EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The large, sad man ambled down a drab hallway that would never end. Manny Ramirez, the Broncos' center, sifted past street-clothed cheerleaders and security guards, a long maddening walk, all while knowing what awaited him. Finally, he entered the back door of the media center, and a Seahawks-type blitz of reporters shoved recorders toward his face and asked him about his failure.
“It was real loud, none of us heard the snap count — I thought I did,” said Ra- mirez, who hiked the first snap of the Super Bowl past his quarterback and into the end zone for a safety. “Things didn't go as planned.”
Twelve seconds. Two plays.
Denver was crushed 43-8 by the Seahawks and two bookend plays, each 12 seconds at the start of each half, set the tone for this clown show that was the Broncos' performance.
When it mattered most, the forever confident Broncos were suddenly unsure, unsteady and unstable. These two plays epitomized this. Twelve seconds. And 12 months of what-ifs to follow.
The first 12 seconds of Sunday's game became the fastest score in NFL history. For anyone who said the Super Bowl attendees are just corporate fancy-pants fellows, well, ask Ramirez about that. Or Chris Clark.
“Just couldn't hear. Couldn't hear,” said Clark, the Denver left tackle. “We thought we would be all right, but we couldn't hear near the end zone, being close to the fans.”
Denver had the ball on its 14, with Seahawks fans screaming nearby. Peyton Manning was in the shotgun and took a step closer to his center. As he did so, the ball sailed to his right. It was an illegal-motion penalty called on Manning, but that was irrelevant once the safety happened. The 12th Man showed up on the East Coast, and 12 seconds into the game the Seahawks led 2-0.
But it was more potent than those two paltry points. It was Mike Tyson coming out of the corner and punching Michael Spinks in the mouth. It was a statement that Denver wasn't ready to play.
“It was a shock to see that happen,” said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
The second 12 seconds? Fittingly, it was the first 12 seconds of the second half.
Seattle led 22-0 and was looking for a knockout punch. Percy Harvin ran the kickoff back for a touchdown. Game over, 29-0.
Asked about momentum from those two plays, Denver executive John Elway said, “I don't have all the answers, but I've got to imagine that would have something to do with it. We couldn't get it in the end zone, we couldn't get it going.”
Speaking in a quiet tone from the losing locker room, Denver special-teams standout David Bruton explained the strategy on the kickoff. Matt Prater kicked it into the air like a Todd Helton pop fly to the right, and the plan was to give Denver's coverage unit an extra second to sprint toward the kick returner, in the red zone, and make a tackle. This was the option instead of an automatic touchback or, worse, giving Harvin enough space and time to break free for a big return. Yeah, that backfired too.
The ball landed on the 12-yard line — “We got the kick we wanted,” Bruton said — but the Seahawks had their own strategy.
Harvin said Seattle's coaches had “saved” the return formation they used until he returned from injuries that sidelined him most of the season.
“We hadn't put it on film all year, so we knew there would be a great chance that we'd catch them off guard,” Harvin said. “Those guys pretty much cleared out the whole right side of the field. I think there were only two defenders over there. I just took that gap and hit it as hard as I could.”
Not only did the Broncos not wrap him up, they barely got a hand on him.
It was embarrassing. Game-changing.