For all the pomp that preceded it, Super Bowl XLVIII was over five minutes after it started. Down 5-0 to the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos stood at their own 38, looking toward the end zone and a third world championship. With one pass, one breakaway run, the AFC champions could snatch back the lead and the momentum.
This trip to sport’s biggest spectacle on February 4, 2014, was something of a fait accompli for Denver, led by arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Peyton Manning. For Seattle, the game offered a chance at redemption—not just for the franchise that had lost its only other Super Bowl, but also for a sports community that until then could be charitably called mediocre.
The Mariners were one of only two baseball franchises to never reach the World Series. The SuperSonics, relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008, won the NBA Finals just once, in 1979. And though the Storm had celebrated two championships in seven years, professional women’s basketball still has yet to gain the respect of the foam finger–wearing public. So when, in early 2014, Seattleites hung 12th Man flags in their cubicles, painted their nails blue and green, and wore football jerseys to formal dinners, they weren’t just repping the local NFL team; they were pledging allegiance to a city reborn through sports.
As Manning barked out Omaha! on second down, Kam Chancellor prowled Seattle’s defensive backfield. While his brother in the Legion of Boom, Richard Sherman, stole headlines with his mouthy charisma and ball hawking skills, Chancellor was a silent enforcer, a totem of intimidation in the Seahawks’ badass, bone-rattling defense that spent the season busting up running backs and notions of Seattle as a refuge for latte sippers and light-averse bro coders.
The play was over as soon as it began. Denver’s Demaryius Thomas barely started across the field before Chancellor calculated where the receiver and ball would meet and aimed his body at their point of intersection. The hit came three seconds later, a lowered shoulder that shot Thomas back five yards and proclaimed that any Bronco gains that day would be paid for with bodily trauma.
It wasn’t time to celebrate—this is the anything-can-happen NFL. But when Chancellor rang Thomas’s bell en route to the Seahawks’ 43-8 dismantling of Denver, he didn’t just lower the boom. He raised the 12th Man flag for a nation of doubters to see.