January 14, 2013

Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Imagine something that you've wanted for as long as you can remember. Imagine that it's something unique and irreplaceable, with intensely personal significance to YOU. It cannot be purchased with any amount of money. You've got that picture in you mind now, right?

You don't have it in your hands yet, but you can see it. You can hear it, and you can smell it. It's sitting in the same room with you, just feet away. Imagine the joy you would feel. Imagine the anticipation that would fill every inch of your body. You never thought that you'd get to have this. You've dreamed about it, but you've never imagined it was actually attainable.

Then, half of a minute before it would be yours, thirty seconds before you could share your limitless joy with the world, it's violently destroyed right in front of you. It's smashed to bits with a sledgehammer, and the bits are set on fire. Then you are left to clean up the debris, alone. Imagine that.

That's what happened to me yesterday.

Understandably, Seahawks fans are tending to focus on the future: On the vast potential of this young team, and the boundless talents of Russell Wilson. But I'm not there yet. I still feel like there is a rat inside my skull, gnawing on my brain. I'm torturing myself with the knowledge that in some alternate reality, Pete Carroll kicked a field goal on 4th and 1... or Russell Wilson didn't take that sack at the end of the 1st half... or Lynch's TD got overturned and we got to run a few more seconds off the clock... or Carroll didn't ice Atlanta's kicker as he Norwooded the decisive field goal attempt. If ANY of those things happen, we win. If any of those things happen, right now we're preparing to face a 49ers team that we hold a distinct psychological advantage over, with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line. Instead, it's over. The season is dead. Our dreams are dead. This team was good enough to win the Super Bowl, and the harsh reality is that there's no guarantee that's they'll ever have a better shot than the one they just squandered. We all HOPE they will bounce back, but the boulder has rolled all the way back down to the bottom of the mountain. It might not ever get pushed to the top. Just ask a Browns fan... or a Lions fan.

I cried after that game yesterday. The only more painful defeat I've ever experienced as a Seahawks fan was Super Bowl XL. It was worse than the 4th-quarter collapses of 2004. It was worse than the OT playoff losses to Houston in '87 or Green Bay in '03 or Chicago in '06. It was the most vivid possible illustration of the amoral cruelty of this game: Three quarters of torment, then one quarter of stirring, inspirational effort, capped with thirty seconds of sadistic torture. It was the kind of defeat that makes you feel like a schmuck for caring about anything.

So I'm at one of those vulnerable points where the jeering disdain of the jaded and cynical rings in my head. Why do I allow the results of a children's game to make me feel this awful? Why is my emotional state at the mercy of a group of people over which I exert no control or influence? How much of a fucking loser am I?

Then I remember that the wins only matter if the losses hurt. I remember that I am the one who gives meaning to this children's game, and that I am not alone. I have chosen to give this meaning, as have my brother, my Mom, my friends, and millions of other people. It's possible that the Seahawks might not ever push the boulder to the top of the mountain, but they MIGHT. That hope, and the knowledge that I will get to share that glorious moment with the people I care about, is what keeps me going.

I'll feel better later. But right now? I'm grieving. That might sound pathetic, but it's the truth. The 2012 Seahawks are gone. A lot of the players will be back next fall, but that team won't necessarily be the same, or even better. Not only are they gone, but they were snuffed out in the most traumatic manner imaginable. My heart is shredded.

So that's where I'm at today. How about y'all?

Ranking The Squads #4: 2012 (With Updated All-Time Rankings)

4. 2012
Record: 11-5
Offensive Rank: 9th out of 32 teams
Defensive Rank: 1st out of 32
Turnover Ratio Rank: 5th out of 32
Team MVP: Russell Wilson
High Point: Seahawks 42, Niners 13
Low Point: Falcons 30, Seahawks 28

There have been better squads in franchise history than the 2012 Seattle Seahawks, but in terms of sheer entertainment value, this year's team might have given fans more memorable moments than any other since '76. Obviously the 2005 team was better than this season's, but how many truly memorable games did they play? Four? Five, maybe? The 2012 Seahawks packed what seemed like a decade of drama into a single season, and they delivered much of that drama on the biggest of stages.

