February 10, 2013

Sea Change

I still feel punch-drunk almost a month after the second most painful loss in Seahawks history, but with the 2012 season consigned to our memories I've started to turn more of my attention to Seattle's football future. While I enjoyed watching the hated, loathsome 49ers lose the Super Bowl, a pernicious, pointless thought gnawed at me while I watched that game: We are better than both these teams. I should be watching us win the Super Bowl right now. 

I know that's not a constructive way to think about things, because the "best" team over the course of any given season is rarely the one that actually wins the Super Bowl. It takes not just talent and skill to win a Lombardi Trophy- It also takes a laughably huge amount of good fortune. If the Seahawks had won one more game last season (take your pick- the worst losses were at Miami and at Detroit), they would have had a much easier path to XLVII. Shit, you could argue that ONE PLAY cost Seattle the NFC's #2 seed: An incredibly ticky-tack roughing-the-passer flag on Earl Thomas that wiped out what would have been Bobby Wagner's game-sealing interception in Miami. But like I said, thinking that way now is just pure masochism. Now our fervent hope is that the Seahawks will be an excellent AND fortunate team in 2013. Winning the top NFC seed will certainly give us the clearest path to XLVIII, but recent history also shows us that sneaking into the playoffs at 10-6 is a very viable route to Championship glory.

But who the fuck am I kidding? The expectations for this team have never been higher. I can say that with some authority, because I'm old enough to remember the near-hysteria that surrounded the 1985 Hawks. They were coming off a 12-4 1984 campaign AND they were getting injured star running back Curt Warner back from a torn ACL. That team + Warner = Super Bowl. Duh! Playboy Magazine even picked Seattle to win it all, and millions jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, Warner wasn't quite back to his old self yet, the performances of Dave Krieg and the previously stellar Seattle defense regressed back to the mean, and the Hawks had a profoundly disappointing 8-8 season.

The lesson isn't "the 2013 Seahawks are going to let us down," though. The lesson is about the mentality of Seahawks fans, who have been conditioned to be happy with football just north of mediocrity for almost 40 years. 1985 taught me a terrible lesson: Just be happy if the Seahawks are competitive. Be ecstatic if they go into the last week of the season with a chance to make the playoffs. Sneak in at 9-7? Woo-Hoo! They still have a chance! 

Why did I accept this for so long? Because no NFL franchise has spent as much time mired in mediocrity as mine has. Since 1978, no franchise has had more seasons with finishes between 7-9 and 9-7. Being "Meh" seems encoded into Seattle's football DNA, and that has in turn afflicted me, dialing down my expectations through bitter experience. I once slept on an old, lumpy couch 10 feet from a litter box for two years. Not only did I get used to it, I actually started to convince myself that it wasn't THAT bad of a situation. The same kind of thing has happened to me with my Seahawks fandom.

But that's all over now, and Seahawks fans need to start mentally preparing for tectonic shifts in what it means to be a Soldier of Twelve. Up until now, a "good season" for the Seahawks has been defined by making a trip to the playoffs. From now on, at least as long as we have Russell Wilson under center, any season that doesn't end with a World Championship will be at least somewhat disappointing. It's going to be a completely new variety of stress for fans: Yes, there will be a lot fewer losses, but the stakes will be exponentially higher.

The whole "South Alaska" neglect of the Seahawks and their fans is going to end, too. ESPN will be reporting from the VMAC during Training Camp. Seattle will be the "sexy" pick to win XLVIII. The Seahawks will play more games on national TV than they ever have before (Best bets? Both SF games, at the Colts, at the Texans, Saints at home and Vikings at home). Random folks will be walking around in Russell Wilson jerseys from San Diego to Boston. While we all love to bemoan the lack of attention our team gets from the national media, the rapid shift from obscurity to a central topic of the national football conversation is going to be jarring.

The big thing Twelves will waste a TON of energy on is whinging about "bandwagon" fans. Yes, individually their fickleness and ignorance can be extremely annoying, but frankly it's a phenomenon that we should embrace. For one thing, attracting new fans is a symptom of success. Even more importantly, a good number of these new fans will become fierce, loyal Twelves. So if you're thinking about complaining about how there's suddenly all these people wearing Seahawks gear, don't do it around me.

The bottom line is that over the next 5-10 years, we're basically going to evolve into a West Coast version of Patriots fans. What it means to be a Seahawks fans is going to fundamentally, irrevocably change, and old farts like me will be incessantly reminding newly minted Twelves what things were usually like before the Age of Wilson. It'll be worth it, but after four decades of being David we're going to grow into Goliath. People will root against us because we're so good, and they're sick of hearing about the Seahawks on ESPN all the time. Let that sink in.

What do you think, sirs?