July 13, 2011

Blue Ruin: My 2004 Seattle Seahawks Story

(Want to watch highlights of individual 2004 games? Here they are at NFL.com, kids!)

In March of 2004, my favorite movie of all time came out- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and I'm not alone in my adoration of the film). If you haven't seen it yet, you should- It's even available on Netflix Instant Streaming. This line from that AV Club "Best of the 00s" list nicely sums up why the film hit me (and others) so hard:

"Eternal Sunshine’s lovers' circular path brings them back together for an ending that’s ambiguous but guardedly hopeful about the possibility of a future not necessarily doomed to reprise the hurt of the past, though it also may well revisit the same mistakes. It’s the rare film that shows us who we are now and who we’re likely, for better or worse, forever to be."

Later that year, Seahawks fans would endure the most frustrating, maddening, painful 9-7 division-winning season any NFL team is likely to experience. Much of that year was a string of horrifying, gut-punch defeats that would be great targets for Lacuna's technology featured in Eternal Sunshine- But I'm here to tell you that this season gives us invaluable insight into the psyche of Seahawks fans. As much as those who lived through 2004 might like to erase it from our memories, it is a part of us, as much as 2005 or 1983.

The season started with high expectations- Despite the overtime Wild Card loss at Green Bay in January, optimism was high with the team coming off its first 10-win season since 1986. The Seahawks were a darkhorse Super Bowl contender, and after playing the mighty Rams tough in 2003, they seemed like a smart bet to at least win the NFC West in 2004.

I was fortunate enough to catch the season opener down in New Orleans, a relatively easy 21-7 win that seemed to confirm that the Hawks were heading in the right direction- It was a week 1 road win at 10 am pacific time (all historical trouble spots for Seattle)- Even against the mediocre Saints, it seemed like a great sign. Then came a gritty road win at Tampa, and a 34-0 garroting of the Niners at Seahawks Stadium... The Hawks looked primed for BIG things.

The next week the Rams came to town. You younger fans may not really understand the depth of our hatred of the guys from St. Louis back then- A huge part of that animosity came from the fact that the Rams adopted the smug arrogance of their head coach: The detestable, face-punchable Mike Martz. It wasn't just that the Rams had recently been to and won Super Bowls. It wasn't that they had beaten up on us that badly (from 2000-2003 Seattle was 2-3 against the Rams- They weren't getting dominated). They were on top, and they were PRICKS about it, all but gleefully smelling their own farts. It was maddening.

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. This is how Isaac Fucking Bruce celebrated:

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. I depended even more than usual upon my Seahawks (and my Red Sox) to be an oasis of good feelings and happiness- That Rams game just seemed to punctuate the darkness in my life at that time.

The 2004 team never REALLY recovered from that game- They'd fall to 3-3 before recovering JUST enough to beat the 1-5 Panthers and 1-6 Niners. A loss at St. Louis came next, and all that kept Seattle's season from a shattering 4-game losing streak was a Michael Boulware pick-6 in the final minute to beat the (wait for it) 1-win Dolphins.

It was during this time that the Hawks picked up Jerry Rice. While most of his half-season in Seattle was fairly uneventful, he had one last great game in him, and he saved it for the Dallas Cowboys and Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, the Seahawks defense and the officials conspired to turn this one into another soul-battering Seattle loss.

Undoubtedly, this was a highly entertaining game for the casual fan- But for Twelves, it was a puke-inducing roller-coaster that ultimately left us passed out in our own barf. The Seahawks lead 14-3! Yay! Oh no, The Seahawks trail 29-14! Look! We're up 39-29 with only minutes left! Fuck yeah! A late Alexander TD seemed to seal it- This was catharsis; This was the turning point for the 2004 Seahawks! XXXIX or bust!

Then the officials gave us a grim reprise of the 2003 game at Baltimore/a terrible preview of Super Bowl XL: Keyshawn Johnson CLEARLY failed to get two feet down on a 34-yard "touchdown," and since it was under 2 minutes, it was up to a booth review... Which never happened. Jason Witten recovered the onside kick, and with 32 seconds left Julius Jones (yes, that fuckin' guy) delivered the killing blow. Was it as bad as the St. Louis collapse in October? No, but it was damn close.

The only truly, unabashedly joyous moment of 2004 came the next week, when the Seahawks pulled off a huge, season-saving upset in Minnesota. Darrell Jackson, playing only hours after his father's death, had the best game of his career, and Michael Boulware intercepted a Randy Moss pass (WTF?) in the final minutes to seal a 27-23 win. One of the craziest things about the '04s? They were OK on the road (4-4), and only 5-4 at Seahawks Stadium- Weird, huh?