On a Monday Night in September, the defense sacked Aaron Rodgers EIGHT times in front of a raucous Seahawks Stadium crowd and Seattle won the game with a controversial Hail Mary on the game's final play. Three months later, they'd stun the football-watching public by blowing the mighty 49ers off the field in a 42-13 SNF eviseration, closing out a three-week stretch of dominance previously alien to the modern-day NFL.   That victory was so cathartic that it somewhat overshadows Seattle's first road playoff win since New Year's Eve 1983: A 24-14 victory in DC that settled the issue of who SHOULD be the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The list of fond memories from 2012 goes on and on:

-The Overtime win at Chicago that started a 6-game winning streak and proved to Pete Carroll that Russell Wilson Unchained could WIN games, rather than simply not lose them.
-A dramatic 4th quarter comeback to beat the August and Majestic New England Patriots, capped by a perfect deep strike from Wilson to Sidney Rice and one last stop by Richard Sherman and the league's best scoring defense.
-That three-week span where Seattle erased the enemy by a combined score of 150-30... The football equivalent of Shock & Awe.
-Even the losses were dramatic! All six of them were decided in the final five minutes or in Overtime, including The 2nd Most Painful Loss in Franchise History (more on that in an upcoming post).

For only the sixth time in team history, the Seahawks reached the double-digit win plateau in the regular season. They developed a reputation as an aggressive, brutally physical team- If you were playing the 2012 Seahawks, you quickly realized that you had signed up for a three-hour long MMA brawl. They played with an attitude of arrogance and aggression never seen before in franchise history- At their peak, the Ground Chuck teams of the '80s had a similar style of play, but they never intimidated the enemy like these 2012 Hawks did.

The defense was the NFL's best in terms of points allowed, despite lacking a pass rush for long stretches during the 2012 campaign. They were led by their secondary (the already semi-mythical Legion of Boom): All-Pro selections Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and the also-dominant Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner. The ultra-young linebacking corps also made life miserable for Seattle's foes, led by Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Bobby Wagner. The defensive line was stout against the run for most of the season, and even though the lack of a pass rush from the front four ultimately doomed the 2012 Hawks, Chris Clemons and rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin combined for 19.5 sacks.

In almost any other year, the big story on offense would have been the performance of Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode was in full effect in 2012, with Lynch piling up 1590 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in the regular season. In our playoff win at DC, Lynch was the MVP, scoring the winning touchdown on an electrifying, tackle-and-ankle-breaking 27 yard scamper. Barring injury, he's well on his way to being remembered as the greatest running back in team history- On a team that has its history book stuffed with backs like Shaun Alexander, Curt Warner, Chris Warren, Ricky Watters, John L. Williams, and Mack Strong, that's HIGH praise.

The offensive line boasted standout performances from Max Unger and Russell Okung, and while our run-first philosophy led to the fewest pass attempts in the NFL, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin all contributed HUGE plays at different points throughout the season. Once the playoffs hit, Zach Miller EXPLODED with 12 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. But that's all preamble. The real story of the 2012 Seahawks is, of course, Russell Wilson.

The historical record will preserve my retrospectively embarrassing objections to Russell Wilson being named the starter back in August. Here's a particularly rancid passage I wrote back then:

I've seen legions of them (Twelves) pointing at Russell Wilson and screaming "NOW! NOW! NOW!" like they were Veruca Fucking Salt and RW was a Oompa-Loopa. Why? Because he went all Madden Rookie Mode on a bunch of Titans defenders destined for jobs in the CFL or various Arena Leagues? Because he's a better "story" than Flynn? Because (holy shit I've actually seen people say this) he reminds you of Tim Tebow somehow? BARF. Stop it. For the love of fuck, STOP IT.

I think the lesson is clear: Never listen to me, and thank the maker that I'll never ever be allowed to run our beloved Seahawks into the ground. I'd be worse than Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones combined, y'all.

Pete Carroll should have won NFL Coach of The Year (trust me, he won't) almost solely on the basis of his decision to start the third-rounder Wilson in week 1 over free-agent-acquisition Matt Flynn. He was right: A year of experience gained now would pay off, and that reward was apparent by mid-season. Wilson might not win the actual hardware, but he was CLEARLY the best rookie in the NFL this season. He tied Peyton Manning's rookie record of 26 TD passes, while only throwing 10 interception (with the vast majority of those coming early in the season). He put up the best single-season quarterback rating in Seahawks history AND the best single-season rushing totals for any Seattle QB ever- All as a rookie. He also showed a knack for bringing the team from behind in the 4th quarter, and he's also developed a reputation as a tireless worker and excellent locker-room leader. As the kid says, the separation is in the preparation. His preparation separated him from almost every other rookie quarterback in NFL history, and he capped his first campaign by throwing for 385 yards in a road playoff game. For all those reasons, and more, that's why Russell Wilson is the MVP of the 2012 Seattle Seahawks.

