JERSEY CITY - Long before Adam Gase was handed the controls of the Denver Broncos offense, Gase sat in an Applebee's in Mount Pleasant, Mich., interviewing for a job to sell insurance.
Gase laughed this week about how he had been kicked out of graduate school at LSU, where he had been working as a graduate assistant coach for Nick Saban. He had student loans that needed to be paid.
Gase was 23 and ready to quit football.
Three buddies, his closest friends from his years as an undergraduate at Michigan State, talked him out of it.
"They were beside themselves that I would even think about it," Gase said.
If Denver wins the Super Bowl, Gase's old friends might deserve rings, too, because if the Broncos beat the Seattle Seahawks, it likely will be because of their record-setting offense - the offense Gase helped create over the last several years, even before Peyton Manning arrived in 2012.
Gase, in his first year as offensive coordinator, crafts the plans for the most prolific point generators in NFL history. The Broncos became the first franchise to score more than 600 points in a season while Manning threw for the most touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477) ever. Five players - wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker; tight end Julius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno - scored at least 10 touchdowns. No other team has had more than three players with 10 visits to the end zone.
The offense is aggressive and precise, relying on tempo, timing and Manning's acute ability to read and dissect defenses.
"They're very, very volatile. They have so many different ways to go that you can't zero in on them," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We know that Peyton is obviously a kingpin, but there is so much happening in this offense with great players."
Indeed, the Broncos offense is about far more than just Manning, and that is what has made it so dangerous this season.
Let's start with the wideouts, perhaps the deepest and best group in the NFL with Thomas, Decker and Welker, who combined for 3,496 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns. They'll line up in traditional three-receiver sets or in bunch formations. They'll run receiver screens and go routes. They'll block for running backs. And, yes, they'll set picks for their fellow receivers.
"(The Seahawks have) a great secondary. They have a great defense, but anytime the wide receivers from the Denver Broncos go into a game, I feel good about what we're doing and how we're doing it," Broncos receivers coach Tyke Tolbert told USA TODAY Sports. "They're very unselfish, and they'll do whatever you ask them to do. And they have a really good skill set, from top to bottom. It starts with that skill set and then knowing what to do."
But the emergence of Julius Thomas, who had more surgeries on his ankle (two) than catches (one) over his first two years in the NFL, had the biggest impact on the offense in 2013. Thomas, a former college basketball player, is a receiving tight end in the mold of San Diego Chargers star Antonio Gates and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, the type of player who is too fast for linebackers and too big and strong to be covered by defensive backs. By January, Thomas had become Manning's favorite third-down target, evidenced by three big third-down conversions in the AFC divisional-round win against the Chargers, none bigger than a sideline catch on third-and-17 late in the fourth quarter.
"He has committed himself every day to learning from his tight ends coach, learning from Adam, to talking to me about things he wants to work on," Manning said. "I always like that, being an older player, when a young player truly wants to be a great player. I think he does. If he keeps that up, he will be for a long time."
The running backs could be the forgotten men, if not for Moreno's long-overdue breakout season. His first 1,000-yard rushing season came in his fifth NFL year.
The Broncos have increasingly lightened Moreno's workload as the season progressed, partially to keep Moreno's legs fresh and in part because rookie second-round pick Montee Ball has earned his snaps as the short-yardage back after overcoming early-season fumble issues.
If Seattle opts to drop more players into pass coverage, expect to see plenty of Moreno and Ball.
"When we see fronts we like and can run against, we'll run it," running backs coach Eric Studesville said. "And if they're not, I hope we're throwing."
Those decisions are left to Gase and Manning, whose relationship began last season with Gase as Manning's quarterbacks coach. The offense flourished when Gase was promoted to offensive coordinator, replacing Mike McCoy. Manning has been effusive in his praise of Gase.
Perhaps Manning's endorsement helped Gase become one of the NFL's hottest head coaching candidates, though Gase declined interviews during the team's Super Bowl run.
The word Manning uses most when discussing Gase and specific play calls is "aggressive." Gase said that was his natural coaching style, nurtured when he was a young assistant to then-Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz and supported by John Fox, who has ditched many of his conservative coaching tendencies since becoming the Broncos' head coach.
"I hear the word 'aggressive' from (Fox) throughout a game. He constantly says, 'Stay at 'em, stay at 'em,' " Gase said. "You don't have to tell me more than once. I hear it once, and I'm good."
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