December 17, 2014

12/17/14 Appearance on the SeaHawkers Podcast

Here it is! I come in at the 1:04:35 mark, but the whole thing is very much worth a listen. The other guest is Mark Tye Turner, author of the definitive Seahawks fan history "Notes From a 12th Man." Enjoy! Go Hawks!

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December 16, 2014

Able Archers (and the Final Victory Over The Santa Clara Red Menace)

When I was a kid growing up in the Tri-Cities in the 1980s, I marinated in what seemed like an immutable global reality: That the "Cold War" between the United States and the Soviet Union would continue throughout my lifetime. Just miles away was the N-Reactor at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which produced plutonium for the American nuclear arsenal. More than once, I heard adults brag about how the work there was so important that it made my hometown a Soviet "first strike" target. After watching "The Day After" when it aired on ABC in the fall of 1983, I would have regular nightmares about nuclear war for decades (Even now, every once in a while... What a retro apocalypse!). 

Like most people alive during that era, I thought that either Mutually Assured Destruction would keep the peace (relatively speaking) until I naturally shuffled off this mortal coil... Or I'd perish with most of humanity in the nuclear holocaust World War III would rain down upon us. Either way, the Cold War would go on interminably. Even in popular culture set in the future, that perspective was obvious. Go watch the underrated 1984 sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2010: The Year We Make Contact includes a young Helen Mirren as a Soviet Cosmonaut, as well as a batch of hilariously incorrect predictions about life in the Time of the BeastQuake. People would commonly keep Dolphins as housepets! There'd be manned missions to Jupiter! The Astrodome would still be the home of the Houston Astros, and so on. A key plot point of the movie was that even while American and Soviet explorers were trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the Discovery in the first film, their governments were on the brink of war (caused by a vaguely Cuban-Missile-Crisis-esque standoff in Honduras). When I saw the movie on cable, I remember being pissed that we had to hitch a ride with those Commies to Jupiter, and also hoping that we'd beat the Soviets to Mars in real life (at age 10, I was a good little Alex P. Keaton-style conservative). 

Nobody had any idea the Soviet Union would collapse just six years later. That fearsome empire was far more fragile than anyone could have imagined, and when it started to unravel it quickly became clear the whole system was rotted out from the inside. 

In 2011, the Red Menace down the coast in San Francisco seemed to have found a leader who would return them to the Super Bowl glory they enjoyed back when Sly Stallone was kicking Russkie ass from Vietnamese POW camps to Moscow boxing rings. Jim Harbaugh quickly molded the Niners' considerable talent into a Super Bowl contender, and that season San Francisco beat the Seahawks twice while Pete Carroll was still searching for his franchise quarterback (though in the December match-up in Seattle the Hawks very nearly stole a victory). Harbaugh immediately (and stunningly) became a much bigger irritant to the Twelve Army than Mike Singletary had ever been. His arrogance and petulance made him incredibly easy to hate, and his team took on the same aggravating attitude. A pair of fumbled punts in the NFC Championship would keep the 49ers from reaching Super Bowl XLVI, but the young, talented San Franciscans were primed to accomplish big things. 

In 2012, Harbaugh found HIS quarterback in Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, and an concussion to Alex Smith gave Mr. Walmart Khakis a flimsy pretext to switch QBs. Smith had led SF to a narrow win over the Seahawks at Candlestick, but in the rematch at Seahawks Stadium on Sunday Night Football, Seattle snuffed out the Niners 42-13. If not for a defensive collapse in the final 30 seconds at Atlanta in the divisional playoffs, the fierce NFC West rivals would have met again in the conference championship game. Harbaugh and Kaepernick had their shot at Super Bowl glory in the Superdome, but their post-power outage comeback attempt to win XLVII fell just short. But now Harbaugh had his franchise QB, right? 

In 2013, San Francisco blew their shot at revenge/redemption. In the SNF rematch in Seattle, they absorbed a 29-3 walloping. They'd eke out a 19-17 win at the Stick in December, but that couldn't stop Seattle from winning the NFC West and locking down home field advantage for the playoffs. Finally, the dust-up the football world was waiting for happened in the NFC Championship Game. Us 12s have that game seared into our grey matter for all time... Beast Mode TD... A 4th Down bomb to Kearse to put us ahead... 3 4th quarter Kaepernick turnovers... The Tip.. The interception... The Crabtree shove... "The Best Corner In The Game..." Green and Blue confetti. Two weeks later the Seahawks would win it all, but surely these two titans would keep trading haymakers for years to come, right? 

