March 12, 2014

Ranking The Squads #1: 2013 (With Updated All-Time Rankings)

Five years ago, I decided to rank every team that the Seahawks have ever fielded, and I've updated it annually since then. The first time I updated the list, I had to add the worst team in Seahawks history. Today, just half a decade later, the list includes the greatest football team of the 21st century. Here's one last look back at the magnificent 2013 Seahawks...

1. 2013
Record: 13-3
Offensive Rank: 8th out of 32 teams
Defensive Rank: 1st out of 32
Turnover Ratio Rank: 1st out of 32
Team Co-MVPs: Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor
High Point: Seahawks 43. Broncos 8
Low Point: Cardinals 17, Seahawks 10

December 22, 2013. I'll always remember that day. I'll never forget how I felt. Something died that day, and it can never be resurrected. The Seahawks were favored to beat the Arizona Cardinals and clinch the NFC West and Home Field Advantage in the playoffs with two weeks remaining in the season. Seattle was undefeated at home, and had blown out the Cardinals in Glendale a few weeks earlier. December 22, 2013 was supposed to be a coronation.

The Seahawks lost. The best defense in football blew a late 4th-quarter lead, and Arizona pulled off a stunning 17-10 upset. The rational part of my mind KNEW that this was almost certainly just a minor setback. These things often happened to Championship teams, Any Given Sunday, blah blah blah. In the rest of my skull, the red lights were flashing and the air raid sirens were howling. Thirty years of bitter experience told me to prepare for the worst. The '84 Hawks had HFA in their grasp before dropping their last two games of the season. The '99 Hawks started 8-2, only to collapse down the stretch, back into the playoffs, and get bounced by an elderly version of Dan Marino. My psyche looked like the subject of one of those execrable reality shows about hoarders, but instead of old newspapers and plastic bags, it was filled with countless memories of Seahawks disappointment. Here's the 2003 pick-six in OT against the Packers. There's Vinny Testaverde's Phantom Touchdown. Oh! I just found the 1988 playoff loss at Cincinnati! There's the 2006 OT playoff loss at Chicago hidden under a pile of Steve Hutchinson's poison pills! Super Bowl XL shrapnel? That's scattered everywhere. How would the 2013 Hawks add to this awful menagerie of misery?

Maybe they'd lose to a Rams team they BARELY beat a few weeks earlier, and tumble all the way into a Wild Card game in Green Bay. Nope. They left no doubt in a 27-9 victory.

Ah! Maybe it would be in a playoff rematch against New Orleans, who boasted an explosive offense, a Hall-Of-Fame quarterback, and ample motivation after a Monday Night blowout loss at Seattle in early December. Nope. Seattle's defense shut out the Saints for three quarters, and the Hawks held on for a 23-15 win.

Most of the football-watching nation and media bobbleheads were sure the collapse would happen against the mighty defending NFC-Champion 49ers, who had defeated Seattle a month earlier in their dilapidated, crumbling excuse for a stadium. You know what happened... Wilson to Kearse on 4th-and-7, and then "The Tip." The greatest game in Seahawks history was capped by the greatest play in franchise lore. The Seahawks were headed to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Perhaps the Seahawks were waiting to torment their fans in the cruelest manner possible: With another excruciating Super Bowl defeat. The Broncos boasted the reigning NFL MVP in Peyton Manning and the highest scoring offense in NFL history. Most of America was rooting for Denver. Las Vegas favored the Broncos. Seattle's dreams of their first championship in any of the four major North American pro sports since the Carter Administration would surely be dashed again, right? The vast majority of the game's 112 million American viewers were STUNNED by what they witnessed. The Seahawks delivered a 1980s-throwback Super blowout of the Denver Broncos, who were so completely overmatched that Seattle's defense singlehandedly outscored them 9-8. Russell Wilson hoisted the Lombardi Trophy skyward, in a blizzard of blue and green confetti. Precedent was irrelevant to this team. Now, they were immortal, and things will never be the same for this franchise. We didn't know it at the time, but December 22, 2013 was the last gasp of Seahawks mediocrity. It was the death rattle of disappointment.

The men on the 2013 roster will always be fondly remembered by the Twelve Army, but it seems only appropriate that the team MVP award is split three ways between Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. They were the core of the best defense the NFL has seen in over a decade. Thomas and Chancellor anchored the best single-game defensive performance of all time in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Sherman's tip to Malcolm Smith in the NFC Championship Game is our equivalent to "The Catch" by Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game- The play that gave birth to an NFL dynasty.

Beyond the Legion of Boom, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril led a ferocious Seattle pass rush, while Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith helmed a suffocating rush defense. In four short years, John Schnieder and Pete Carroll completely tore down a Seattle D that was 26th in scoring defense when they arrived and built a unit worthy of comparisons to the '85 Bears, '00 Ravens and '02 Buccaneers.

Seattle also boasted the best special teams unit in football. Steven Hauschka was the NFL's most reliable kicker in 2013, and the Hawks' punt and kick coverage units operated at near-record setting levels (thanks in no small part to the efforts of punter Jon Ryan). Golden Tate was one of the league's most electrifying punt returners, and Percy Harvin proved he is still a lethal weapon as a kick returner in extremely limited action.

The offense was somewhat overshadowed by that historically dominant defense, but they were still brutally efficient and effective (they scored 26 points per game, which was 8th best in the NFL). Russell Wilson avoided any whiff of a sophomore slump, racking up a passer rating of 101.2 and accounting for 27 total touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch exploded for 1573 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns- Once all the Skittles have fallen from the sky, he'll be remembered as the best running back in Seahawks history. Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin. Jermaine Kearse and Sidney Rice (pre-injury) all made significant (and essential) contributions at WR despite playing on the most run-oriented offense in football. Zach Miller and rookie Luke Willson made an impact at tight end that wasn't always obvious on the stat sheet, and Seattle's offensive line recovered from a shaky period in midseason to become one of the best overall O-line units in football by season's end.