What we hoped was a turning point once again evaporated- This time in a blowout loss to the Jets out on the east coast. Thankfully, the Seahawks' last two games were at home- The bad news was that Matt Hasselbeck wouldn't be able to play against Arizona. Alexander had ANOTHER huge game: 154 yards and three touchdowns, and the Hawks led 24-7 midway through the 4th. Then Seattle's secondary realized it was late in the game and started making Josh McCown look like Neil Goddamn Lomax- Quickly, it was 24-21, and it took a Trent Dilfer 3rd down scramble to finally put the game (and a playoff spot) away.

With a win in the season finale (or a Rams loss to the Jets), Seattle would win its first NFC West title. I was at the game, and with the playoff-bound Falcons treating it like a glorified preseason game, I loved our chances.

But this was 2004- and this team was determined to torture their fans. They fell behind 17-7 before clawing back into a 21-20 4th quarter lead. Matt Hasselbeck scored on a QB sneak to make it 28-20 in the waning minutes (oh, we'll come back to that), but the Falcons marched right back down to the Hawks' Nest to get within a two-point conversion of OT... But then a draw play- Dunn struggling for the goal line- and he is stopped short! Wooooo! NFC West Champions! Bring on those St. Louis fuckers!!!!

Hold those positive vibes, though. In a post-game interview, Shaun Alexander accused Coach Holmgren of "stabbing him in the back" when he called for that QB sneak, rather than handing it to #37. It turned out that Alexander was one yard short of winning the NFL rushing title, and was also acutely aware of that fact. Holmgren either didn't know or (more likely) didn't care, and suddenly the story wasn't Seattle's division title and upcoming home playoff game- It was Alexander's outburst, which ultimately gave unlimited ammunition to Seahawks fans already predisposed to dislike him for his less-than-hard-nosed running style. Ugh.

After all we endured, here was the chance for redemption. Just think about 2010- What we will forever remember is the Beastquake and slaying the Saints- Not the blowout losses that littered the regular season. The 2004 team had a similar opportunity- Beat the Rams, and beat them in the playoffs, and the season would be redeemed. The collapses against STL and Dallas would become trivia. This was their defining moment.

The Hawks came out oddly flat and fell behind 14-3. Shaun Alexander disappeared, only scratching out 40 yards on the ground, but Hasselbeck and Jackson were magnificent- Matthew scorched the Rams for 341 yards passing, 128 of which were snagged by D-Jack. Once again, the Seahawks would fight back and lead 20-17 in the final quarter. Once again, the defense would squander that lead. Hasselbeck, Jackson and the rest of the Seahawks sprinted downfield on a desperate final drive, trailing 27-20. They'd reach the St. Louis 5-yard-line before stalling. 4th Down. Hasselbeck would avoid pressure and chuck a little sidearm toss at Bobby Engram. It wasn't the easiest catch to make, but it was one you have to make in the playoffs.

Engram didn't. Game over. Season over.

You could argue that this was just the prelude to the glorious 2005 campaign. That might work if Leavy and his gang hadn't fucked us out of a fair chance to win XL. If we had won it all next the next year, the 2004 Seahawks would have been like the 2003 Red Sox: One last spasm of trauma before final, glorious victory. But that's not how it happened.

The 2005 Seahawks were an sparkling, spectacular aberration- As maddening as the 2004 season was, it was like the entire history of the franchise compressed into a single season- A lot of mediocrity, a good dose of weirdness and bad luck, a dash of questionable officiating, deafening noise, stunned silence, and outbursts of unexpected joy.

We ARE the 2004 Seahawks, for better or worse. The good news? For a long time, the Red Sox WERE 1967-1975-1978-1986-2003. That changed, didn't it? And it changed forever. Someday, we will no longer be defined by seasons like 2004- But for those of us who lived through '04, those memories make us the fans we are, and I'd never want to lose them.

What do you think, sirs? Your thoughts on 2004?


bleedshawkblue said...

The one positive from that season is that it has made me hate the Rams with unbridled passion for the rest of my days on this earth. Swept that year, and their Oline could barely suit up for the playoff game they stole here. Bastards! And I was wondering who I should hate in the new division, as the fucking Raiders were not coming to town anymore...

Campanero said...

Believe it o r not. Althought I live in Mexico City I'm a long time seahawks fan. Watched Dan Doornink demolished raiders defense in the wild card game that 1984 season and fell in love with the team I simply can't imagine my life without.
O'course I remember this game… it was a nightmare for me. After all those seasons of drought, mediocrity and shame… my Seahawks were hosting a playoff game and that was an almost win for the taking. WRONG! I remember sitting there in front of my TV watching Engram droppin' that ball, man, I cried like hell!!!
Just like the following season… when we played against the 'men in stripes'
Greetings from Mexico City. Seahawks forever.

Ben said...

The 2004 Seahawks were so frustrating that I gave up my season tickets -- 46 yard line, 2/3 up the first deck. Yeah, that was a good call.