Early in the 2014 campaign, BOTH contenders were staggering. The losses and injuries piled up (and so did the arrests down in Santa Clara). The anonymous sources started talking: Harbaugh had lost the Niners' locker room. Russell Wilson wasn't "black enough," and so on. Two weeks ago, we saw the paths of these franchises violently diverge. The 7-4 Hawks went into the "Field of Jeans" (ugh) and hung a humbling 19-3 defeat on the 7-4 49ers. The Seahawks had gotten healthy, excised the locker room cancer named Percy Harvin, and surfed upon a new tidal wave of confidence and enthusiasm. The Niners? Their season reached a humiliating nadir with a loss to the forlorn, nomadic Raiders. Could they salvage their season (and destroy Seattle's) with a win over the Seahawks on Sunday? 

For a half, it looked like they might. Russell Wilson threw an awful interception (after a highly dubious decision by Pete Carroll to take one last shot at the end zone rather than kick a field goal with eight seconds left in the half), and for a second it looked like the half might end with a Santa Clara pick-6 and a 14-3 Seahawks deficit. Somehow, Wilson got downfield and beat two 49er blockers to prevent the score, and from that moment on Seattle dominated. 

The defense held Santa Clara to just 67 total yards in the second half, and the offense rode Marshawn Lynch to a pair of scores to end the Niners' playoff hopes with a 17-7 win. With Jim Harbaugh and possibly Colin Kaepernick about to be deposed by the Santa Clara Politburo, we can consign this chapter of the Seahawks-Niners rivalry to the history books. Today we dance on top of the Berlin Wall and attack it with pickaxes and bulldozers. Carroll and Harbaugh faced off 9 times since 2011, and Seattle went 5-4. The Hawks won by an aggregate score of 187-127, and most importantly they brought a Lombardi Trophy home to Renton. Harbaugh couldn't do likewise for the 49ers, and their five Super Bowl victories will fade further and further from memory with each passing year. 

The war is over, and the Seahawks claimed final, total victory over Harbaugh, Kaepernick, and all their flunkies. It's now a one-Superpower world, and the Red Menace will have to deal with an unpleasant new reality: As they try to rebuild yet again, they'll be living under the hegemony of the Emerald Empire. 

Have fun watching us win it all again, comrades. Dasvadanya, Harbaugh. 

What do you think, sirs? 

December 8, 2014

Seahawks 24, Eagles 14

When you were watching 'The Empire Strikes Back," when did it hit you that it might be better than "Star Wars?" At what moment did you realize that "Toy Story 3" was even better than its two stellar predecessors? Or that James Cameron's "Aliens" surpassed Ridley Scott's original? Great sequels deliver a particular variety of joy because they are so rare and unexpected. "22 Jump Street" (another rare sequel that bested the original) exposes why most sequels are terrible by laying bare the tropes they fall victim to: "Do the exact same thing as last time. Everyone's happy." Bloated budgets and expectations lead to inexplicable/inevitable excess (like the James Bond villain-worthy new 22 Jump Street headquarters), but rarely to originality. Everything looks more expensive but overly familiar and stale. For every The Godfather Part II, there's a score of Ghostbusters 2s.  

In the last decade, we've seen a similar phenomenon in the NFL. The last defending Super Bowl Champion to win a playoff game was the 2005 New England Patriots. Every Champion since then has succumbed to the "Super Bowl Curse" (Barf). It makes sense. In the salary cap era, many teams will make short-term decisions in an attempt to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, only to wake up the next morning needing to make MASSIVE cuts to get under the cap before the next season (Hello, 2012 Baltimore Ravens). Even teams who win the Super Bowl without mortgaging the future are faced with the reality that role players will suddenly be able to command higher salaries on the open market. The XLVIII Champion Seahawks saw many players depart due to this brutal calculus (We miss you, Golden Tate!), and media bobbleheads like Peter King declared that, despite having the youngest Super Bowl-winning roster of all time, the Seahawks wouldn't repeat. Why? Because teams simply DON'T repeat anymore. Tamp down your expectations, because we know most sequels suck. 