Seattle's run-first, defense-oriented style is in many ways a throwback to an earlier era, as was their path to pro football's pinnacle. While Schneider and Carroll made many savvy moves in free agency, this championship team was primarily built through the draft with home-grown talent. Recent NFL history is filled with champions who sneaked into the playoffs as a lower seed, got hot, and snagged a Lombardi Trophy. The 2013 Seahawks were the product of a slow and steady progress from frailty to dominance over four long seasons, and when they finally got their championship opportunity they seized it with zeal and brutality. They seem poised to create something else we haven't seen in the NFL for a while: A dynasty that can be spoken of in the same breath as the '00s Patriots, the '90s Cowboys and the '80s 49ers.

My mind is uncluttered now. All the garbage of failure and disappointment has been hauled to my mental landfill. Just in time, too- I'm gonna need room in there for a shitload of banners and trophies.

What do you think, sirs? What are gonna be YOUR enduring memories of the 2013 Seahawks?

For your entertainment: Here's the updated ranking of every team in franchise history- Enjoy!
1. 2013
2. 2005
3. 1984
4. 1983
5. 2012
6. 2007
7. 1986
8. 2003
9. 2006
10. 1988
11. 1987
12. 2010
13. 1979
14. 1990
15. 1978
16. 2001
17. 1999
18. 2004
19. 1998
20. 1985
21. 1997
22. 1995
23. 2011
24. 2002
25. 1991
26. 1996
27. 1989
28. 1982
29. 1977
30. 1981
31. 1993
32. 1994
33. 2000
34. 2008
35. 1980
36. 1976
37. 1992
38. 2009

February 5, 2014

Seahawks 43, Broncos 8

Back home in the Tri-Cities, my Mom has a storage shed stuffed with artifacts of my childhood. Among the VHS tapes, photo albums and junior high yearbooks are my old journals, and as an odd, lonely kid with obsessive streak I scribbled in them constantly back then. One thread running through all of them was my penchant for detailed daydreaming about the Seattle Seahawks. I'd go through the upcoming season's schedule game-by-game and plot out the trajectory that would lead us to Super Bowl glory, down to quarter-by-quarter scoring in each game and the stats for individual players. It was a rudimentary version of the piece I wrote a while back about the Tangent Universe 1986 Seahawks, and it helped distract me from my day-to-day struggles and the perennial floundering of my beloved Hawks.

In all those reams of yellowing paper, written by an adolescent Twelve with an over-active imagination, I doubt I ever penned a Super Bowl yarn that ended with the Seahawks winning 43-8. I used to wear Hawaiian shirts WITH fish ties back then, but even that little weirdo I used to be would have thought "Woah, that's just bugfuck crazy!" I've been envisioning this Championship moment for thirty years, and those daydreams betrayed my own lack of confidence. In those mental movies, the Seahawks would mightily struggle, and hoist the Lombardi Trophy only after edging their opponents in a heart-stopping XXV or XXIII-esque affair. I could allow myself to dream about us somehow getting to the top of the mountain, and taking a brief look around before we trudged back to base camp battered, bruised and exhausted. I never seriously entertained a different notion: What if, when the Seahawks finally won it all, they were one of the greatest teams of all time? What if they strutted to the top of the mountain and built a fucking mansion up there?

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks are the best NFL team the 21st century has yet seen, and one of the Top 10 teams of the Super Bowl era. They evoke comparisons to the 1984 Niners and 1992 Cowboys- Youthful teams filled with speed, blessed with brains and fueled by blind rage and an appetite for brutality. Before the revisionist history takes hold about XLVIII (Peyton is "old," the Broncos weren't that great, blah blah blah), let's remember that the Seahawks were three-point underdogs. They were facing the most terrifyingly efficient offensive machine in NFL history- A unit that scored a league-record 606 points and was led by NFL MVP Peyton Manning, who shattered every significant single-season passing benchmark in the NFL's record books. Super Bowl XLVIII was supposed to be the capstone to Manning's superlative career- A second World Championship would ensure that he'd be remembered as perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Then... This happened...

A whole lot of THAT happened, and the Seahawks ruined King Peyton's meticulously prepared coronation with the greatest defensive performance in the history of professional football. Seattle boasted the first defense to lead the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways since the 1985 Chicago Bears, and they showed the largest television audience in American history why they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those '85 Bears, the '00 Ravens, and the '02 Buccaneers. For three quarters, the Legion of Boom & Company shut out history's most explosive offense, and at the final whistle they had SINGLEHANDEDLY outscored them 9-8. They disrupted Manning's rhythm all day, forced him into three turnovers, and imposed vicious punishment upon his receivers every time they touched the ball.

Given the Championship stakes, the quality of opposition, and the level of utter domination, football has never seen a more dominant defensive performance than the one given by Seattle in XLVIII. Malcolm Smith was a deserving recipient of the MVP award, but it could have been given to a half-dozen Seahawk defenders (or the unit as a whole). 

