PHOENIX — Nine years ago, deep inside the stadium where Super Bowl XLIX will be played today, Dennis Green unleashed one of football’s most legendary tirades.
His Arizona Cardinals had just blown a 20-0 halftime lead against a Chicago team that many were already anointing a Super Bowl favorite.
“If you want to crown them, then crown their ass!”
Today, there might be another coronation at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
If Seattle beats New England, the Seahawks will enter the regal company of back-to-back Super Bowl winners, of which there are just eight.
But another title would be bestowed upon the Seahawks. Its defense will have a legitimate claim to the throne as the best of all time.
The round table of the NFL’s most dominating defenses doesn’t have many seats.
There are Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain and Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters of the 1970s. There’s the Chicago Bears of the mid-1980s. There’s the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and perhaps the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With a win today, Seattle would top them all.
If the Seahawks shut down Tom Brady one year after doing the same to Peyton Manning, they’ll have beaten the two best quarterbacks of this generation on the biggest stage.
“If we beat the best,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said, “then we’ve got to be considered the best in the game.”
In winning their Super Bowls, the Bears, Ravens and Buccaneers vanquished Steve Grogan, Kerry Collins and Rich Gannon, respectively. That’s a fine collection, but not exactly gunslinger’s row.
Seattle has also shut down offenses in an era when the NFL has become dominated by them. According to Pro Football Reference, NFL teams combined to average more than 22 points per game six of the past seven seasons. Before that, you have to go back to 1965 to find the last time that average was more than 22 points.
The NFL has also altered rules to enhance offense and protect players. No more hitting defenseless receivers. No more hitting a quarterback on the helmet, even with a hand. No more hitting a quarterback’s knees. Also, officials have cracked down on defenders putting their hands on receivers beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage.
None of the defenses from earlier eras played under those constraints. Yet Seattle remains just as physically intimidating.
“I definitely feel like we’ll go out as one of the top defenses to ever play the NFL,” Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “But, we got to win first.”
And therein lies another argument Seattle would have. It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that ring … or two.
Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters made three Super Bowls, but never won.
Chicago won one Super Bowl and was statistically a better defense the following season. Da Bears set a record for fewest points allowed, but were bounced in the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.
Plus, the ’85 Bears played a bunch of relatively weak offenses. They only faced three of the NFL’s top-10 scoring offenses that year and none higher than fourth. Nine of their opponents ranked 16th or worse.
This year’s Seahawks gave up the fewest points despite facing four of the top five scoring offenses (Green Bay, Denver, Philadelphia and Dallas).
Baltimore broke Chicago’s record by allowing 165 points for the year it won its Super Bowl. The Ravens allowed exactly 100 more points the following season and didn’t even win their division. The 2002 Buccaneers were also a one-year wonder.
Which makes Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain the gold standard. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years with a roster that reads like a roll call at the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Green, Ham, Blount, Lambert.
What puts Pittsburgh of the 1970s above everyone else is its longevity. Chicago couldn’t match that. Neither could Baltimore.
Seattle still can. The Seahawks have led the league in total defense the last two seasons and in points allowed the last three.
Defensive end Michael Bennett believes another Super Bowl ring will anoint this Seahawks group as the best defense of all time. And in this era of high scoring, I wouldn’t argue against that.
“I think we’ll be the Paul Bunyans of the NFL,” he said. “We’ll be the best.”