Over the first half of the season, the Seahawks were conforming to these low expectations. The Percy Harvin Experiment went Chernobyl on PCJS. The defense was suddenly vulnerable. There was "turmoil" in the locker room. Russell Wilson wasn't "black enough." Marshawn Lynch wanted out and/or the Hawks were intent on cutting him after the season. They went on a mini run after a 3-3 start, but those wins came against sub-par competition. After a brutal loss at Arrowhead, Seattle fell to 6-4, a full three games behind the division-leading Cardinals. The 2014 Seahawks? They looked more "Batman and Robin" than "The Dark Knight." 

Then a familiar sequel trope: Beloved characters from the first film pop up deep into the second movie. Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor recovered from early-season injuries, and the defense was jolted back to life. Stifling the Cardinals and Niners was impressive, but yesterday Seattle faced the explosive Philadelphia offense, which was in the league's Top 5 of total offense and scoring offense. Would they be able to slow down Chip Kelly's fast break offense in the hostile confines of Lincoln Financial Field? 

They didn't just stop the Eagles' offense. They nuked the entire site from orbit. It was the only way to be sure. 

That offense that came in averaging 286 yards passing per game? The Legion of Boom held them to 82 net yards. The Walter Thurmond III and Brandon Browner roles were recast with Tharold Simon and Marcus Burley, and the transition was as seamless as Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle or from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. The 139 yards the Eagles scratched out were the lowest total for the Philadelphia franchise since 2005. Yes, the green birds scored two touchdowns, but those weren't thanks to sustained drives against Seattle's defense. Both scores were set up by Seahawks special teams errors (one of the few remaining areas of real concern for Seattle). The WolfGrey Warriors are now the NFL's leaders in total defense, and are 2nd in scoring defense. They are back to playing at 2013's historic level of sustained dominance, and that has to leave every other Super Bowl contender trembling in fear and awe. 

The offense has mutated into an unpredictable beast. After starting out the season enamored with Jet Screens to Percy Harvin, they've been forced to embrace an attack powered by Marshawn Lynch's barely controlled fury and Russell Wilson's prodigious gift for improvisation. Yes, the lack of a truly explosive threat in the passing game rightly leaves our brows furrowed, but as long as Wilson and Lynch are upright and healthy they're as dangerous a pair as Sarah Conner and the T-800 in Terminator 2. Beast Mode accumulated 113 yards and a TD on 28 touches, and the WolfBadger accounted for all three Seattle TDs (2 passing, one rushing), posted a 99.3 passer rating, and galloped for 48 yards rushing. Doug Baldwin also had a breakout game, catching 5 passes for 97 yards and a score (and drawing a 44-yard pass interference penalty that set up a score). Despite all of the turmoil on the offensive side of the ball this season, they are putting up almost 25 points per game, good enough for 10th in the league thus far. 

Now the Hawks close out the season with three divsional games. If they win all three, they'll win the NFC West and secure at least a first-round bye. If they win 2, they'll almost certainly make the playoffs. Next week is the dead-on-their-feet Santa Clara 49ers (whom I expect we'll shove into an open grave and bury alive), and then it's a trip to Glendale for the NFC West title. 

Of course, that will just be Seattle's first visit to Arizona this season. They'll return on Februrary 1 for Super Bowl XLIX. Oh, you say they might not be able to escape the frozen Hellscape of Lambeau Field? I say the Empire probably thought they'd capture Luke, Leia and Han at the Battle of Hoth. How'd that work out for Lord Vader in the end? 

If you want to see a sequel that surpasses the original, imagine the Hawks beating Aaron Rodgers in snowbound Green Bay, followed by a triumph over Tom Brady and the Patriots in the desert. That's some Bourne Ultimatum/X2-level shit right there. 

What Do You Think, Sirs? 

December 2, 2014

The Pivot Toward Greatness (Via Chicago)

Two years ago today, the Seahawks were 6-5 and coming off an excruciating 24-21 loss at Miami. As I said back then...