What about that struggling, pedestrian Seattle offense? Oh, you mean the one that was 8th in the NFL in scoring this season? They put up 27 points, and Russell Wilson posted a passer rating FIFTY POINTS HIGHER than Peyton Manning's. Wilson emphatically invalidated all that "game-manager" bullplop puked onto the airwaves by the bobblehead "experts" over the last few weeks and grasped football immortality before his more heralded contemporaries (Kaepernick, Luck, RGIII, etc). The terrifying thing for the rest of the NFL is that he's still YEARS away from his prime. Get used to this, NFL: 

How total was Seattle's dominance? I hosted my first Super Bowl party in YEARS, and I was worried that a tight, stressful game would lead to... ahem... unflattering behavior on my part. My non-football watching girlfriend would be there, and I didn't want to freak her out if A) the Hawks got blown out or B) the game was competitive in the 4th quarter. In the event of the former, I usually become a sullen basket case. The latter? I typically become a nauseous, pacing, chattering, profanity-barking wreck. I'm quite the catch, huh? 

While I was stressed beyond belief BEFORE the game, after the opening kickoff it evolved into one of the most stress-free, gleeful, relaxing experiences I've ever had as a Twelve. From the moment Denver's first snap sailed over Peyton's head for a safety, it was ALL joy. I jumped into a friend's arms after Malcom Smith's pick-6. Evidently after Percy Harvin's kickoff return TD to start the second half, I was bounding about my living room like Tracy Flick in Election. XLVIII got so boring after Harvin's score that the rest of my party-goers entertained themselves by playing Cards Against Humanity for the remainder of the game (while I was enraptured, floating on Cloud 12). You might be wondering when the tears came for me- It was only when the game was over, and the "Seattle Seahawks: Super Bowl Champions" graphic popped up on the screen that I was overcome with emotion. Then, the waterworks began. 

I'm sure I'll be posting more articles about what this victory "means" in the coming days, weeks and months, but two things are really sticking in my mind today...

-All of the trauma I've ever felt as a Twelve has been magically washed away. I feel unburdened and bulletproof. None of it hurts anymore. Not The Phantom Touchdown. Not the 4th-quarter collapse against St. Louis in 2004. Not 1992. Not even XL. NOT EVEN XL!!!! I almost feel like I could go back and watch that game again now- Almost. It's similar to what I felt as I started coming out as transgender to people- Every time I did it, I felt LIGHTER. I felt freer. There's SO much we don't have to carry around any more, my fellow Twelves. On a deeply personal level, it's meaningful beyond words that the Seahawks finally won the Super Bowl only six weeks after I started living full-time as a woman. It's almost as if they were waiting to win so I could celebrate as my authentic self. In truth, one (small) reason I pushed myself to go full-time by January 2014 was because in the event the Hawks won XLVIII, I didn't want to experience it in "boy mode." Thanks for the extra motivation, guys! 

-This victory means a great deal to millions of people. It's significant to the whole population of Washington State, it's a feast for Seattle-area sports fans starving for Championship glory, and obviously ALL Twelves are delirious with ecstasy. But I want to talk about one specific brigade within the Twelve Army- Those of us who survived "The Forgotten Years" and bled and cried over this team when the Seahawks were about as uncool as a sports franchise could possibly be. 

Bear with me, and go watch this clip on YouTube. It's one of the most exciting finishes to a game in franchise history....

Wow! That was awesome, right? You know how many people were actually AT that game? 36, 320. That's it. The game was blacked out on local TV, and the only reason I saw it live was because I was in the Dome. The ascendant Sonics and Mariners ruled the Seattle sporting landscape, and our Californian owner was in the middle of a brazen attempt to relocate the Seahawks to Los Angeles. That awful reality was bad enough, but even worse was the fact that NO ONE SEEMED TO CARE if the Hawks skipped town.

Some of us did. Some of us were the Seattle pro football equivalent of those Irish monks who preserved civilization through the Dark Ages. We were the ones wearing Joey Galloway jerseys when all of our friends were reppin' Junior or Shawn Kemp. We endured watching talented Seahawks teams hobbled by incompetent ownership flounder and stumble to 8-8 finish after 8-8 finish. We were the ones who pestered all of our friends into voting for R48 in the summer of 1997. As I wrote in this space once before:

I felt kinda isolated with my Galloway jersey and my love for a team that hadn't even posted a winning record since 1990. I was terrified that R48 would fail, Paul Allen would bolt, and the team would quickly become the L.A. Blackhawks or something. It passed statewide by 51.1% to 48.9%, or by just a hair under 37,000 votes. That was far less than the throngs who packed the Kingdome for M's games back then. 

I was going to Western at the time, and I had a weekly talk show on KUGS-FM called The Democratic Circus. I pushed HARD for my listeners to vote yes on R48, and I like to think I played a tiny part in its victory... Look at the Whatcom County (Bellingham) results:

Yes 23794 
No 23361 

Sure, only about 100 people listened to my show on a GOOD night, but I like to imagine that a chunk of that 433 vote margin were folks swayed by my cogent, heartfelt arguments.

Another anecdote illustrates how much things have changed since Paul Allen took over... Everyone has their own story about the 9/11 atrocities, but mine actually touches on the Hawks. I went to the season opener in Cleveland on September 9, and I was leaving the next day to visit my family and college friends in the Northwest. The plan was fly to Pasco, hang out with my family in the Tri-Cities, then go to Seattle and, among other things, catch the Chiefs game on September 16. 

We all remember that game was postponed after the mass murder of 9/11, and I understood why, but having a game to go to that Sunday sure would have made ME feel better. I was out at breakfast that Sunday with a friend, wearing my Hasselbeck jersey. I admitted to her that I was depressed about the game being postponed, and this total stranger overhears me. He then snorts: 

"Seahawks? Who gives a crap about THEM?" 

I looked over to see this gastropod in an M's cap and a Ichiro jersey, obviously enjoying the Mariners' 116-win regular season... and hey, who could blame him? But I fucking SNAPPED. 

