Seahawks history is chock full of humiliation and disappointment, but this day in team history really stands out: In the first game under the stewardship of new owner Paul Allen, just 10 weeks after Washington voters approved funding to build what would become Qwest Field, the Seahawks showed their appreciation by losing 41-3. At home. To a team that had lost 28 of its last 32 games...
But let me start earlier...
In a fit of joy after Referendum 48 squeaked by (no doubt helped by my constant push for "yes" votes on my KUGS-FM talk show "The Democratic Circus"), I plunked down the kingly sum (for a college student) of $200 for a pair of season tickets in the top row of the 300 level above the Kingdome's south end zone. Labor Day Weekend 1997 was going to be epic: I had a friend's wedding to attend in Seattle on Saturday, and then I'd get to watch the Hawks waylay the pathetic New York Jets.
Sure the Hawks were coming off a 7-9 campaign in '96, but Rick Mirer had been traded, Joey Galloway was a budding superstar, and John Friesz was looking to build on a competent six-game stretch as the starter in '96 (4-2 record, 86.4 passer rating). They also had the 5th best rushing attack in the NFL in 1996, spearheaded by 3-time Pro Bowler Chris Warren. Sure, the defense looked pretty weak, but it still boasted All-Pro talent in Michael Sinclair and Cortez Kennedy up front. Even so, we'd win plenty of games with that Friesz/Warren/Galloway offensive attack, right? On top of all that, they would be debuting a couple of promising rookies: Walter Jones and Shawn Springs.
You can see how easy it has always been to delude myself about the Seahawks, huh?
The weekend started out with my Western friends in Seattle: We hit Gameworks, where I saw Brian and Bennie Blades hanging out with their kids... I was too starstruck to say anything (which was probably for the best... who knows if they might have gone all Quantrell Bishop on my ass), but I took it as a good omen for the game. Walking back to my car, I saw a kid in a Jets jersey and thought "holy shit, your boys are going to get POUNDED tomorrow."
Of course, we underestimated how much time it would take to get ready for my friend's wedding, got stuck in traffic, and ended up getting to the church late. After the reception, I went straight to bed in a drunken stupor. In the AM, I fought through a hangover to go pick up my friend Ed and head for the game. I was rocking my Galloway jersey, and was primed to scream at top volume for about three hours or so...
I stopped at a QFC to get a red bull, and all over every newspaper were headlines screaming about the death of Princess Diana early that morning in Paris. I was shocked, but beyond that I sort of brushed it off... Sad and everything, of course, but there was an NFL game in a few hours!
I picked my friend Ed up and we headed to the dome... There was a small smattering of Jets fans, but no larger than you'd expect from a shitty opponent who wasn't a divisional rival. This had all the earmarks of a severe beatdown.
Right before kickoff, Paul Allen was introduced to the crowd, and recieved thunderous applause. This was the guy who saved our Seahawks. Everyone in that stadium KNEW that without Allen, this game would be kicking off in the L.A. Coliseum or at the "Big A." The only question was if Behring would have pulled a quickie name change, or if they would have, however briefly, been the L.A. Seahawks (how weird does that sound?). It was a hugely emotional moment, and seemed like the last nail in NYJ's pine box. A one-win team quarterbacked by Neil O'Donnell wasn't going to withstand this, even with Parcells as head coach.
All these notions were burned to ash and blown away within minutes after kickoff. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Jets led 17-0. Midway through the 2nd, they led 27-0. John Friesz not only looked awful, but got injured. Warren Moon stepped in and managed to look even worse. O'Donnell? That XXX goat fired FIVE touchdown passes, two to Value Village Largent (Wayne Chrebet).
By the end of the 3rd, it was 41-3 and the Dome had pretty much emptied out. Ed bellowed "What a weekend. First Princess Di gets killed, then the Seahawks!" I managed a sour laugh, but it seemed like the Seahawks would never win another game. It was one of the most profound "same old Seahawks" moments I had ever experienced, and I found myself hopelessly, deeply depressed.
The Hawks would get blown out again at home by the Broncos the next week, before winning 5 out of their next 6 games, capped with that 45-34 thrilling defeat of the Raiders at midseason. Seattle eventually stood at 6-4 and looked primed for a playoff run... before losing 4 in a row to fall out of contention. Fuck.
However, Warren Moon had a season for the ages, and we salvaged an 8-8 record after looking destined for the Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf lotto for an afternoon.
The lesson, I guess, is let's not freak out if Carroll's boys get blown out in week 1 this fall... It might have little to do with how the team performs the rest of the season, even if that 3-hour stretch is deeply humiliating on its own.
What are your memories of that detestable 97 opener, y'all?