Nowhere was that more evident than in the drafting of 5-foot-10 QB Russell Wilson. Schneider and McCloughan interviewed Wilson for two hours at the Senior Bowl two years ago and came away smitten by Wilson's unbending, even demeanor. It's perhaps Wilson's greatest attribute as a quarterback, never allowing him to overthink challenges or be overwhelmed by the stage.
Still, as McCloughan says, "the percentages are that a 5-10 quarterback will not be good."
But Schneider fought for Wilson, convincing a coaching staff that was more skeptical of his chances to make the roster than it'll ever admit. One of Schneider's strengths, McCloughan says, "is that he takes as many opinions as he can before he makes a decision." Owner Paul Allen once teased Schneider by saying, "OK, nobody has this quarterback ranked in the third round."
"This is a special quarterback," Schneider said.
Wilson is one of many special players, all of whom are fed into a coaching system that's at once cutthroat and nurturing. What Allen calls "outside-the-box thinking" works because the Seahawks can develop talent. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said after the game that he loves to coach low-round guys because "they have something to prove" -- not unlike Carroll himself -- and it allows them to be a "developmental coaching staff."
It has set up a strange paradox: The Seahawks are proof that the draft process, as cornerback Richard Sherman says, is a "sham." Yet they've exploited that process better than any team.
The examples were everywhere on Sunday. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was a seventh-round pick. Sherman was a fifth-round pick. Cornerback Byron Maxwell was drafted in the sixth round. When describing his career arc, Maxwell seems to use the word "grow" three times in every sentence. The team drafted him hoping that he would eventually develop into a quality starter. Maxwell got his chance this season when Brandon Browner was suspended indefinitely in December for smoking pot.
In a 43-8 blowout, it's hard to point to a decisive moment. But in the third quarter, with the Broncos driving, Maxwell punched the ball free from Demaryius Thomas after a big catch. Every day for years Maxwell has practiced stripping the ball, swiping so hard that "I worry about hurting my teammates." Preparation met opportunity, and that fumble killed another Broncos drive.
"We have so many guys who nobody thought would be as good as they are now when they were drafted," McCloughan says.
In a game that most figured would come down to how well the Seahawks would adapt to the Broncos, Seattle didn't really change. The schedule for the week before the game was exactly as it was all season, down to snack times for players. Carroll lifted curfew Monday, an NFL player's typical Saturday night. Schneider and McCloughan held normal draft meetings at the team hotel, planning for the future as the coaches plotted for the present.
Most thought that the Seahawks' offense would have to run the ball well to win, but they rode the arm that got them there. Most thought that the Seahawks would have to trick Peyton Manning with elaborate schemes, but they mostly ran the same coverages as they showed on film, except for slightly more nickel.
"We kept saying, 'Let's not change,' " Quinn says.