"Who cares? I DO! I've been a fan since I was 8 years old.. I'd bet a million dollars you didn't own a scrap of Mariners gear before August of 1995, man..." 

He gave me a VERY dirty look, but also shut the fuck up. Now do a thought experiment: Can you imagine a scenario where that would happen NOW? I can't. Thank you, Paul Allen.

I've been thinking about that guy today, wondering if he'll attend the Victory Parade or Celebration Rally at Seahawks Stadium. If so, that's cool. I'd never want anyone to NOT root for the Seahawks. New Twelves are always welcome in our big ol' tent. But I hope he reads this, and understands that if people like him had held sway back in the Ken Behring Dark Ages, that parade isn't happening in Seattle today. For those of us who have been waiting for this our whole lives, it's unfathomably satisfying- We're not only Champions, we just got to cheer on one of the greatest NFL teams of all time... A team that not only went 13-3 and boasted a historically great defense, but also beat Drew Brees, a Niners team that would have won the Super Bowl in almost any other season this century, and Peyton Manning to reach Pro Football's pinnacle (and today's parade probably won't be the last one the Seahawks have through the winding streets of Seattle in the years to come).

We earned this moment. Revel in it. Remember every detail. We're Champions together, and nothing will ever be the same. I love you guys. Thanks for being with me on the wildest ride of our lives.


January 27, 2014

Post-Traumatic Elway Disorder

For younger Twelves, Sunday's Super Bowl pits our Seahawks against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and the most formidable team the AFC can offer up. For Twelves over 30, XLVIII represents even more than that. Not only would victory make our Hawks World Champions- It would also be the final, decisive victory over the cruelest tormentor our franchise has ever faced: John Elway.

Think for a moment about how much you LOATHE Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh. Us olds in the Twelve Army hated John Elway every bit as much, and sadly our moments of victory over him were rare and fleeting. We never got to see Dave Brown tip an Elway pass to Fredd Young to seal an AFC Championship Game victory at the Kingdome. This is a tale of pain and frustration, of near-ruined childhoods and bloodlust. This is the story of how Washington native John Elway became Public Enemy No. 1 in his home state. Our victory at MetLife Stadium Sunday night will mean just a TINY bit more to Twelves who endured 15 years of torture inflicted by the one we all ended up calling "Mr. Ed." Here's why:

The story begins back in the AFC West, where the Seahawks competed from 1977 to 2001. Before realignment sent Seattle to an NFC West they'd swiftly start dominating, they toiled for a quarter-century in a division they'd win TWICE. That's it. TWICE. Neither division title brought much in terms of bragging rights, either. In both 1988 and 1999, they won the division with a 9-7 record and promptly lost their first playoff game. Over the same era, Denver would win NINE AFC West titles, go to 6 Super Bowls, and win two of them. The Seahawks also had an intense rivalry with the Oakland/L.A. Raiders, but once John Elway became Denver's starting quarterback Seattle's path to the top of the AFC West was effectively roadblocked.

Those two AFC West titles for Seattle? One came in a down year for Elway where he threw 19 interceptions and posted a 71.4 passer rating. The other came the year after he retired. Seahawks fans hated Elway for the same reason Cleveland Cavaliers fans hated Michael Jordan: No matter how good we were, he'd almost always find a way to beat us. Both players had a knack for conjuring what felt like unearned victories out of thin air, and it is absolutely MADDENING to be vanquished that way.. over and over and over again.

Elway was almost the greatest hometown sports hero Washington had ever seen. Born in Port Angeles, he spent a huge chunk of his childhood in the Evergreen State. After a stellar career at Stanford, Elway was billed as a "once-in-a-generation" prospect. After stating that he'd opt to play baseball if drafted by the winless (and hopeless) Baltimore Colts, an intense bidding war developed for the top pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. As chronicled in the great ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Elway To Marino," Elway was eager to be drafted by the Seahawks, and a deal was in place to make that happen, until Seattle management decided they'd rather make a trade putting them in position to draft Penn State running back Curt Warner. While Dave Krieg was still one of the best quarterbacks of the 1980s, and Warner was a highly productive back for most of seven seasons, it's not hard to imagine how different the history of the NFL (and the Seattle Seahawks) would be if Chuck Knox and Mike McCormack had executed the Elway trade with Baltimore.

When Elway entered the league, I was a eight-year-old baby Twelve living in the Tri-Cities. When the Hawks stomped Denver in the 1983 AFC Wild Card game, the rookie Elway couldn't even beat out journeyman Steve DeBerg for the playoff start. After that 31-7 blowout win, Krieg and Warner certainly seemed more valuable than Elway and Denver's forgettable collection of ballcarriers.

Things immediately shifted in 1984- Curt Warner blew out his knee on kickoff weekend, and Elway blossomed into one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. 1984 was the start off fifteen seasons of Elway-generated misery for the Twelve Army... but I'll get back to that in a minute. In those 15 campaigns, Elway would win more games, pass for more yards, and throw more touchdowns against the Seahawks than he did against any other team. While Browns fans are more famous for their rabid, bug-eyed hatred of John Elway than Twelves are, the Seahawks were the team the Broncos climbed over to reach all those playoff games against Cleveland.

Growing up in the Tri-Cities, I felt SURROUNDED by little bastards in Orange jerseys, who delighted in taunting me after every Denver victory over my Hawks and using me like a cash machine. All they'd have to do was tell me "SeaChickens SUCK!" I'd reply "Oh yeah? Wanna bet on it?!?" A huge chunk of my allowances growing up went right into the pockets of little snot-nosed Elway jock-sniffers, which further stoked my wrath toward that horse-faced, leather-skinned cretin.