Here's the updated all-time rankings of every team in franchise history- Enjoy!

1. 2005
2. 1984
3. 1983
4. 2012
5. 2007
6. 1986
7. 2003
8. 2006
9. 1988
10. 1987
11. 2010
12. 1979
13. 1990
14. 1978
15. 2001
16. 1999
17. 2004
18. 1998
19. 1985
20. 1997
21. 1995
22. 2011
23. 2002
24. 1991
25. 1996
26. 1989
27. 1982
28. 1977
29. 1981
30. 1993
31. 1994
32. 2000
33. 2008
34. 1980
35. 1976
36. 1992
37. 2009

January 10, 2013

On the Eve of the Supernova

The Seattle Seahawks have toiled in obscurity for nearly forty years, bedeviled by mediocrity and geographical isolation. Sure, we've had great players and great seasons, but none of our great players became national superstars, and none of our squads have captured the national imagination. We got a taste of having a "famous" player with Brian Bosworth in the late 1980s, but his litany of shoulder injuries made him nothing more than a weird footnote in both pop culture and the annals of pro football. The 2005 team? They made it to the Super Bowl (and boasted the NFL MVP in Shaun Alexander), but were completely overshadowed by the circus surrounding Jerome Bettis and the Steelers.

I'm like plenty of other Seahawks fans in that I love to sing the praises of Seattle greats who never got the recognition they deserved because they played in "South Alaska." Dave Krieg was one of the best QBs of the 1980s! Kenny Easley should be in the Hall of Fame! Our Curt Warner was pretty awesome too! Lofa Tatupu should have been DROY! And so on... It's familiar for us to righteously wail about the benign neglect (and sometimes blatant hostility) shown towards the Seahawks by the national media, and on a certain level it's as comforting as it is aggravating. If you're a hard-core Twelve like me, there's a certain appeal to rooting for an obscure team that the uninformed, unwashed masses don't know FUCK ALL about. For a long time, rooting for the Seahawks has been a little bit like being obsessed with Firefly and singing the praises of Joss Whedon to anyone who would listen... or getting into Nirvana after hearing Bleach. That whole vibe? It's about to die. It's about to go away forever.

The Avengers is about to come out. Nevermind is about to drop.

Russell Wilson is going to be the first true Superstar in Seattle Seahawks history. He's going to be the biggest sporting icon to ever make his mark in Seattle. He is going to be bigger than Shawn Kemp. Bigger than Gary Payton. Bigger than Junior or Ichiro. He is going to be our Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/Drew Brees. And it could all happen WITHIN THE NEXT MONTH.

Wilson is the whole package- His talent is obvious, and there is no limit to his leadership skills either. He is an excellent public speaker who is also intelligent, humble, attractive and down-to-Earth. He's Tim Tebow- If Tim Tebow was black, could outrun defenders, and accurately throw a football. My only minor quibble would be his devout Christianity, but I know that for most people that's a feature, not a bug. This atheist's #2 all-time favorite Seahawks player is the also-devout Matt Hasselbeck, so I can get over that aspect of an athlete's persona as long as it's not TOO annoyingly overt.

The biggest thing? He's going to win, and win big. Sure, he might NOT become the first rookie QB to win a Super Bowl next month, but he WILL win one (and maybe many more). I have absolutely no doubt about it, either. Wilson probably won't win OROY, but his career resume is going to be festooned with Pro Bowls, All-Pro Selections, and MVP awards (both regular season and Super Bowl). The really scary thing for the rest of the NFL? What happens when the game slows down for him? On top of that, he's such a talented passer that he'll still be incredibly effective later in his career after his foot speed wanes.

It's worth noting that I wasn't an "early adopter" when it comes to Russell Wilson. I actually wrote this on October 3, 2012:

Did too many of us take that Bill Simmons article on Wilson as gospel? Did we swallow all of Jon Gruden's fawning praise uncritically? Did we fall in love with the seductive tale of a QB lacking in height but brimming with confidence and "intangibles?

Ugh. That's out there forever, and I have to own it. But now I love Russell Wilson with the zeal of the converted. I couldn't be happier to be proven DEAD WRONG, and only three months after I wrote MULTIPLE blog posts demanding that Matt Flynn start at QB for the Seahawks.

