A year after joining one ultra-exclusive coaching fraternity, Seattle's Pete Carroll is one victory away from joining another.
Carroll, who last February became the third coach to win both a Super Bowl and a college football national championship, now has a chance to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies, something last achieved by New England in the 2003 and '04 seasons.
In the Super Bowl era, seven franchises have won consecutive league championships: Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh (twice), San Francisco, Dallas, Denver and the Patriots. The Seahawks will play New England in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.
The last NFC coach to win consecutive Super Bowls was Jimmy Johnson, who led the Cowboys to the mountaintop in 1992 and '93. He and Barry Switzer, along with Carroll, won it all in college and the pros.
Johnson said Monday he has been impressed by the way Carroll has guided his team through various injuries and distractions this season.
"More times than not, complacency is what hurts a football team," Johnson said in a phone interview. "And they had some of those problems early in the season, and they had problems with [since-traded receiver] Percy Harvin. That was kind of an addition by subtraction. By moving him on out, I think it helped the locker room chemistry. So I think they overcame a lot of their problems early on when they were 3-3.
"Right now they're as confident a team as there is in the league."
That said, the Seahawks had their hands full in Sunday's NFC championship game against Green Bay, when they were outplayed for 57 minutes before coming alive in the final three minutes of regulation, and scoring a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime for a 28-22 victory.
"On one hand you might say, 'Well that [win] is going to give Seattle confidence that they can do it again,'" said Johnson, a Fox analyst. "On the other hand, Green Bay did some things to them that really hurt their offense. They really kept [Seattle quarterback] Russell Wilson from doing his rollouts, and they gave him a lot of pressure from the outside. So I think the way Green Bay defended them could come back to haunt the Seahawks a little bit in the Super Bowl. Obviously, New England's going to take a long look at that."
What's more, Seattle is confronting injuries to two of its key defenders, safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman. Thomas left Sunday's game briefly because of a shoulder injury, and Sherman suffered an undisclosed elbow injury — some reports Monday called it a sprain — that left him cradling it in postgame interviews Sunday evening.
"Both of those guys were in dire straits of 'could they play?'" Carroll said Monday. "They played their hearts out. Their courage and toughness and standing up for who they are and what they mean to this team to try to finish this game … it was so impressive."
The Patriots, meanwhile, cruised to a relatively effortless 45-7 victory over Indianapolis in Sunday's late game, with the biggest issue to arise being an accusation New England used deflated balls in the game, making passes easier to throw and catch.
"We are looking into it," said NFL spokesman Michael Signora.
Whereas Belichick said the Patriots intend to "cooperate fully" with any league investigation, quarterback Tom Brady scoffed at the accusation Monday during his weekly radio appearance.
"I've heard it all at this point," Brady said on WEEI radio. "That's the least of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this."
A story line that is sure to resurface time and again Super Bowl week is Carroll's three-season stint as coach of the Patriots, from 1997 through '99, before he was replaced by Belichick.
"It was a great place to be in sports — a great town, a great following, much like it is here…" Carroll said. "It didn't work out. We did some good stuff while we were there, but it didn't work out and time to move on."
For both Carroll and Belichick, situations worked out just fine.