November 24, 2015

Seahawks 29, Santa Clara 13

I've talked a lot in this space lately about how this season has felt like 2004- That forlorn, torturous campaign that ended with a Bobby Engram drop in the end zone and a excruciating playoff loss to the hated St. Louis Rams. We've certainly seen the same sort of spate of blown 4th quarter leads and nauseatingly familiar inconsistent play, but maybe we don't have to reach that far back in history to find a template for comparison. 

Four years ago this week, the Seahawks were in a similar position. They were 6-5, and they had already lost to the division leaders (San Francisco that year), so the NFC West title already seemed out of reach. In all five of their losses, they blew a lead. In three losses, they squandered a 4th-quarter lead. They were talented. They were tough. But something wasn't clicking. 

We know what happened next. The Seahawks posted an upset win at Chicago (in a game NO ONE gave them a chance to win), and then went on a spree of wanton demolition not seen since the cops went on strike in Old Detroit during the 3rd act of Robocop. They won their last 4 regular season games by an aggregate score of 170-43 (including a 42-13 thrashing of the 49ers). They upset DC on the road in the Wild Card game, and were thirty seconds away from a 3rd contest against the Niners (but this time for a trip to the Super Bowl). The team that got to the precipice on the NFC Championship Game bore little resemblance to the team that lost to 4-12 Detroit and 7-9 Miami. 

These Seahawks? They're 5-5. They haven't beaten a team with a winning record yet. They haven't beaten a team with an elite quarterback yet. They've blown BIG 4th quarter leads multiple times. The offensive line has been more putrid than an Arby's grease trap. Their identity-defining, mercilessly punishing All-Pro running back might not play again this season (or ever again for the Seahawks). They're no longer invincible at home, having already lost in Seattle twice. Their All-Pro safety held out for two games and he hasn't been quite the same since. Their franchise quarterback has underperformed on a "Wild Thing Vaughn in most of Major League II" level. They haven't played a complete, impressive 60-minute game yet this season. They are clearly suffering from a post-Super Bowl loss hangover, right? They are done. They are cooked more thoroughly than most Thanksgiving turkeys, right? 

That's the fashionable conventional wisdom, but it might also be deeply wrong. They're still talented enough to build huge leads on teams like Cincinnati and Charlotte, and to erase a huge deficit against Arizona. They have the second best overall defense in the NFL (and also the second best one against the pass, despite some maddening late-game collapses). They have the best rushing offense in the league, even with Marshawn Lynch missing three and a half games so far this season. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are still the best pair of edge pass rushers around, and Jeremy Lane is set to return in order to bolster the Legion of Boom.

Russell Wilson, despite a growing heap of mostly misplaced criticism, just had his best game of the season. That maligned offensive line has vastly improved in recent weeks, keeping Wilson cleaner in the pocket and creating wider running lanes for Seattle ballcarriers. Doug Baldwin is perhaps having the best season of his career. The biggest sources for optimism on offense come in the form of two rookies: WR/KR Tyler Lockett and RB Thomas Rawls. Lockett made an instant impact as a kick returner, but he's becoming a dangerous weapon as a receiver as well. Flash had 2 TDs Sunday, and the last Seahawks rookie wideout to score twice in one game was Joey Galloway all the way back in 1995. 

Lockett, hopefully coupled soon with a healthy Paul Richardson, makes defenses vulnerable to the deep ball on play-action. That only works if Seattle is effectively running the ball. With Thomas Rawls darting into holes and exploding through defenders, that doesn't appear to be a problem for the Seahawks.

The undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan is playing Willie Beamen to Marshawn Lynch's Cap Rooney right now. Sunday he touched the ball a whopping 33 times, and stacked up 245 yards while conquering the Santa Clara end zone twice. Not only does he already have three 100-yard rushing performances- He has averaged a ridiculous 6 yards per carry! Could it be a fluke? Could it just be that he's relatively fresh and healthy compared to the defenses he's flaying alive? Maybe. But the kid is starting to look like another stunning UDFA find by John Schneider, and Life After Shawn is looking slightly less bleak and terrifying all of the sudden.

Next up is Pittsburgh. Fans might want "revenge" for Super Bowl XL, but the players couldn't give less of a fuck about that. They just want to prove they can still beat a playoff-worthy team. In a similar spot 4 years ago, those '12 Hawks stunned the football world with an unexpected triumph in Chicago. With a win over the Steelers, Seattle would serve notice that they're still a legit NFC contender. It's not hyperbole to state that a win this Sunday would change the entire tenor of this season.