Today's defeat in Miami had the hallmarks of familiar Seahawks tragedies: TWO blown 4th quarter leads to an inferior opponent, aided by incredibly questionable officiating. It felt like New York in 1998 or Baltimore in 2003, didn't it? It was the sort of loss that stimulates the "Same Old Seahawks" lobe within the brains of a million Twelves. We saw our excellent defense fail comprehensively in the 4th quarter, and we saw our Pro Bowl running back get held to only 46 yards on 19 carries. A consensus emerged quickly in the wake of this dark afternoon: The 2012 Seahawks are good and fucked, and their playoff hopes are deader than a barrel of fish entrails.

For the second time in a month. Russell Wilson led the Hawks on a late scoring drive to put the Seahawks ahead, only to see the defense immediately turn around and surrender that hard-won advantage. Seattle was on the verge of falling out of the NFC playoff race, and went into Soldier Field as underdogs against the 8-3 Bears. Trailing 14-10 late, Wilson led the Seahawks on yet another dramatic 4th-quarter scoring march, punctuated by the go-ahead touchdown pass to Golden Tate with only 20 seconds left on the clock. Then....

Effervescent joy turned into black, curdled despair in an instant. Jay Cutler chucked it deep to an inexplicably open Brandon Marshall and Chicago was in field goal range. Our old nemesis Robbie Gould banged home the tying field goal... Overtime. The most painful Seahawks loss since Super Bowl XL loomed. I started dreading the aftermath, and plotted my strategy for avoiding media coverage of this devastating collapse. Every Seahawks fan alive KNEW that if Chicago got the ball back, we would lose. We no longer trusted our defense to secure victory- Our only chance was to win the coin toss and drive all the way into Bears territory and score ANOTHER touchdown.  I was a wreck. I was left shaking and frazzled... and with no real expectation of victory. 

Eighty MORE yards (and the Bears defense) stood between the Seahawks and a narrative-shifting, season-altering victory. Russell Wilson's temperament is thankfully much more stable than mine, and he led the Hawks on a triumphant 12-play, 7-and-a-half minute march. Wilson personally chewed up 28 of those yards on the ground, and only threw two passes over the entire drive. One was a perfect dart to Doug Baldwin to convert a 3rd-and-10, and the other was the game-winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, who got over the goal line before getting absolutely DESTROYED by a Bears defender. 

Two drives. 177 yards. Two game-winning touchdowns. That's what Russell Wilson delivered on Seattle's last two possessions. On a day that seemed to fit all the cliches of failure in Seahawks lore, Wilson decided to punch up the script and write a more interesting ending. Instead of leaving me calculating playoff scenarios and plotting out who needed to win or lose for Seattle to sneak into the tournament, Wilson has allowed me to think about seeding and... GASP! ...possibly still winning the NFC West. At 7-5, the Seahawks probably only need two more wins to get a Wild Card, but they have a real chance at winning the West if they can sweep their final four games. 

You know the story from there: Seattle closed out the regular season on a 5-game winning streak, winning the last 4 games by an aggregate score of 170-43. They traveled to DC and notched the franchise's first road playoff win since 1983, but then the season ended thirty seconds away from the NFC Championship Game. Starting with that OT win at Soldier Field, the Seahawks have gone 30-8 (including the playoffs), with two playoff appearances, 4 playoff wins, an NFC West title and a Super Bowl victory. With Arizona imploding and the Legion of Boom surging, Seattle looks to be on a trajectory toward another NFC West crown and a first-round bye (or even HFA if Green Bay stumbles in the last month of the season). 

Two years ago today, the Seahawks pivoted towards greatness, and now it's clear they intend to continue cluttering up the trophy case back in Renton. 

What Do You Think, Sirs? 

November 28, 2014

Seahawks 19, Santa Clara 3

A few days ago, I had to make a decision about when I'd come out to Washington State for a visit. I could have come out for Christmas (and the Rams game), or any of the first three weekends in January. Flushed from the victory over Arizona, I bet big on the Seahawks. I decided to come out for the weekend of the NFC Championship Game. If I hadn't dawdled on my travel plans, if I had made this decision two weeks ago, I would have picked the weekend of the regular season finale. I would have been thinking "We'll probably need to win that game just to sneak into the playoffs." After two dominating wins over bitter divisional rivals in a mere five days, there's far more than a non-trivial chance I'll be screaming until I reach the brink of fainting at my THIRD NFC title game next January.

