It was exactly 10 years ago that John Fox, equipped with journeyman quarterback Jake Delhomme against New England's Tom Brady, reached his only previous Super Bowl as a head coach. Carolina nearly pulled off the upset before a last-minute field goal gave the Patriots a 32-29 victory.
The third-year Denver head coach enters Super Bowl XLVIII with a slightly stronger hand. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL season records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes. Now he has the chance to ensure his spot in the discussion of all-time greatest NFL quarterbacks if he can get past Seattle for his second Super Bowl title Sunday.
While the young Seahawks have the NFL's No. 1 defense, the focus is on the iconic 37-year-old Manning, who is two years removed from neck surgery and seeking to become the first quarterback to take two franchises to Super Bowl glory. That begs the question of whether everyone on the Broncos feels the urgency to win it for Manning.
"We actually do have another guy, Champ Bailey, who has been in the league a long time and has never been to one of these," Fox said Friday, referring to the 15-year veteran cornerback. "It takes leadership in that locker room, and I think those guys, for our team, raise all boats. People don't want to disappoint not just the coach or the city or the organization, they don't want to let their teammates down.
"I appreciate Peyton and Champ and guys like that in our locker room. They're a big part of why we're sitting here."
Fox is a longtime defensive coach, including coordinator for the 2000 Giants when they lost to Baltimore in the Super Bowl, but he appreciates the historic nature of what the Broncos' No. 1-ranked offense has achieved. At the same time, Fox added: "It's a team game. I remind everybody there's three phases of the game, and it's who executes and performs the best.
"Obviously, your star players have to be great in championship games. There have not been very many championships in any sport where the big players didn't play big. There always seems to be the unknown guy that makes a critical play, [maybe] in the kicking game. Lord knows where it's going to come from. It's going to be a total team effort."
That effort was missing when the Broncos suffered a 40-10 loss at Seattle in the third preseason game. Fox said Broncos executive vice president John Elway aired out the players pretty good after that game. "I think it shook them up, woke them up," Fox said. "We came back a little grittier and more determined."
Fox, who turns 59 next Saturday, displayed his grit when he came back four weeks after heart valve replacement surgery at midseason. Asked for the umpteenth time about it, he said he treated the recovery process as if he were coming back from an injury during his playing days.
"Really, it was like an ankle sprain," Fox said. "It was going to be four weeks."
That remark prompted Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who shared the stage with Fox at the Rose Theater in the Time Warner Center, to say: "What a stud. He's comparing open-heart surgery to an ankle sprain. Come on, John. That's awesome."
Fox had to get back. He wasn't about to miss sharing this experience with Manning, Bailey and the rest of the Broncos.