
SUPER BOWL TURNS SPOTLIGHT ON NEW JERSEY
By Victoria Cavaliere
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) – When New Jersey steps into the spotlight next month to host its first Super Bowl, it hopes to alter its international reputation beyond stereotypes from TV shows such as mob drama “The Sopranos” and the vapid 20-somethings of “Jersey Shore.”
One problem for the state, which has long lived in the shadow of its superstar neighbor New York, is that the new MetLife Stadium, site of the Feb. 2 National Football League championship game, is in an industrial area that belies New Jersey’s designation as “The Garden State.”
Officials in East Rutherford, some 10 miles west of New York City, will roll out the red carpet for an expected 400,000 visitors, with economic activity forecast at $500 million.
“New Jersey has been fighting a negative stereotype for a long, long time,” said Michael Rockland, a professor of New Jersey history at Rutgers University. It “was kind of the national joke there for a while, with a reputation for corruption, being called the armpit of America.”
New Jersey is a state of contrasts. Home to the largest number of Superfund toxic waste sites in the country, it also takes pride in 120 miles of shoreline – some of which is still recovering from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 – and about 15 percent of its land is freshwater wetlands.
The state was at the forefront of the 19th century American industrial revolution, and its major cities remain dotted with long-abandoned warehouses and smokestacks.
It is home as well to some of America’s wealthiest communities, including the borough of Alpine, with a median home price of $4.5 million, the most expensive in the country, real estate experts say.
Many of the residents who live in New Jersey’s toniest areas commute to New York City for work, and the state has been seen as an annex of its more famous neighbor. In fact, two sports teams that call MetLife Stadium home are, in name, from New York – the Giants and Jets.
East Rutherford, where the new stadium was completed in 2010, might not put the state’s best face forward.
“People coming to New Jersey for the Super Bowl are basically seeing the ugliest part of the state,” Rockland said.
SPRUCING UP THE AREA
One of the first orders of business is to ready the 82,500-seat stadium for the game, with thousands of workers upgrading security, building a new broadcast center and creating decorations for the two competing teams, the NFL said.
With an expected attendance of nearly a half million, local officials have spent months making preparations to handle crowds moving between New York City and the stadium area.
“Every Super Bowl is different,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. “The stadiums for the last two Super Bowls, New Orleans and Indianapolis, were in a downtown city setting. But previous Super Bowls were held in somewhat similar situations as this year.”
As the stadium undergoes its facelift, officials are also sprucing up the surrounding area, long dominated by a megamall that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie once called “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America.”
The American Dream project, formerly called Xanadu, stands out with its blue, white and orange rectangular facade, evoking the towers of shipping containers at New Jersey’s cargo ports.
Dogged for a decade by funding problems, it will remain vacant on game day although Christie has supported its completion, saying it will bring thousands of jobs.
“It’s going to be an embarrassment,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, which promotes environmental conservation. “Everyone who shows up for the Super Bowl from all over the world is going to look at that thing, scratch their heads and try to figure out what it is.”
“American Dream is under construction,” said Alan Marcus, a mall project spokesman who called the criticism “absolutely unfair.”
New Jersey tourism officials said they are ready for the influx of visitors, emphasizing that the state “has plenty to offer, from historic sites and national parks to world-class entertainment, resorts and gaming in Atlantic City.”
But however much they polish it up, the area around the stadium will still remind visitors of New Jersey’s industrial heritage, said Rutgers’ Rockland.
“We aren’t the Garden State,” he said. “We might have been during the 19th Century but we then became one of the most industrial states in the whole country. The Garden State idea is a total misnomer.”
SUPER BOWL TICKETS: A HOT ITEM FOR A COLD GAME
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tickets to the National Football League’s first cold-weather Super Bowl are a hot item, with some climate-controlled suites in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium priced at $1 million.
Following Sunday’s conference championships that set up a Denver-Seattle Super Bowl on February 2, the average resale price of tickets on secondary markets was $3,721, the highest figure in five years of tracking, according to SeatGeek (seatgeek.com).
No single ticket on the secondary market had sold for under $2,000, a price that was 33 percent more than what the cheapest ticket sold for on conference championship Sunday during each of the past three NFL playoffs, the website said.
Face value of individual Super Bowl tickets ranges from $1,000-$2,600.
For high-rollers, one suite on the Commissioner’s Level of MetLife Stadium, the shared home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, is listed for $1.019 million. The same luxury suite for an entire Giants or Jets regular season sells for $350,000.
There were more than 12,000 tickets listed on secondary markets as of late Sunday, representing roughly 15 percent of the capacity at MetLife Stadium.
Ticket broker Lance Patania told New Jersey’s Star Ledger newspaper that he expected a busy market immediately following the conference title games as fans of the winning teams react.
Patania, who buys and sells between 200 and 300 tickets for each Super Bowl, said the game’s location, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is a key factor in interest for the event despite the likelihood of wintry weather.
“The game is really insignificant,” Patania said. “Everything leading up to the game is what the whole experience is about.
“And New York has shopping, and Broadway. There’s hockey and basketball. There are a million things to do.”