September 8, 2011

You and Whose Army? - My 2001 Seattle Seahawks Story

Millions of people found their own ways to cope in the dark days after the 9/11 attacks, and my thin tether to sanity was, yet again, the Seahawks. Every week I'd endure the indignities of being the only Seahawks fan at some noisy, overpriced sports bar, but it was worth it- as Homer Simpson once said, it was a break from "stupid reality."

Those 2001 Seahawks were a transitional crew- Long removed from the talented-but-underachieving Erickson Hawks, and not yet the seasoned, veteran crew that would dominate the NFC West through the middle of the decade. Matt Hasselbeck wasn't really "Matt Hasselbeck" yet- Trent Dilfer only started four games, but it feels like he started more because he won all four of his starts, most in memorable fashion.

We got our first real look at how amazing Alexander, Hutchinson and Big Walt could be together- and we also got to see a break-out season from WR Darrell Jackson. The defense was led by Chad Brown and free agent pick-up (and Pro Bowler) John Randle, and on special teams Seattle had an elite kick return specialist in Charlie Rogers. In the end, they just barely missed the playoffs, but helped me make it through a terrible stretch in my life- Here's my 2001 Seahawks story.

On September 9th, 2001 I went to the Seahawks Kickoff Weekend opener against the Browns in Cleveland, sporting my shiny new Hasselbeck jersey. It was a brilliant, sunny Ohio day, and as soon as my fiance and I approached Cleveland Browns Stadium in Seahawks gear we were serenaded with chants of "Assholes! Assholes!" That went on all afternoon, with my lady getting a free pass from the abuse because she was wearing my Shawn Springs jersey ("Oh, she's OK, Shawn Springs is a Buckeye!" Welcome to Ohio, kids). I was called Hasseldick, Asselbeck, and worse. Before the game, most of the sellout crowd LUSTILY booed President Bush as he flipped the coin via satellite from the White House. In many ways, it was just a bad, ugly scene.

The game itself was a snoozer until the final moments. The Browns tied the game at 6 with just seconds left, but Rogers returned the kick into Cleveland territory. With only time for a FG attempt, Rian Lindell nailed a 52-yarder with no time on the clock- I exploded in celebration, first bellowing "Rian Lindell is a GOD!" and then mocking Browns fans as they filed out in defeat. As we left the stadium we passed Bernie Kosar signing autographs- I SWEAR he saw us, noticed our Seahawks gear and gave us an all-time-great dirty look. It was AWESOME. After checking out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which isn't nearly as cool as the EMP), we walked to our car parked blocks away... The people that didn't give us the finger or curse at us fucking BARKED at us. It was unreal, and inspired me to HUG another Seahawks fan I saw on the street and howl "Seahawks, MOTHERFUCKERS! YEAH!"

The next day I'd get on a plane to Pasco, WA- The plan was I'd go out and visit my friends and family in the Tri-Cities & Seattle, and I'd catch the Seahawks home opener the next Sunday at Husky Stadium before returning home. I got to my parents' house in Kennewick late the night of the 10th and went straight to bed- We all know what happened next...

Strangely, I woke up on my own about 6 am, and turned on the TV, which was on the Weather Channel- They were talking about air traffic being grounded because of something happening in New York. Partially because I had only gotten a few hours of sleep, I was deeply confused. Then my fiance called me and told me to turn on CNN- Just in time to witness the 2nd plane impact the World Trade Center. I watched the towers collapse with my parents and little brother in stunned silence. It didn't dawn on me immediately that I had just watched 3000 people die- Like billions around the globe, I didn't know how to mentally process such an evil act of mass murder.

I spent that week in haze of confusion, anger and depression. I still went to Seattle to visit my friends from Western, but everything was muted. We had no idea what would happen next, and fear was still heavy in the air. The NFL understandably postponed Week 2, but it was still a gut-punch for me. I REALLY needed a Seahawks game to watch that Sunday. Air travel resumed just in time for me to return to Ohio as scheduled, and as I began my 3rd year in the Ohio State PhD program, I was adrift.