Of course, 15 years after retiring with two Super Bowl rings, Elway is Denver's Executive VP of Football Operations. He's built the team that the Seahawks will face in XLVIII, and he bested PCJS in the competition for Peyton Manning's services two years ago. Countless older Twelves like me are horrified by the notion of not only losing our 2nd Super Bowl in eight years, but by the notion of JOHN ELWAY being the one hoisting the Lombardi Trophy over our (figuratively) battered bodies. Conversely, an XLVIII win would also represent a small measure of payback against the man who has been our most formidable foe for my whole life as a Twelve. Here's a look back at some of the lowest (and highest) points of Seattle's rivalry with Elway and the Broncos. Enjoy!

1984- Round One
11/25/84 Seahawks 27, Broncos 24
This was one of the best matchups of the 1984 season, with the 10-2 Seahawks visiting the 11-1 Broncos. The fireworks started with an 80-yard Dave Krieg-to-Darryl Turner bomb on the FIRST PLAY for a 7-0 Seattle lead. Krieg would incinerate the Broncos, accumulating 406 passing yards, tossing three TDs and nary an INT. This was also the best regular season game of Steve Largent's Hall of Fame career: 12 catches for 191 yards and a score.

The Hawks built up a 27-17 lead in the 4th, but it looked like young Elway would pull off a soul-crushing comeback. Denver scored to pull within three, and had a chance to send the game to OT on the final play. Rich Karlis booted the ball with his bare foot... it looked good... then faded... faded... CLANG! the upright. NO GOOD! Seahawks win! Seattle was in control of their own playoff fate with three games left. Win all three, and they'd nail down home field advantage through the AFC playoffs.

1984- Round Two
12/15/84 Broncos 31, Seahawks 14
The Seahawks dropped the penultimate game of the '84 season at Arrowhead (of course), but could still win the AFC West and a first-round bye with a home win over Denver. The Seahawks had been undefeated at home in 1984, and were favored to defeat Elway and the Broncos. It was a deeply weird game in which Dave Krieg clearly outplayed Elway (who threw four interceptions)- But one of Krieg's interceptions was returned for a touchdown, and Denver was able to capitalize on Seattle's other two turnovers as well. The Broncos rolled to a 31-14 win, and the Twelve Army's collective rage towards Elway was kindled.

1986- Round One
10/26/86 Broncos 20, Seahawks 13
While Elway was busy laying waste to Seattle's defense for 321 yards passing, Dave Krieg completed only 6 passes for 26 yards. He'd get yanked in favor of Gale Gilbert, who'd lead Seattle on a tantalizing touchdown drive that convinced Chuck Knox to bench Krieg in favor of Gilbert. After two starts where Gilbert would generate two measly touchdowns, Krieg got his job back, and lead the Seahawks on a furious 5-game rally to end the 1986 season.

1986- Round Two
12/20/86 Seahawks 41, Broncos 16
In the Kingdome rematch, the surging Seahawks shredded the Super Bowl-bound Broncos. Curt Warner galloped for 192 yards and three touchdowns, and Krieg was 17-for-24 for 238 yards and two more scores. Elway would get sacked twice and be held to 187 yards passing while competing less than half his passes. The pain of missing the playoffs would be somewhat alleviated by watching Elway and the Broncos get blown out by the Giants in Super Bowl XXI.

1987- Round One
9/13/87 Broncos 40, Seahawks 17
The Seahawks acquired standout Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth in the offseason, and he immediately endeared himself to the Twelve Army by vowing to hit Elway as hard as he could every chance he got. The Boz would plant Elway in the Mile High Stadium turf twice, but those brief flashes of pleasure were smothered in a blowout loss to the Broncos. Elway threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, and a competitive 20-17 game at halftime turned into a demoralizing 40-17 loss.

1987- Round Two
12/13/87 Seahawks 28, Broncos 21
I was at this game, and I happened to be about 10 feet away from the Broncos team bus as they arrived at the Kingdome. I was in awe of Tony Dorsett, but when Elway came off the bus it took all of the self-control I could muster as a twelve-year-old to keep myself from making a doomed Jeff Gillooly-esque run at his knees. Thankfully, I restrained myself and the Seahawks secured a late-season win that kept their playoff hopes alive, with the game-clinching score coming on a reverse flea-flicker that climaxed with a 40-yard TD strike from Krieg to Ray Butler. Once again, I'd have to console myself by watching the Broncos ultimately fail in Super Bowl XXII.

1988- Wow! A sweep!
12/11/88 Seahawks 21, Broncos 14
9/4/88 Seahawks 42, Broncos 14
The first of only two Seattle season sweeps of the Broncos... If Denver had won either of these games, they would have won the AFC West and Seattle has one less banner hanging from the Seahawks Stadium rafters. The Broncos were two-time defending AFC Champions, and huge favorites over Seattle at Mile High on Kickoff Weekend 1988, but Krieg was mistake free while Elway barfed up three turnovers, and the Hawks escaped with a 21-14 win. One chilling sidenote was Mike Harden's vicious illegal hit on Steve Largent, which broke his facemask, knocked out a few teeth and drew a huge fine from the NFL.

The rematch in Seattle three months later was no contest: Warner and John :L. Williams both rambled for over 100 yards rushing, and Dave Krieg was 19/22 with two TDs and no picks. Oh... and Largent got his revenge, DESTROYING Mike Harden with a perfect (and legal) hit on an interception return.

In a four year span from 1986-1989 the Broncos went to three Super Bowls. In 1988, the Seahawks rose up and smote them right out of postseason contention.