Seattle should (and will) beat Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis. If they want to make the playoffs, they'll need to win 2 out 3 from Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Arizona. I don't know about y'all. but I'd prefer to have a playoff spot locked down before that rematch with the Cardinals, if possible. On a totally selfish tip, I'm going to be at the games against Cleveland and St. Louis that bracket Christmas, and I'd like those games to be meaningful. Don't let me down, boys.

You might be thinking "So what? So what if they sneak in as a wild card?" Well, six Wild Card teams have won the Super Bowl, one as recently as 2010. And you don't want another shot at the Packers? At the Panthers? I do, and you KNOW the Hawks do, too.

Oh... Fuck Pittsburgh. Obviously.

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October 29, 2015

Schrödinger's Seahawks

Are the Seattle Seahawks one of the best teams in football, saddled with a losing record mainly due to tough competition and horrible luck? They're currently 6th in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, and all of their losses have come either in overtime, to a currently undefeated team, or both. Only four of their remaining nine games are against teams that currently sport winning records. It would be reasonable to argue they might be on the verge of a winning streak that would vault them towards a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Or are they an inferior team that is only a couple of plays (and an injured Jay Cutler) away from being 1-6? The offensive line just allowed five sacks to a Santa Clara defense that hadn't recorded a sack in their two previous contests. Russell Wilson is running around like John Anderton trying to find that elusive Minority Report, and his decision-making has slipped a notch accordingly. The defense has lurched from dominance to feeble feigned resistance and back again. The only consistent thing about this team has been its placekicker. It would be reasonable to argue that they're well on their way to the first 10-loss campaign of the Pete Carroll era.

Just as Schrödinger's Cat was simultaneously dead and alive, these Seahawks are at once a legitimate Super Bowl contender AND just another team amidst a scrum of below-average, scuffling NFC squads. In a real sense, one of those quantum states will collapse on Sunday when we open the box that is JerryWorld and see what's inside: A living, breathing threat to conquer Santa Clara in February, or the lifeless husk of the team we used to know? 

You can probably guess which side I'm falling on- This team is getting healthier, and they are fortunate to catch Dallas while Tony Romo is still sidelined by injury. AT&T Stadium will be festooned in 12th Man Flags, and before the end, a national TV audience will hear "SEA! HAWKS!" chants loud and clear.  Marshawn Lynch will chomp up ground and clock, and the Legion of Boom will be the fog that turns Matt Cassell inside out. It's also safe to assume that in the event that Dez Bryant plays on Sunday, he won't be 100%. Sherm will shadow him, shut him down. 

My prediction? Seattle 19, Dallas 12. The Hawks roll into the bye at 4-4, and ready for a sprint towards Levi's Stadium over the 2nd half of the season. How about we take a peek at our five most memorable wins over the Minions of the Botox'd Ghoul? 

5. Seahawks 29, Cowboys 3 (12/16/01)
The Seahawks came into this one at 6-6 and still very much alive in the AFC playoff race (incidentally, this was our LAST AFC playoff race before moving to the NFC in 2002). The Cowboys were 4-8 and led by the eminently forgettable Quincy Carter, but their biggest weakness was against the elements. In the penultimate game the Hawks would ever play at Husky Stadium, the weather was miserable: Temps in the 40s, windy, and rainy. The Cowboys carried themselves like they just wanted to get back into the locker room and get warm & dry, and it clearly affected their performance. Ricky Watters gobbled up 138 yards on 33 touches and opened the scoring with a 1st-quarter touchdown, and a young Shaun Alexander notched one of his 14 touchdowns of the 2001 campaign. After Ike Charton's blowout-punctuating 4th-quarter pick-6, the Cowboys could finally run for the bus (More on the 2001 Seahawks here). 

A little less than a year later, the hope that bloomed in the playoff near-miss of 2001 had wilted. Seattle had a new stadium, a new conference/division and snazzy new uniforms, but on the field the mantra was "Same Old Seahawks." The team stumbled out to a 1-5 start, with newly minted starting QB Trent Dilfer unable to duplicate his magical late-2001 performance after a preseason knee injury. 

Seattle traveled to Dallas as an anonymous foil for Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys. The all-time rushing record was within Smith's grasp, and that was the ONLY storyline fans outside of the Twelve Army cared about. Sure enough, Smith snared the record that day, but the rest of the game would change the course of Seahawks history. 