So were the Seahawks, apparently- When the NFL resumed play, they promptly lost two games in blowout fashion. It was so bad that an SI article after the Eagles game wondered if Mike Holmgren had lost control of the Seahawks locker room. In reality, the Seahawks were in the middle of a mini-1985. For two months, they alternated two-game winning streaks with two-game losing streaks. The most memorable moment from that stretch was an ESPN SNF win over Oakland, in which Shaun Alexander exploded for 266 yards and 3 TDs- In November, the Seahawks actually became MORE inconsistent, going L-W-L-W-L until finally ending up at 7-7 going into the final fortnight of the season.

At this point, I returned home for Xmas break and Trent Dilfer took over at Quarterback for the Seahawks. One of my all-time favorite Seahawks moments came in a must-win week 16 game at San Diego. In an odd echo of the season-opening win at Cleveland, the Seahawks allowed the Chargers to tie the game with only seconds left. Once again, Charlie Rogers fielded the kickoff and blazed a trail down the sidelines- As my whole family was screaming "GO CHARLIE ROGERS! GO CHARLIE ROGERS!" he returned the ball into SD territory with enough time for a long field goal attempt. This time from 54(!) Lindell's kick was true and the Seahawks' playoff hopes were still alive.

Now I would get to go to the game I was originally set to catch back in week 2- and the playoffs were on the line. We needed to win, and then we needed either the Raiders to beat the Jets or the Vikings (on Monday Night) to beat the Ravens. It was the most intolerable weather I've ever sat through at an NFL game. Heavy sideways needle rain, wind gusts, temps in the 30s- WAY worse than simple cold or snow. Thankfully the Seahawks jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead and held on for a 21-18 win, but late in the game word spread- John Hall hit a ridiculous long FG and the Jets pulled out a win over Oakland. That meant we needed Minnesota to pull out an upset win at Baltimore on Monday Night to make the playoffs.

I traveled east all day that Monday, just in time to get home and experience the slow, torturous demise of the Seahawks' season. Despite having to roll Spergon Wynn out at QB, the Vikings hung with Ravens for a while- But that false hope evaporated when the formidable Ravens defense realized that they were facing... Spergon Wynn.

Despite the ultimate failure of the 2001 Seahawks, they gave us competitive, meaningful football to watch in the awful months after 9/11- Every Seahawks fan who remembers that season is still grateful to have had that distraction.

What do you think, sirs?

BONUS- The Radiohead song that I named this post after:


Sam said...

A wonderful remembrance. I'll admit that I was a junior in high school when Sept. 11 occurred. I have similar memories of waking up, groggy, to my dad watching CNN's live coverage after the first plane hit and then being absolutely bewildered watching the second plane hit.

Professional football was a fleeting pastime for me at that point. I found my solace in friendships and music.

But I do remember the wonderful tributes the NFL put on when football resumed; they were extremely fitting and sensitive to the situation. I'm sure we'll see a lot of coverage this Sunday, and my biggest hope is that the tributes during football games are not simply hype and are actually tasteful.

Aaron said...

Ironically enough, I was in Ohio (for work) on 9/11. Kent, Ohio, to be exact. I remember standing in the parking lot of the library where I was supposed to be installing computers and training the staff, wondering where the hell everyone was and getting annoyed, and idly watching a jet far overhead making a long U-turn in the sky to head back east. I remember thinking "What the hell is that clown DOING?"

Hours later, of course, I found out that one of the hijacked planes (the one that crashed in PA, I think) had flown west until it was over northern Ohio and then turned around. I'll never know if it was that actual plane I was watching, or if it was simply a commercial flight being rerouted to the nearest airport in the aftermath of the attacks. Timing is everything in this question, and I wasn't looking at my watch at that moment.

The next few days were a bad haze: KT and her boyfriend and I (who all worked together and were all in the area) drove 2,000 miles back to Seattle, since all commercial flights were grounded. Three days of driving from dawn until dusk. We stopped at Devil's Tower in Wyoming on the second day, and I snapped a picture of the monolith with a half-mast American flag in the foreground - and a sky completely free of jet trails in the background. I think I started crying at that point. There were a lot of people walking around crying at Devil's Tower that day.