1993- Typical Elway
11/28/93 Broncos 17, Seahawks 9
This was the only time EVER that I arrived late for a Seahawks game. I hit Seattle about 12:30, and drove right into the gaping maw of pre-game traffic, which I usually miss by being ridiculously early. So I found myself sitting on the ramp off I-90, within sight of the Dome, gridlocked. I didn't get into the stadium until a few minutes into the first quarter, but there was no score yet. Yay!

I got to my seat in the 300 level, just in time to see the pivotal play of the game, and of Seattle's season. I hadn't even sat down yet... It was 3rd and long for Denver from midfield. 65,000 twelves combined to make a deafening roar, and it looked like Antonio Edwards was going to force a 3-and-out or a turnover with a vicious blindside hit on Elway...

Somehow, Elway pulled a Ben Kenobi, sensed his impending doom, ducked under Edwards and fired a perfect 50-yard TD strike to Shannon Sharpe. 7-0 Denver, but it felt like 70-0. The Hawks would get it together, sacking Elway 4 times (including once for a safety) and picking him once, but once Rod Bernstine punched it in late in the 4th to make it 17-9 the game and Seattle's season was over (nope, no two-point conversions in the NFL until 1994, boys and girls). The Seahawks would finish with a 1-4 Death March towards a disappointing 6-10 finish, while Denver once again made the playoffs. This game is still one of my most unpleasant memories of being a Seahawks fan.

1995- We Got Him (For Once)!
12/10/95 Seahawks 31, Broncos 27
This win not only kept Denver out of the playoffs, but it also was the greatest comeback in team history (until that win over Tampa Bay earlier this season), against our Tormentor-In-Chief. I was going to Western at the time, and living in the Fairhaven dorms. It was final exam time, and instead of cramming I was glued to the Hawks/Broncos throwdown. As the game went on, my textbooks started to look more appealing than witnessing another Elway-administered beatdown.

Denver led 20-0 at one point, and even after a Peterson FG, it was 20-3 at the half. Denver was deep in Seattle territory early in the 3rd, about to make it 27-3. The Hawks gambled on D, sending Robert Blackmon on a safety blitz. Blackmon obliterated Elway and Antonio Edwards scooped up the fumble and rambled 83 yards for a TD that completely shifted the momentum. I leaned out my dorm window and brayed like a farm animal after that one... Seattle still trailed 27-17 in the 4th, but rallied for two late touchdowns, leading to more out-the-dorm-window screaming. Simply amazing.

What Elway-related memories/trauma can you add to this, my fellow Twelves?

January 23, 2014

Seahawks 23, 49ers 17

I was eight years old when my father took me to my first Seahawks game way back in 1983. Even though three decades have passed, and everything about myself and the team that I adore has changed, my memories of that day are in 1080p. First seeing the Kingdome as we drove into town on I-90, the impossibly cavernous environment inside the dome itself, and screaming. SO much screaming. One the best life lessons my father ever imparted to me was: "When the other team has the ball, SCREAM."

When I was eight, being given PERMISSION to scream myself hoarse was like being allowed to eat ice cream for dinner while watching Popeye cartoons (I was an odd kid). I was delirious with joy, and the moment the New England Patriots took the field for warm-ups that day I started SHRIEKING at them. Then, as now, moderation was a problem area for me. My father finally convinced me that I at least had to settle down when our Seahawks had the ball- But when the Patriots had it I was a 60-pound roaring demon, and when Seattle won to reach the playoffs for the first time ever, I felt like I had been more than a mere spectator. I had helped push the Hawks to victory, and a Twelve was born.

Just over 30 years later, only yards away from where I was then, it felt like all those years of Twelving were reaching the most dramatic of climaxes. I was standing in a different stadium, the team was decked out in vastly different uniforms- Hell, I had even switched genders- But one thing was familiar: I had an 8-year-old's feeling of wide-eyed anticipation, and I was going to express myself the same way I did then. When the other team had the ball, I was going to scream.

The problem was that thirty more years of life experience also weighed upon me. When I was eight, I didn't truly understand the consequences of a Seahawks loss. I was sad when those '83 Hawks lost in the AFC Championship Game, but I was also convinced that they'd just win the next Super Bowl. Easy-peasy. I went into last Sunday's NFC Championship Game with the terrible, crippling awareness that a loss to the hated San Francisco 49ers would not only end the greatest season in franchise history- It would also irrevocably taint it. The "2013 NFC West Champions" banner would ring as hollow and evoke as much bitterness as its 2004 cousin (which is a constant reminder of our trilogy of failure against the Rams that season). Win, and go to the Super Bowl. Lose, and tumble into pitch-black, shiveringly-cold oblivion with the cackling of your most despicable enemy echoing in your years as you tumble into forlorn nothingness.

The atmosphere at Seahawks Stadium last Sunday was unlike nothing I'd ever experienced before (Here's all my pics from my visit to Washington State, by the way). 90 minutes before kickoff the tension was nearly unbearable. Richard Sherman made a point to run through the 49ers and past their fans during warm-ups, and Ricardo Lockette got into a minor yelling/shoving match with a San Francisco player as well. Down at the Seahawks tunnel, there was a parade of various celebrities- There's Macklemore! There's Roger Goodell! There's Dr. Dre! There's Dave Krieg! (OK, that last one is probably only a big deal to us old school Twelves) This was the biggest game the Seattle Seahawks had ever or would ever play at home, and everyone in attendance seemed to understand that.