Trent Dilfer's Achilles Tendon popped (YOUCH), and Matt Hasselbeck was forced to enter the game. Up to this point in his Seattle tenure, Hasselbeck had been a disappointment, but his leadership that day at Texas Stadium gave us a glimpse of the Pro Bowl QB he'd evolve into. Late in the 4th, with the Seahawks possessing the ball in a tie game, Darrell Jackson was leveled with a brutally dirty hit that drew a flag and left D-Jack concussed. Hasselbeck would show the fire that defined his career in the huddle, barking "Nobody fucking does that to us!" He'd lead Seattle on a 13-play, 72-yard drive to the winning field goal, and the Hawks would finish the season with a 6-4 stretch in which Hass threw for over 3000 yards and set the stage for the Seahawks' mid-decade dominance of the NFC West.  

3. Seahawks 31, Cowboys 14 (November 27, 1986) 
"Thanksgiving Day v the Cowboys" conjures up horrifying memories for both younger and older Twelves. In 1980, the Seahawks went to Dallas and got a 51-7 murderplowing for their troubles. In 2008, the Hawks couldn't have possibly looked more worn down and decrepit in a 34-9 defeat at Texas Stadium. In 1986, however, Seattle delivered the best Thanksgiving performance in franchise history (until last year's dust-up in Santa Clara ended with RW3 and Sherm eating turkey on the Niners' logo).

The Seahawks were 7.5 point underdogs that day. They had just snapped a 4-game losing streak with a narrow win over the Eagles at home 4 days earlier, but it looked like their flickering playoff hopes would be snuffed out by the 7-5 Cowboys. Tony Dorsett opened the scoring for Dallas, and everything was going according to plan. Dave Krieg had other ideas, though. Krieg would run for a TD and fire scoring strikes to Steve Largent and Byron Franklin. Curt Warner and John L. Williams would combine for 195 all-purpose yards, and Warner sealed the victory with a 9-yard TD dash in the 4th. The Seahawks would end the '86 season on a glorious 5-game winning streak that no Twelve over the age of 35 will ever forget (which I've talked about in this space more than once).

2. Seahawks 13, Cowboys 10 (October 23, 2005)
This game gets overshadowed by the crazy win over the Giants later in the 2005 season, but I'll always remember it as the moment that year when I finally allowed myself to think: "Holy shit! The Seahawks could actually go to the Super Bowl."

I don't know if I've seen a more physically brutal regular season game than the one Seattle played versus Dallas that day. Late in the 4th Bill Parcell's charges were up 7-3, and intercepted Matt Hasselbeck deep in Seahawks' territory. They were 12 yards away from a deathblow TD (and 10 yards away from a clock-killing first down). Somehow, the Seattle defense held, blasting a scrambling Drew Bledsoe out of bounds INCHES short of converting on 3rd down. Instead of going for it, Dallas kicked a chip-shot field goal. With two minutes left, Seattle was still alive.

Matt Hasselbeck led the Seahawks on a 6-play, 81-yard drive that climaxed with a 1-yard touchdown toss to Ryan Hannam with only 46 seconds left. It seemed like overtime was nigh, barring another late Seattle defensive meltdown. The Cowboys reached only to the Seahawks 37-yard line before calling their final timeout with a mere 14 seconds remaining. Taking a knee and going to OT seemed like the smart play for Dallas, but Parcells let Bledsoe put it up one last time and the Cowboys paid dearly. His pass intended for Terry Glenn hung in the air, only to be snatched by Jordan Babineaux. Big Play Babs started earning his nickname at that instant, smartly stepping out of bounds at the Dallas 32 with only five seconds remaining. (The not yet a traitor) Josh Brown jogged out onto the field and nailed the 50-yard game winner at the final gun. Delirium followed, with Brown tossing off his helmet and the Hawks storming the field. The Seahawks wouldn't lose another meaningful game until Super Bowl XL.

1. Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20 (January 6, 2007)
I've talked a lot about this game in this space before, but I think it's important to focus on the stuff BESIDES Romo's blunder that led to this stunning Seattle victory. First of all, Romo ALMOST still killed our season anyway after fumbling the snap. He nearly ran for the go-ahead TD. Even worse, he was INCHES away from a converting a 1st down that would have allowed Dallas to burn off the clock before trying an even shorter field goal. Jordan Babineaux saved the day with his spectacular hustle and a textbook tackle.

