By Larry Fine
NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The Seattle Seahawks, who hail from the northwest corner of the United States, aim to break into the limelight with their first Super Bowl crown in a Feb. 2 showdown against the Denver Broncos in wintry New Jersey.
Seattle, an expansion team that joined the National Football League in 1976, reached their only previous Super Bowl following the 2005 season but fell 21-10 to the Pittsburgh Steelers under the dome in Detroit with snow falling outside Ford Field.
They lack the star power of the Peyton Manning-led Broncos and are slight underdogs, but that suits the fiercely confident Seahawks, who play with a chip on their shoulders and an electric energy that fuels the NFL's top defense.
A roster full of undrafted free agents and late-round draft picks has been astutely assembled by exuberant coach Pete Carroll and Seattle general manager John Schneider under the blessing of team owner Paul Allen, the hometown billionaire and co-creator of Microsoft.
"I have never been around such a positive, engaging coach that connects with each player at that level of intensity," Allen told the Seattle Times about the coach he hired in 2010.
"It's really amazing. Pete really stands out because of his positivity and his ability to connect."
Of the 53 players on the roster for Seattle's 23-17 win over West Coast rivals the San Francisco 49ers that put them into the Super Bowl, 21 entered the National Football league as undrafted free agents and 16 were drafted after the third round.
The offense is run by Russell Wilson, the undersized 5-foot-11 (1.80 m) quarterback taken in the third round of the 2012 draft. The face of the NFL's top-rated defense is cornerback Richard Sherman, drafted in the fifth round in 2011.
Allen and Carroll, who handed Schneider the game ball after the victory over the Niners, give a lot of credit to the general manager for finding hidden gems on the second-youngest team ever to reach a Super Bowl.
"I call it the golden gut," Allen said. "Some general managers have that talent for finding guys."
The Seahawks joined the NFL 37 seasons ago along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an agreement signed by Lloyd W. Nordstrom, representing the department store family as majority partner for a group of Seattle business and community leaders.
The name for the team was chosen after a public contest in which 1,700 nicknames were proposed.
Team fortunes took an immediate upswing in 1983 when the AFC club hired former Rams and Bills coach Chuck Knox.
The hard-nosed fundamentalist, who favored a physical running game nicknamed Ground Chuck, led the Seahawks to a 9-7 record good enough for their first postseason appearance.
Seattle beat Denver and the Miami Dolphins to reach the AFC championship before falling 30-14 to the Los Angeles Raiders.
The following season, the Seahawks went 12-4 to return to the postseason and they reached the playoffs two more times under Knox but went into decline and failed to advance from 1989 to 1998.
The team was almost relocated by then owner Ken Behring and was briefly in bankruptcy before Allen bought the franchise in 1997.
Two years later Allen hired Mike Holmgren away from the Green Bay Packers, who he led to the Super Bowl title in 1997 and returned them to the title game in 1998, by making him head coach and general manager.
Holmgren stayed 10 seasons and took the Seahawks to the playoffs six times including their trip to the Super Bowl as NFC champions, having switched conferences in 2002.
Seattle outgained the Steelers in the Super Bowl but felt the sting of several controversial plays ruled against them in the 11-point loss.
In fact, four years after the defeat in a rules interpretation session with Seattle media, the head official of the game, Bill Leavy, admitted to making mistakes.
"I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that," he said.
"It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly. I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better. I know I did my best at that time, but it wasn't good enough."
While the Seahawks have not yet achieved Super Bowl honors, they have landed two players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in wide receiver Steve Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.
Additionally, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon played two seasons in Seattle toward the end of his career.
Other illustrious former players include long-time quarterback Jim Zorn, running backs Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander, their Super Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and tackle Walter Jones.
The Seahawks team that will battle the Broncos relies on the hard running of Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, following in a franchise tradition set in motion by Warner and Alexander.
This hard-scrabble team has been virtually unbeatable at their noisy home of CenturyLink Field but they should have no trouble getting sky-high for their fight for the Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium.
Said defensive end Chris Clemons, who entered the NFL after going undrafted in 2003: "We have a lot of players who were kind of unwanted. You always feel like you have to prove yourself, no matter how long you've been around."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Gene Cherry)