I was on the edge of madness. Every time I saw someone in 49ers gear rage swelled within me, but I found a great coping mechanism in "shunning" them Dwight Schrute style, and I consoled myself with the notion that they'd all head home slouching and defeated. I did my best to save my energy for the game, but I couldn't resist the urge to rain boos upon Harbaugh and his charges as they took the field. As Phil Dawson booted the opening kickoff, I knew the three most stressful hours of my life had begun. After Russell Wilson fumbled on the game's first snap, the only thing that kept me from absolutely freaking out was screaming at Colin Kaepernick. I blocked out all my nagging doubts by shouting down the rational and contemplative voices in my head. I was no longer a person. I was a Wolf Grey Bullhorn.

Down on the field, the Seahawks did their best to absorb the vicious blows being landed by the loathsome (but talented) 49ers. Even after falling behind 10-0, the Hawks didn't panic, and more importantly they stayed true to their identity. They still knew that if they played their best game, victory would be theirs. After that initial miscue, Russell Wilson avoided game-changing mistakes and produced two explosive plays that helped push Seattle to victory. His 51-yard bomb to Doug Baldwin after a lengthy scramble led to Seattle's first points and his 35-yard 4th-and-7 missile to Jermaine Kearse would put the Hawks ahead for good in the final quarter. The WolfBadger outplayed Kaepernick, but the Offensive MVP was (once again) Marshawn Lynch. He posted the first 100-yard rushing performance against San Francisco all season, and his 40-yard dash for a TD in the 3rd quarter pulled the Hawks level with SF- and set up the 25 most stressful minutes of football the Twelve Army has ever endured.

Kapernick responded with his last big play of the day- A jump-pass strike to Boldin that BARELY got past Earl Thomas and gave the lead back to San Francisco. Angry Doug Baldwin replied with a 69-yard kickoff return (part of a career day for number 89: 106 yards receiving and 109 yards on kickoff returns) to set up a field goal. After Big Balls Pete eschewed a 53-yard field goal attempt and Wilson cashed in with that touchdown bomb to Kearse, it was up to the Seattle defense to hold the lead and send the Hawks to New Jersey.

Even though they allowed 17 points and a handful of maddening Kaepernick sprints on broken plays, in the 4th quarter the Seahawks defense showed the fifty-five million watching at home why they are the best in football. First, a Cliff Avril strip-sack that was scooped up by Michael Bennett (Both Avril and Bennett applied harrowing pressure to Kapernick all day, and Seattle's front seven held 49er running backs to 31 yards on 17 carries- Led by Bobby Wagner's 15 tackles). Then, a Kam Chancellor interception of Kaepernick that led to the field goal that extended Seattle's lead to six points (Bam Bam would make 11 tackles, knock down two passes, and give Vernon Davis all-new nightmare fuel). There were three minutes and change left, and one more defensive stop would put the Seahawks in XLVIII.

I was mentally and physically exhausted up in Section 325 by that point, but I somehow squeezed a few more minutes of noise out of my wheezing lungs. I'd love to tell you I was supremely confident, but as the Niners moved deeper and deeper into Seattle territory fright spread through my mind like an infection. Thoughts flashed through my head- Can I get out of the Stadium fast enough to avoid seeing those Emperors of Fucksville celebrate on our field? How would I get back to the light rail without talking to anyone? How depressing is my flight home going to be? Even as these thoughts clouded my mind, I yelled. I screamed. I roared. That was my only tether to some semblance of sanity.

My seats are up in the south end zone, next to the Twelfth Man Flag. They're not the best seats, but sometimes they give me a perspective you don't get watching on TV. With 30 seconds left, the Niners lined up at our 18-yard-line. From where I sat, I could see Richard Sherman was covering Michael Crabtree. Once the ball was snapped, Avril pressured Kaepernick into a slightly hurried throw and I thought "OH SHIT! He threw at Sherm!" For a split second, I thought Sherman would pick the ball off, but we all know what happened next:

Or, as many have posted on various social media platforms: 

Sherman's acrobatics quite literally saved Seattle's season, and at this moment stands as the most important individual effort on a single play in franchise history. Not only did he have the athletic ability to reach the ball, but he had the skill and situational awareness to tip the ball to teammate Malcom Smith. If those aren't the ingredients that produce an NFL DPOY award, I'm not sure what would. 

In an instant I shifted from pre-emptive depression to the most boundless joy imaginable. The Seahawks win! The Seahawks beat the Niners! THE SEAHAWKS ARE GOING TO THE FUCKING SUPER BOWL!!!!! At the moment, I knew that I was experiencing the best it could EVER get at a Seahawks home game. This was it. This was better than my first game. It was better than being there for Steve Largent's last NFL game. It was better than the last regular season game at the Kingdome, or seeing Romo drop the snap, or even the 2005 NFC Championship Game. I have been at dozens of Seahawks home games over the last 30 years, but there's no way another game in Seattle will ever top the 2013 NFC Championship Game. The Hawks battled their fiercest rival with a Super Bowl berth on the line, and both teams played magnificently. With a huge chunk of the nation watching, the Seahawks (and the Twelve Army) prevailed and proved their quality. 

There will be plenty of time over the next 10 days to talk about the post-game hysteria swirling around Richard Sherman, and our history with the Denver Broncos, and Super Bowl XLVIII itself. But it's OK to just look back and marvel at what we just saw, and what our team has already accomplished this season. The Twelve Army has never been louder than it was on Sunday. Those of us at Seahawks Stadium exhausted ourselves- We left it on the field for all of you, and once again the effort paid off. Perhaps Niners fans should consider emulating our behavior at Levi's Stadium, rather than making smug pronouncements about how they're too "classy" to attempt to affect the outcome by making noise. Us Twelves all have a little Dick Sherman in us: We're more concerned about winning games than your approval. 