A couple of other things to remember: Even if Dallas had converted that FG attempt, the Seahawks would have had over a minute to get into range for a game-winner off the foot of Brown, who had already won FOUR games in 2006 with last-second kicks (why do you think I bought that shitbird's jersey before he bolted for STL?). After the Seahawks got the ball back, Dallas still had timeouts remaining. If they had held Seattle to a 3-and-out, they would have gotten the ball back in good field position with time to get back into field goal range. Seattle's victory wasn't sealed until Shaun Alexander tore off a 22-yarder to eat up almost all of the time remaining.

Some other things worth remembering about that game:

-Kelly Jennings: Hero!
Few players in Seahawks history have been derided as much as Jennings, but we don't win without the play he made midway through the final quarter. After the Seahawks failed to score on 4th and goal, on the ensuing play Jennings forced a Terry Glenn fumble- that led to a safety that pulled Seattle within 20-15 and gave Hasselbeck and the offense the ball back with an opportunity to score the go-ahead TD.

-Jerramy Stevens: Hero!
Yes, Stevens is rightly remembered as a worthless fucking turd and an embarrassment to our franchise- but for one day, he was absolutely essential to Seattle's victory. Stevens led all receivers that day with five receptions, and scored both Seattle touchdowns, including the go-ahead score late in the 4th. Great job, ya bastad!

-Some Dude We Pulled Off the Street Shut Down T.O.
Future Hall-of-Famer Terrell Owens' stat line that day? Two catches for 26 yards and a fumble. Who was covering him most of that game? Pete Hunter... A rando who was working as a loan officer before his phone rang with a job offer from Seattle days before the playoffs began. After the playoff loss at Chicago the next week, Hunter went back to playing in the Arena league and then the CFL... But for one day he helped shut down Owens with Seattle's season on the line.

Any other memories of "The Romo Game?" Anything big I missed? Let me know!

October 19, 2015

Panthers 27, Seahawks 23

Have you ever been in a situation where it hurt to be around another person, but you knew that it would hurt more to completely disconnect from them? It could be with a friend you wish was something more. It could be with an ex you vainly hope for reconciliation with. It could be with a family member or a friend with whom you knew the relationship was harmful or toxic to one or both of you.

The smart thing to do- The RATIONAL thing, the act of the realist - is to say "I'm sorry. I deeply care about you, but I just can't do this anymore." In the long run, you'd be better off. But I'm guessing that for most of you, like me, this is almost impossible to do in practice.

This is the point I've reached with the Seattle Seahawks. I can't walk away from them- I can't disconnect- but I'm beginning to worry that it's corrosive to my mental health to continue investing my heart and soul into them.

I'm addicted to hope. The hope that things will get better, the hope that real change is possible, the hope that relationships thought to be shredded can be mended. I couldn't survive as a pessimist or even a realist. Hope is oxygen to me. Without it, I'd suffocate. For the longest time, hope of a better future fueled me. I hoped that things would get better after I transitioned. They have (in spectacular fashion), but now without that massive life goal in front of me, I've been left wondering without much certainty "Now what?" I've started drifting a bit.

I wonder if that is what has happened to our team. I know that for me, the 30-year quest to finally win a title became an obsession. The final victory of Super Bowl XLVIII was unfathomably cathartic. We had reached the pinnacle of the game that is our national obsession. We were no longer a punchline. I could exhale. I could relax. Of course, the team couldn't. And they didn't. Up until the moment Malcolm Butler stole our dreams of an Emerald Empire, the Seahawks fought and clawed like hungry contenders, not fat and happy Champions coasting on past glory.

After yet another stunning 4th-quarter collapse, we are left with nothing but unpleasant questions. The team isn't shitty. A shitty team wouldn't have led three undefeated teams going into the final quarter this season. The pattern is maddening but inescapable- Once we get deep enough into the games, the offense can't sustain drives. The defense, which resembles its old self for the first 3/4ths of the game, crumbles.

The team isn't old or lacking talent. All of the core starters are in the primes of their careers. Is it poor conditioning? Maybe. Is it poor play-calling, as the "Fire Bevell" brigade screams during and after every loss?  Perhaps. Is it a weak, poorly constructed offensive line? Plausible. It's disturbing to think that it might be all of those things at once. It's even more unsettling to wonder if the team itself isn't sure what the diagnosis is, let alone what the cure might be. From 2012-2014, Seattle consistently wore the enemy down as games dragged on, and either ended up physically dominating them and/or capitalizing on a catastrophic mistake. This season, they are the ones crumbling- They are the ones who have someone else's will imposed upon them. They are no longer the ones who knock.