Russell Wilson is going to be our quarterback for the next decade or so, and he is going to bring us boundless joy. I love Matt Hasselbeck. I adore Dave Krieg... But the WolfBadger is going to pretty much make both of them look like John Friesz. There will be a price, though. At a certain point, he won't just be "ours" anymore- He'll belong to the world. People who couldn't give less of a crap about the Seahawks, folks who don't know who Steve Largent or Walter Jones are, will buy Wilson's jersey. Your Grandma is going to know who he is, for fuck's sake! Those of us who have bled bright green for years will get annoyed, but it's going to be totally worth it. I'll gladly endure the minor irritation of dealing with fawning bandwagoners in exchange for the Championship glory Russell Wilson is fixing to deliver.

Nirvana didn't become a shitty band after everyone started loving them, after all.


(settles down)

What do you think, sirs?

January 6, 2013

Seahawks 24, DC 14

The Seattle Seahawks were on their knees, bloodied and dazed. They were down 14-0, facing their largest deficit of the 2012 season (and a deficit bigger than any the franchise had ever overcome in a playoff game). They were facing a red-hot DC team in front of 84,000 screaming, desperate fans on 100 yards of painted dirt. It was a moment where the 2nd-youngest team in the NFL could have thought "Oh, it's just not our night. We'll give this another shot next season." 

For 29 years before tonight, all Seahawks playoff teams eventually succumbed in EVERY game they played on the road. An amazing season, one that had seen dramatic wins over Champions like the Patriots and the Packers, and a 3-game stretch of dominance never before seen in the modern NFL, was on the verge of final, irreversible defeat. As Al Pacino said in that big speech in Any Given Sunday, they were in hell. They could stay there, and get the shit kicked out of them- or they could fight their way back into the light. They could climb outta hell, one inch at a time. 

The defense, which had looked utterly lost and confused on DC's first two possessions, took full advantage of Mike Shanahan's foolhardy decision to leave the obviously hobbled Robert Griffin III in the game. They didn't allow the Pigskins anywhere near scoring territory for the last three quarters of the contest, and gave Seattle's offense a chance to win the game. They held the NFL's 2nd-leading rusher (Alfred Morris) to 80 yards while also absolutely neutralizing DC's receiving corps. Earl Thomas made an All-Pro play to snag an underthrown Griffin toss, and it was clear that a RGIII at less than 100% was no match for a ferocious Seattle defense. 

While RGIII's injury certainly gives his fans an excuse for DC's offensive failures, they can't explain away the stellar performances of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch- The twin MVPs of Seattle's first road playoff win since The Right Stuff was playing in American theaters. Their demeanors perfectly compliment each other: Lynch plays the game with blazing, blinding anger- His intensity is as frightening as it is inspiring. Wilson does not lack passion, but his cool exterior and unshakable poise projects a boundless confidence- Even as a rookie, he shrugged off a two-touchdown deficit in a road playoff game like a minor inconvenience. While everything seemed to be collapsing around him, he broadcast to the world "Don't worry. I've got this." 

Lynch had one of the plays of the season when he scooped up a Wilson fumble and rambled 18 yards with it. Instead of falling behind 21-3, the Seahawks continued marching towards their first touchdown of the evening. Later, Lynch would fumble on the precipice of another touchdown- but it barely knocked the Seahawks off their stride. BeastMode would put the Seahawks ahead for good midway through the 4th with a violent, stirring 27-yard touchdown romp- one where Russell Wilson served as one of Marshawn's lead blockers. Wilson's numbers weren't eye-popping, but he made big plays with his legs and numerous perfect throws. Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate all made key plays, but Zach Miller had his best game as a Seahawk- All four of his catches were essential to Seattle's eventual victory. Every week, Russell Wilson redefines the boundaries of what is plausible to expect from a 3rd-round rookie QB. He's now the only member of the rookie QB class of 2012 left standing in these playoffs, and that's not a coincidence. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the game... 17 games into his career! It's no longer laughable to think a rookie QB could lead a team to a Super Bowl win. 

The Washington Pigskins  were not a Championship opponent, but they drew out a Championship performance from the Seattle Seahawks. As a team, the Hawks showed mental and physical toughness that few of their franchise ancestors ever did. It seems blasphemous to type, but Matt Hasselbeck couldn't win a road playoff game- Russell Wilson already has. Those great Seahawks teams of the late 80s crumbled on the road in Houston and Cincinnati- The young, hungry 2012 Hawks already KNOW they can win on the road, which should leave the Atlanta Falcons trembling in mortal terror. 