And this team- Have you ever loved a Seahawks team more than you love these guys? They're talented, confident, compelling, unconventional, appealing, fun to watch... and fucking COOL. How weird is that? The Seahawks are COOL. And now they're one more victory away from professional immortality - Obviously, I think the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl, but last Sunday was a memory worth framing, regardless of the XLVIII outcome. Shit, I already did: 

What do you think, sirs? 

January 17, 2014

Spinning Angst Into Noise

Last August, I was at Panera Bread picking up lunch for my fellow retail serfs when a total bro in his early 20s noticed the Seahawks lanyard I was wearing. He asked me if I was a Hawks fan. I said of course I was. The next words out of his mouth were... "Fuck the Seahawks!"

I was taken aback. This kid was with his girlfriend and her friends, so he was clearly showing his ass because he wanted to "impress" them (By the way: Fuck you, testosterone). My next move, as usual, was to ask him what team he rooted for. Typically, I'll have a rational answer that parries their assault no matter what team they namecheck... but he said "I'm a Niners fan!" 

Because of course he was. Then MY lizard brain took over and I barked out "FUCK THE NINERS!" As Ron Burgundy once said, that escalated quickly. In seconds we were SCREAMING profanities at each other. In Panera Bread. His girlfriend was pleading with him to stop. I couldn't leave because I was waiting for my co-workers' food. He was getting dumber as I was getting angrier and louder. Finally, I got my soup and got out the door. It was a deeply unpleasant experience. I HATE the 49ers and their fans (here's why)... But I hate what happens to me when we play those shitmongers almost as much.

I'm usually an optimistic, positive person, but when the San Francisco 49ers invade my headspace I turn into a belligerent asshole. My stress level days before the NFC Championship Game couldn't possibly be higher, and it's not because I think the Seahawks will lose- It's from the knowledge that Sunday will either be one of the best days of my life, or one of the worst. The fact that we are playing San Francisco is obscuring the fact that this game is for a spot in the Super Bowl. My hatred for that team and (the vast majority of) their fans is so intense that it clouds my judgement.

Being a fan is inherently irrational, and hating another team and its fan base is pretty much batshit insane. When it comes to the 49ers and the Seahawks, the fervent disdain both teams and fan bases hold for each other is curious (particularly for outsiders). The two cities are largely similar in many important ways (including the fact that they are the two major U.S. cities with the largest per-capita transgender populations), and the teams themselves have similar philosophies, strengths and weaknesses. I can tell myself all of this, and I can "know" it in an intellectual sense, but it doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm about to snap and get all stabby whenever I'm forced to interact with a Forty-Niners fan.

I think that's my problem this week- That I'll be forced to interact with these miscreants. My typical coping mechanism is to minimize my exposure to Niners fans. I can ignore their comments on my blog, and keep them from being published (and I will, you mangy red and gold mutts). I can block them on Twitter, and so on. But this weekend in Seattle their arrogance, entitlement, and comprehensive dumbfuckery will be squarely in my face.

I'm excited about going to the game, and the yearning to empty my lungs upon all those Niner eardrums is overwhelming- But I'm also dreading how the delicious sausage of victory will be made. The relatively small population of 49ers supporters at Seahawks Stadium will still be WAY too large for my tastes, and a good portion of them will be drunk (as will a lot of the Twelves at the game, which won't help matters either). My mind can spin out endless unpleasant and possibly dangerous scenarios for gameday. In addition to that, 30 YEARS of fandom feels like it's been leading up to this game, and there's never been a moment in my life as a Twelve that has felt more apocalyptic. The only historical matchup that could have possibly been bigger than this Sunday's would have been Elway and the Broncos visiting the Kingdome for the AFC Championship Game back in the 1980s. If you add all that up, my mental health is in tatters today.

The good news? The Seahawks are WAY more mentally tough than I am. All that stuff I just blathered about? They give ZERO fucks about all of it. They KNOW how good they are (which is better than any other team in the league (including the 49ers), and they understand how close they are to football immortality. They are unburdened and they are focused on what they need to do on Sunday to reach the Super Bowl.

I am trying to emulate their example, as should all of you who are lucky enough to be at Sunday's game. I intend to save as much of my energy as possible until kickoff. I plan to store up all the irritation, frustration, hatred and anger I have towards San Francisco until then too, point myself towards the field, and become a motherfucking sonic weapon. Every fucking moment Kaepernick and flunkies are on the field, my brother and I will be POUNDING THE SHIT out of their eardrums.

In my head, I keep hearing a variation of Jordan Belfort's "Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing!" speech in The Wold Of Wall Street...

Desperate to avoid a YEAR of Niners fans lording a defeat over you? GOOD. When San Francisco has the ball, start screaming. 

Terrified of the EIGHT MONTHS you will spend tortured by this game if we lose? GOOD. When San Francisco has the ball, start screaming. 

Horrified by the idea of watching Harbaugh and Kaepernick celebrate on our field? GOOD. When San Francisco has the ball, start screaming. 

Forty-Niners fans seem to actually believe that they don't make noise at their home games because they are too classy to attempt to affect the outcome. You know what? I've NEVER been classy. I never will be. I will take every advantage within the rules to help my team win. I'm a loud, dirty, Twelvin' BITCH. I absolutely intend to affect the outcome this Sunday. Along with 68,000 or so of my closest friends, you fuckin' KNOW that I will.

23-12 Seahawks, and on to New Jersey. On Monday morning we'll all be exhausted, voiceless... and enjoying the sweetest Victory Monday of our lives.

What do you think, sirs?