Last week, I talked about how this season was starting to remind me of 2004. Six weeks in, that's no longer true. Already, 2015 is WORSE than 2004. We're already had our Rams collapse. We've already had our Cowboys implosion, and the season is only a month-and-a-half old. I'm starting to wonder if a better historical parallel is 1985. The Seahawks came into that season as a trendy Super Bowl pick, but underperformed their way to an 8-8 finish, alternating 2 wins with two losses throughout the entire season. The 2015 Hawks are 3/8ths of the way onto producing a distant photo-negative of that forlorn campaign. In fact, we can only hope that Seattle replicates the '85 pattern for at least another fortnight (That would get us to midseason at 4-4).

There is still a flickering light in the distance, but it feels like we are looking at the Sun from the surface of Pluto. Beat two other flawed teams with losing records, and you get a stretch of three home games against the Cardinals, Niners and Steelers. If you come home at 4-4, you still have a fighting chance at a wild card spot or even another NFC West title (If you sweep Arizona).

Next is Santa Clara. I think it's actually a good thing that it's a short week against a familiar, hated rival. The Seahawks should have Bobby Wagner back on the field, and they are still a better team than the Niners- Forgive me if I hope that we enter the 4th quarter trailing and win on a Hauschka kick at the final gun, but blowing so many late leads has me a little shellshocked. If Seattle can't get properly motivated for a trip to the Bay Area against the Red Menace, this season will effectively end before October does.

I'm sure a lot of you have already given up. There is certainly plentiful evidence to support that decision. It's probably the correct and rational one. You'll have three more hours free on Sundays! Yay! Take up a new hobby! May I suggest cross-stitching?

Me? I'm too far gone, and I've never been any good at letting things go. Often, I do this to my detriment. But man... When I actually end up being right, when my optimism ends up being justified? There is no better feeling in the world.

I'm choosing to stay here in the asylum, and it looks like there are some rooms opening up. Who wants to join me in sentimental, irrational insanity?

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October 12, 2015

Bengals 27, Seahawks 24 (OT)

I've never seen such a beautiful day end up so completely spoiled. 

On Sunday, I brought my son to his first-ever Seahawks game. He's 9, barely older than I was when I went to my first Seahawks game way back in 1983. Not only did that stirring win make me a Twelve for life, but almost all my positive memories of estranged father are connected to watching the Seahawks together. Thankfully, I'm not estranged from my son. We're very close, and his affinity for the Hawks is deeply meaningful to me. He's not from Seattle. Geographically, he should be a Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns fan. Sadly, I only have my kids one weekend a month, so he's not a 12 due to me constantly hammering Bittersweet Symphony into his brainpan. He's a Twelve because the Seahawks are awesome and he wants that connection to me. Here we are before departing for Cincinnati yesterday: 

Taking him to the game was also significant to me because just over a year ago, I was afraid he would end up hating me. When I first tried to come out to him as my authentic self, he hid from me and refused to see me. It turned around soon enough, but us going to the game together was an exemplar of how far we've come since last summer. Here we are up in the nosebleed seats: 

For 3 quarters, it was a blast. It was a gorgeous, sun-drenched, unseasonably warm fall day. To our right, the Cincinnati skyline. To our left, the Ohio River and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge into Kentucky. Below, the Seahawks were stomping out a formidable Bengals team. Russell Wilson was perfect. The defense had Cincinnati's explosive offense locked down. The offensive line was blasting open running lanes for Thomas Rawls. It was going to be an emphatic win, launching the Seahawks towards another title run and forever cementing my son's Twelvedom, 

Then it all unspooled, with Seattle suddenly finding themselves unable to string together first downs on offense, and helpless against the newly dominant Andy Dalton. Everything had to go wrong for Seattle to lose after being up by 3 scores in the 4th quarter, and it did. I was struck with a twinge of nauseating familiarity, though...  