I've always been an optimistic Twelve, and even at 3-3 or 6-4, I still thought "Oh, we'll make the playoffs, and then anything could happen." I had hope, but I wasn't brimming with confidence either. As The Postal Service once sang, "Everything will change." In their last 120 minutes of football against two NFC playoff contenders, Seattle's defense has allowed a mere 6 points. Bobby Wagner's return has made an enormous impact, but the entire defense is playing with more of the barely-contained rage and arrogant swagger that defined their historic performance a year ago. These Wolf Grey Warriors held Santa Clara to 164 yards of total offense(!), forced The Bicep Kisser into two hilariously horrible interceptions (and a passer rating of 36.7), and generally left the Niners appearing as if they were "drunk and flailing in cow shit." Kaepernick was besieged all night, absorbing four sacks and numerous hits. Before the 1st quarter was over, the dude already looked more jittery than coked-up Jordan Belfort.

The Niners' longest play from scrimmage? 16 yards. Frank Gore? 28 pathetic yards. Sidebar: How can a BRAND NEW STADIUM have such an atrocious playing surface? I half-expected to see Marshawn Lynch trip over a pile of manure or to spy a grazing cow setting a pick on Earl Thomas. Good job, good effort, Jed York.

Actually, let's take a quick mid-post break to laugh at the entire 49ers organization. Their coach is a creepy blowhard/cheap fuck on the verge of unemployment, and both the owner and the GM's daughter are venting their tantrums via twitter. Their new football cathedral gives them ZERO home field advantage and roasts fans alive on sunny days. With Kaepernick doing better at selling headphones than throwing a football, and Alex Smith's quiet efficiency in Kansas City, it's becoming clear that they got rid of the wrong quarterback two years ago. I haven't even gotten to the fact that their roster is festooned with reprobates. On top of all of that, their fans still try to lord their ancient Lombardi Trophies over the rest of the NFL Nation... So it's beyond satisfying to see Richard Sherman openly trolling the Niners and their "mediocre" fans, and to watch Russell Wilson and Sherm eating turkey on their fucking logo. Knowing that last night's result effectively killed Santa Clara's season and might get Jim Harbaugh fired made it EASILY my best Thanksgiving ever.

So Russell Wilson shared NBC's post-game turkey feast with Richard Sherman, and RW3's game is looking as fine as his newly bearded visage (Damn). While Kaepernick imploded, The WolfBadger was efficient and explosive, with his improvisational skill and escapability keeping Santa Clara's defense off balance all night. His escape/scramble/63-yard pass to Tony Moeaki to set up a Seattle FG was another one to add to your personal DangerRuss mega-mix. Marshawn Lynch cut the formidable 49ers front seven to ribbons, stacking up 111 yards on 21 touches. Beast Mode is 3rd in the league in rushing, and has earned consideration as the MVP not just of the 2014 Seahawks, but the entire NFL. Special teams turned in another sterling performance, with Steven Hauschka nailing all four of his field goal attempts and the punt coverage team forcing a turnover.

Now Seattle seems to be primed for another Super Bowl run. Yes, the remaining schedule is daunting, but every opponent, scattered from Philadelphia to St. Louis to the barren sun-scorched desert the Cardinals call home, watched last night's game and quietly muttered "Fuuuuuuuuck." If the Seahawks can just solve their lingering Red Zone efficiency issues, they might start dropping 40-and-50 burgers on suckas like it was December 2012 all over again. If Seattle can run the table and hit the playoffs at 12-4 they'll likely win the NFC West and the top NFC playoff seed (via tiebreakers over Green Bay, Arizona and Philadelphia). That'd be ideal, but if the defense keeps playing like this I don't think it matters if the games are played in Seattle, Green Bay, or the Tesseract from Interstellar. The Hawks would maul any team unfortunate enough to face them. For entirely selfish reasons, I want the Seahawks to keep marauding through the rest of the schedule. I want there to be a home game when I'm visiting Seattle MLK Jr. Weekend.

I'll let Sherm have the last word today: