Last Sunday was probably one of the most important days of the 2013 National Football League season because it was when the National and American Football Conference champions would be crowned.

These two winners would be the teams playing in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at The Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The two important football games provided the avid fan with several hours of exciting entertainment, starting at 2 p.m. and extending until nearly 9 p.m.

When the dust settled, the Denver Broncos won the right to represent the AFC by overwhelming a good New England Patriots team 26-16 while the Seattle Seahawks had to rally from an early 10-0 deficit to subdue their arch-rivals from the same division, the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17.

Both winners earned the right to play Sunday’s game before their screaming home stadium crowd and were both favored to win and reach pro football’s ultimate pinnacle—the Super Bowl. Denver was a 4½-point favorite over the Patriots while Seattle was favored by 4 points over the 49ers at kickoff time.

This sets up only the second Super Bowl in 20 years involving the No. 1 seeds from each conference. It also pits the NFL’s best offensive team (Denver) against the league’s top defensive team in the Seahawks. The Broncos are an early 2½-point favorite.

Another reason Super Bowl XLVIII will be special is that it will involve a former West Orange-Stark Mustang football star for the second time, Seattle Seahawks’ three-time All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas III.

Former Mustang Kevin Smith played on three winning Super Bowl teams with the Dallas Cowboys—52-17 over Buffalo in SB 27, 30-17 over the Bills again in SB 28 and 27-17 over the Pittsburgh Steelers in SB 30.

Thomas, along with five of his Seahawks’ teammates are happy to miss Sunday’s Pro Bowl football game in Honolulu as well as well as five players from the Denver Broncos in order to get ready for Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.

Other Seahawks All-Pros include cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, center Max Unger, quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch.

The Broncos who won’t be playing Sunday in Hawaii include quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, offensive guard Louis Vasquez and place-kicker Matt Prater.

Seattle had a much tougher time winning the NFC championship than the Broncos did in the AFC title game. The Seahawks lost a fumble on the very first play of the game deep in their own territory, but the defense held on and forced the 49ers to kick a field goal.

Early in the second period San Francisco scored a touchdown, putting the Seahawks down 10-0 and quieted down the raucous 12th Man crowd at CenturyLink Field.

“We realized that if we lose, we go home,” Thomas said in the Seahawks’ locker-room post-game interview. “We had to continue to play defense and read our keys like we had practiced all week.”

The halftime score was 10-3 and the Seattle defense knew it must stop the 49ers on their first series after the kickoff, which it did.

Lynch broke loose on a couple of good runs on the Seahawks’ first offensive series, including a 40-yard touchdown gallop that tied the score 10-10, putting them right back into the game.

But on the 49ers next series, lanky wide receiver out-leaped Earl in the end zone on a Colin Kaepernick pass for a touchdown that put San Francisco back in front 17-10, which would be the last points the Seattle defense would allow.

A 40-yard Steven Hauschka field goal narrowed the margin to 17-13 with 3:55 left in the third period, setting up the fantastic finish in the final quarter in which the Seahawks’ defense showed why it’s No. 1 by stripping the football from Kaepernick and recovering it, plus intercepting two of his passes.

And the Seattle offense came to life for a brief moment when Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse on a 35-yard touchdown pass, putting the Seahawks ahead for the first time 20-17 early in the fourth period. Hauschka added a 47-yard field goal with 3:37 left, forcing the 49ers to score a touchdown to win.

And Kaepernick almost did that as he drove his team into the red zone in the final two minutes, but his pass intended for former Texas Tech star Michael Crabtree was deflected by Sherman right into the hands of Seahawks’ teammate Malcolm Smith for an interception to save the 23-17 win for Seattle.

“We were very prepared for the two-minute situation and we played our fearless defense to perfection,” Earl said after the game. “We always practice those kinds of situations very seriously during our walk-throughs each day, and it really paid off when it counted the most.”

When asked what he thought about when he realized he would be playing in the Super Bowl Earl replied, “I’ll never forget the confetti dropping down after the win. It was an awesome feeling to be conference champions. It was something we had been working on all season long.

“When you enjoy the journey, the destination will take care of itself,” Thomas added. “Our destination is New York.”

And it will be a homecoming of sorts for Head Coach Pete Carroll who coached the New York Jets at one time.

KWICKIES…The new format being tried for Sunday’s Pro Bowl is that the players for the two teams will be selected in a draft today (Wed.) by alumni team captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. The draft will be televised live on the NFL Network (330 Time Warner) at 7 p.m.

The West Orange-Stark Mustangs edged past Silsbee 72-66 Friday night at the Montagne Center in Beaumont to finish the first half of the District 21-3A season with a perfect 6-0 record. The ‘Stangs are 19-7 overall while Silsbee slips to 5-1 in league play and 17-8 overall.

Peyton Manning’s foundation for at-risk youth will receive a $24,800 donation for all the times he shouted “Omaha” during Sunday’s AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. The donations were organized by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce after Manning’s 31 per snap calls during the Broncos 26-16 victory. Eight Omaha businesses combined to donate $800 to Manning’s Peyback Foundation for every time he yelled the city’s name.

Nearly 100 college football underclassmen have opted to forego their remaining eligibility to enter May’s NFL draft including quarterbacks Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Terry Bridgewater (Louisville) and Blake Bortles (Central Florida). Also entering the draft will be LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., South Carolina’s defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and McNeese tight end Nic Jacobs.

JUST BETWEEN US…Orange’s renown 72-year old distance runner Kenny Ruane had a good showing in Sunday’s Chevron Houston Marathon, winning the Men’s Half-Marathon ages 70-74 with a time of 1:43.50, which was 8 ½ minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. He said his pace was under his goal of eight minutes per mile and he finished ahead of about 94 per cent of those runners in the half-marathon. Kenny was an invited runner which meant his expenses were paid by the event. “I was really uncertain about my training for the half-marathon because I spent two weeks in Cleveland, Ohio during Christmas where it was too cold to train outdoors,” Ruane said. “But I had one of my better runs and had more left than I thought so I was able to pick up the pace near the end.” Other local runners who competed in the 26.2 mile marathon included Vidor’s Michael Defee who finished 37th, Orange’s Brian Clark (135), Joe Melanson (271) and Bridge City’s Daryl Granger (579).