Yesterday's shattering defeat in Cincinnati was unusual but not unprecedented. Almost exactly 11 years ago, the Seahawks held a 17-point lead at home against the hated Rams with less than six minutes left. As I've written in this space before

For 54 minutes, the Seahawks dominated St. Louis. They led 27-10. Shaun Alexander shredded the Rams defense for 150 yards and the defense forced three Marc Bulger interceptions. Then, it was like a switch got flipped- Seattle's offense became a 3-and-out machine, and the defense absolutely could not stop St. Louis' air attack. 27-10 became 27-17, 27-24 and then 27-27 before millions of stunned Twelves could comprehend what was happening. In overtime, Shaun McDonald hauled in a 52-yard Bulger TD and the implosion was complete.

My reaction was more like a panic attack than anything else. I was 29 years old, and decades removed from crying after Seahawks losses- But I simply collapsed into sobs after that game, into a deep, inescapable despair. At that time in my life, I was DEEP into my graduate studies, and there's no way to sugar-coat this: I was fucking miserable. I had spent 5 years in an elite PhD program, and the main effects of the experience were the destruction of my imagination and the near-obliteration my ability to feel joy. That Rams game just seemed to punctuate the darkness in my life at that time. 

But yesterday, I didn't have the luxury of reacting so openly. Throughout the whole day, in the back of my head, was a constant drumbeat of "Keep Jack Safe." Thankfully I didn't have to resort to the tactics that Rick Sanchez's space car used to keep Summer safe, but I kept thinking all day long: "Don't react to provocations. Keep him close by. Get him back home un-traumatized." I was worried that A) rooting for the Seahawks and B) being trans would invite abuse from the Bengals fans surrounding us. But we got lucky- there was a critical mass of Twelves at Paul Brown Stadium that seemed to prevent the Cincy locals from getting too aggressive, and if anyone noticed I was trans, they didn't say anything about it. 

As we left the stadium, Jack was downcast. I stopped him and asked if he was OK. He looked at me and said "I'm just really sad." I saw it in his eyes. The same look I'm sure I had when the Hawks lost in the playoffs to Miami back when I was his age. The pain of caring about the Seattle Seahawks. I hugged him and told him it would be alright, that there was a game next week and that we'd win. 

Did I believe that? I wanted to, but I also had a sickening feeling that this was 2004 all over again- That we'd struggle all season, sneak into the playoffs, and then suffer an even more traumatic fate in the postseason. 

Oh dear God, please nothing like this again. 

But there's a HUGE difference between the 2004 team and this one- This squad has muscle memory of Championship glory, and of climbing out of pits like this to play transcendent football. The 2012 Seahawks started 4-4, then were 6-5 before hitting the playoffs as the hottest team in the league. Just last year, the Hawks started 3-3, then were 6-4 before going on a run that landed them in the Super Bowl. 

This team is a couple of plays away from being 5-1 instead of 2-3. They've dropped two road games to undefeated foes, and lost in OT on the road to a divisional rival (who has also defeated Arizona). Yesterday, there were encouraging signs, particularly from the offensive line, over the first three quarters. This team is still extremely talented, and it stands on the verge of going on another rampage ala 2012 and 2014. Obviously, it has to start this Sunday against the undefeated Panthers. But then there are eminently winnable road dates with Santa Clara and Dallas before a bye and a gargantuan SNF showdown with the Cardinals. 

There's reason to be hopeful. Remember how I said yesterday was spoiled by that collapse? That wasn't entirely accurate. The Seahawks found another legit ground threat in Thomas Rawls, and then there was this... 

As we were driving home, out of the blue Jack said "I guess we're even." 

"What do you mean, Jack?" 

"When you told us you were going to be a girl, I hid in the basement behind a chair, and you spent time with just Lily. Now you're spending time with just me. Now we're even." 

"Oh, that's OK, sweetie." 

"I was just scared because it was a big change. But now it's OK." 

"I love you, Jack."

"I love you, Daddy." 

THAT'S when the tears finally came for me. 

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October 9, 2015

Matt Hasselbeck: An Appreciation

Last night I cried after watching a fairly meaningless game between two teams I have no emotional connection to- Let me explain why.

For almost half of my life as a Twelve, I've also been a Matt Hasselbeck fan. After the failure of the Jon Kitna experiment, I remember erupting in a spasm of fist-pumpy "Fuck yeah!"s when I saw the news that the Seahawks had traded for Brett Favre's heralded understudy (horrifying the confused patrons of Steve's Dakota Grill in Findlay, Ohio).

I ran out and bought a Hasselbeck jersey immediately (pictured above dorking up the Ballard Locks in September 2001), and I wore it proudly as I endured taunts of "Asselbeck" and "Hasseldick" during a 9-6 win at Cleveland in his first Seattle start. Matthew struggled through that first season, and when Trent Dilfer almost led the Hawks to the playoffs after getting handed the job, it looked like Hasselbeck would join the sad litany of failed experiments under center for the Emerald City (including luminaries such as Dan McGwire, Rick Mirer, Stan Gelbaugh, etc).

But then in 2002 Seattle got off to a 1-5 start and Dilfer popped his Achilles during a game at Texas Stadium. Hasselbeck came in off the bench, and after Darrell Jackson was felled by a vicious, dirty hit Hass reportedly growled in the huddle afterwards:


Beck led the Hawks to the winning FG, and from then on he was probably the NFL's best QB in 2002- Seattle went 6-4 the rest of the way, and Hasselbeck threw for 3000 yards in just 10 games.

The next season began Seattle's 5-year dominance of the NFC West, and my crazy-intense adoration of Hasselbeck. I loved him because he was a great quarterback and because he led the Seahawks into a golden age (Duh), but I would have run through a brick wall for him because he brazenly displayed his emotions to the world, and I could relate to that.

He celebrated touchdowns. He yelled at the officials. He got in the faces of defenders who fucked with him. He wasn't packaged and polished. He did crazy shit like declaring that we wanted the ball (and we were gonna score) after winning overtime coin tosses in playoff games. In a league where most quarterbacks come off as carefully managed and programmed RoboJocks, he was unguarded and more than a little bit of a goofy dork. I couldn't help but think of him as bald football-playing version of Jim Halpert from The Office.

He'd make the Pro Bowl in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Despite uneven play (mainly due to injuries) in 2004 and 2006, he was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks over a 6-year stretch of the last decade- And he delivered a string of unforgettable performances in the name of all us Twelves. The best performance of the "peak Hasselbeck" era came in the 2005 NFC Divisional Playoff. Things looked bleak after NFL MVP Shaun Alexander left the game with a concussion in the first quarter. It felt like Seattle's run of playoff futility might reach 21 seasons, but Hasselbeck stepped up with an efficient performance, including a spectacular TD strike to Jackson and a rushing touchdown where he beat Ex-Hawk Shawn Springs to the pylon, giving us the most indelible image of his Seattle career:

After the brazen incompetence and cowardice of the Super Bowl XL officiating crew robbed Hasselbeck of his rightful championship legacy, he would battle nagging injuries for the remainder of his career. Despite that, he had a career-best performance in 2007, carrying Seattle to the postseason with his arm after the Seahawks' rushing attack disintegrated. After that, his play became increasingly inconsistent and maddening, and after Pete Carroll took over in 2010, Hasselbeck had to battle Charlie Whitehurst for the starting job. After Whitehurst was given the start in an elimination game against St. Louis, it was mildly surprising that Hasselbeck was placed back under center for the Wild Card Game against the World Champion Saints.

In what would turn out to be his final start at Seahawks Stadium, he'd turn in the best game of his career. He had never thrown more than 2 TDs in a playoff game- That day, he threw FOUR. He led Seattle back from a 10-point deficit against the Super Bowl Champs, avoided the big turnovers that had plagued him in 2008-2010, and led Seattle to one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. If you were going to put ONE game from Beck's career in a time capsule for the Seahawks fans of 2060, this would be it.

At this rate, he might keep playing until 2060. Last night in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football, he led Indianapolis to their second straight win in relief of injured Anointed One Andrew Luck (and looked sharp and spry doing it). Hasselbeck was interviewed by CBS after the game, and it was clear that he realized he might have played in his final NFL game. Overcome with emotion and fighting through illness, he was obviously near tears. My feels couldn't even tap the brakes, and the waterworks came for me. 

I once referenced the famous Lincoln quote about U.S, Grant in reference to Hasselbeck: "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Beck is no longer the best quarterback in Seahawks history. Russell Wilson has already staked a claim to that turf. But any Twelve who watched him play knows what he meant for this franchise, and how much he bled for his teammates, and for us. It was magical to see a glimpse of that man's talent and passion again, even if he was wearing a different uniform. 

We love you, Matthew. When you finally retire, I hope it'll be as a Seahawk, and I hope you'll IMMEDIATELY get a spot in the Ring of Honor. When that happens, I'll be there rocking my #8 jersey. 

What are your favorite Hasselbeck moments, Twelves?