EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Super Bowl dreams of Broncos fans begin and end in confetti. They are hosted by Terrell Davis' smile, highlighted by John Elway's helicopter spin.
It never crossed the mind this could happen: Seattle 43, Denver 8. It never crossed our mind Super Bowl XLVIII would regress all the way back to the Broncos' Super Bowls of the 1980s. This was supposed to be a real-time replay of the late '90s. Those are the ones Broncos fans remember.
Dreams don't include the bad stuff. Those are called nightmares.
This was that. This felt like turning off "Redskins 42, Broncos 10" to shoot baskets with dad in the schoolyard. This felt like playing hooky from the fifth grade on the Monday after "Giants 39, Broncos 20." This was "Niners 55, Broncos 10."
This is wondering when the next opportunity to host a parade, to be world champions, will come around. This is hard, because this was never a consideration.
"I don't know if you ever get over it," NFL MVP Peyton Manning said after scoring his third-worst quarterback rating, 73.6, in 36 games with the Broncos. "It's a difficult pill to swallow."
They billed Sunday night's game at MetLife Stadium as the New York Super Bowl, and that was all wrong.
This was a New Jersey mugging.
The Seahawks beat up the Broncos like the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl was actually played in a Newark alley. The Seattle defense took the ball, four times, and it's reasonable to assume they took Manning's wallet.
The weather concerned the Broncos. Sure enough, Seattle made it rain. The Seahawks' swag is that of Frank Sinatra, if he crooned "New York, New York" in a helmet and shoulder pads. Their defense deserves a warning label from the surgeon general.
The Broncos played scared. Can you blame them?
The way linebacker K.J. Wright thumped Wes Welker on a crossing route, then buried Knowshon Moreno in a mass of teal violence, then smothered Eric Decker into one target in the first half, is considered assault in some states. In Seattle, it's called football.
Never mind the Seahawks' class seems to begin and end with Russell Wilson, the effervescent quarterback. Winning with ego is still winning.
"I think a lot of people feel stupid right now," star defender Michael Bennett said.
"We're a part of history," linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
The Broncos made history this season. With an offense that could have been designed at NORAD, they scored more points in a regular season than any team before. They were an offensive juggernaut we've never witnessed before.
This was never a consideration: the Seahawks scored four times before the Broncos earned a first down. The Manning machine that averaged 37.9 points during the regular season scored a single touchdown. Before the first quarter was over, the ultimate quarterback leaned forward on the bench with a telephone, calling upstairs in case someone above had the answer.
"How long will it take me to get over this?" Julius Thomas asked. "Never and right away."
Forgive his youth. It takes the former, until the dream is realized.
This was Timmy Smith of the Redskins, Joe Montana of the Niners and a whole gang of Lawrence Taylors, in the Giants' stadium, no less.
The Seahawks turned a dream into a football nightmare.
"At the end of the day there were no excuses," coach John Fox said.
By the time Seattle extended its lead to 22-0, then 29-0, then 36-0, most of the orange No. 18 jerseys in MetLife Stadium were on the Metro back to Manhattan.
Where was Steve Atwater slamming Antonio Freeman, or Shannon Sharpe mouthing off on the sideline? Where was TD's Mile High Salute? TD was here, in a snazzy suit alongside Elway, the executive. But this felt like the teams with Elway, the quarterback, overmatched in his first three Super Bowls. Those put a bitter wrap on the 1986, '87 and '89 seasons. There won't be a parade down Broadway like in '97 and '98.
"You couldn't write a worse picture than this," said Champ Bailey, who played 15 seasons for this Super Bowl debut. "This is definitely the toughest loss I've had to deal with."
Now comes the other hard part, deciding how to remember a Broncos season so blessed, but cursed at the end. "Super Bowl or Bust" came with a Super Bowl. Then it busted like a champagne glass on midnight in Times Square, just across the Hudson.
"What's going to stick out the most is we lost our last game," Bailey said. "That's the problem."
This felt like a time warp, skipping the '90s and going straight to the '80s, complete with a black eye. This feels like playing hooky from work on Monday is a good idea.