I have to mention the atrocious playing surface at FedEx Field tonight. The field wasn't grass. It was dirt painted green. How can an NFL team with a billionaire owner allow his team to take the field under such conditions? The playing surface almost certainly led to the knee injuries suffered by Griffin AND Chris Clemons. Not only should Dan Snyder be disciplined and fined by the NFL- The league should also either mandate a Field Turf surface be installed in every stadium, or they should take control of the maintenance of the playing surfaces used during NFL games. Tonight was a debacle that SHOULD be a shameful embarrassment to Dan Snyder and Roger Goodell. 

The Seahawks play on, though. There's no limits for them anymore. There's no reason they can't win three more games, regardless of who the opposition is, and hoist the Lombardi Trophy just about one month from now. That's who your team is now. They aren't underdogs. They're heroes. They're the fucking Avengers. Aint it GRAND?

What do you think, sirs?

January 2, 2013

When I Grow Up, I Wanna Be a 2012 Seattle Seahawk.

When I was a little kid, I looked at the men who played for the Seattle Seahawks like they were a coalition of Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Dr. Peter Venkman and other assorted bad-asses. Before I realized that I had ZERO athletic ability, I wanted to grow up to be the next Dave Krieg/Kenny Easley/Steve Largent/etc.  My love for the Seahawks never waned, but it did change- While I remained in awe of the athletic ability of these men, they ceased being role models for me. Frankly, when you're 37 and you're calling your quarterback "kid," it's damn near impossible to look at your team the same way you did when you were 12.

There's something unique about this 2012 team, though. Obviously, I want every Seahawks squad to win the Super Bowl, but some seasons have certain recipes that make rooting for them a bit of a chore (2004 comes to mind), while others take on added resonance: You end up liking that particular mixture of players and coaches above and beyond their success on the field... You think "Wow. I want THIS team to be the one that wins it all." The '12s are ridiculously easy to root for, and it's not just because they're the most talented Seahawks team since at least 2005 (perhaps ever). They could be a collection of malcontents and reprobates, of primadonnas and lollygagers- they could be the early 90s Cowboys, for fuck's sake- but they're not. When I look at these Seattle Seahawks, I see what I wish I would have grown up to be a quarter-century ago.

On Sunday I was up in Section 325 shredding my vocal cords like it was a playoff game, not a relatively unimportant regular season dust-up. I staggered out of Seahawks Stadium with my head throbbing, my ears ringing and my throat aching to an extent I hadn't experienced since the last playoff game I attended in January 2008. I felt compelled to squeeze every last drop of energy I had onto the Seahawks Stadium fieldturf because I knew it was (almost certainly) my last chance to see this extremely special team in person. I NEEDED to feel like I did my part to will this team to an undefeated home record- In part because I see so many qualities I admire in this team.

Pete Carroll has a psychological hold over me- I'm particularly susceptible to his bombast, his sunny optimism, his overt emotional displays, and his unconventional methods. In a league often defined by stifling conformity, Carroll stands out. Does this always work in the Seahawks' favor? Hell no. Sometimes these qualities hurt the team, but for the most part Coach Carroll's tenure has been a rousing success. I want him to succeed not just because he's our coach, but also because I want his risks and his unusual strategies to pay off. I like to think I share a lot of these qualities with Coach Carroll, and I find it inspiring when ANYONE bucks convention, wins big, and changes the way things are done- and we're tantalizingly close to living in a world where it's THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS who are inspiring copycats around professional football. 

The 2012 Seahawks roster is overstuffed with inspiring, admirable characters- I wish I had the leadership skills and poise of Russell Wilson, the intensity and determination of Marshawn Lynch, and the confidence, intelligence and otherworldly ability of Richard Sherman. Beyond the qualities of the individual players, there appears to be real camaraderie among the players, which can be traced back to the combination of PCJS's careful roster building and the growing momentum of the team's success. 

It's easy to say "this team is very young- they'll contend for years." This is probably true, but the 2012 team- THIS team- will only continue to exist as long as they keep winning. One loss, and we lose them to the history books. I want these guys to be the ones that we remember FOREVER as our first World Champions. I want Russell Wilson to be the first rookie QB to win a Super Bowl, and I want to see him, Coach Carroll and Richard Sherman as talking heads on the 2012 Seahawks version of America's Game next September. I want as much of these guys as I can get- I'm not ready to say goodbye.

If these Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, if they can overcome the obstacles of three road playoff games and ignore 36 Seattle seasons where the main precedents for this franchise were failure and mediocrity, they won't just be Champions- They'll be an inspiration.

What do you think, sirs?