March 24, 2013

The Burden of Rising Expectations and the Seattle Seahawks

In a couple of weeks I'll give my son his big 7th birthday present: A Russell Wilson jersey. He's shown interest in the Seahawks for a while, and after taking him to a Columbus Blue Jackets game last week, I know he's got the "spazztacular sports fan" gene. The kid was LEADING "Let's Go Jackets" chants all night long, so I'm pretty sure that once I take him to a Seahawks game (perhaps at Indianapolis this fall), he'll become a Twelve for life (and my 3-year-old daughter already likes the Seahawks too, but I've got more time to work on her).

That's got me thinking about how different people's relationships with their teams can be based on the context of when/how they became fans, and/or on their experiences over years (or decades) of fandom. Since I have been a Seahawks (and Red Sox) fan since childhood, my experience rooting for them is enhanced both by my knowledge of their history and by decades of accumulated emotional attachment. My relationship to the Columbus Crew and Columbus Blue Jackets is different. It's just in the last year that I've started to embrace those teams fully, for two reasons: A) Going to those games became something I've been able to share with my girlfriend, which adds emotional resonance to my link with both teams and B) It's just within the past year or so that I've mentally accepted the idea that Columbus is "home" now. I'm not moving back to the the Pacific Northwest anytime soon, possibly ever. So my interest in rooting for the local teams (and deepening the connection I have to where I live) has skyrocketed lately. I may grow to love these teams as much as I love the Hawks or Red Sox, but since I've come to them later in life, the foundation of that fandom may never be as strong. For example, when the Crew won the MLS Cup, not only was I not really a fan yet- I was living in Illinois. So while I KNOW they won a championship, it doesn't mean that much to me, because I didn't experience it.

There will also be differences between my Seahawks fandom and my son's. He'll enjoy the coming Golden Age of Seahawks Football with emotional purity. Sure, the losses will hurt, but he's catching the crest of the wave. I fully expect he'll get to see his team win a Super Bowl before his 10th birthday, and he'll grow up in a world where being a Seahawks fan will be commonplace from Bellingham to Bangor. His fandom will be born in an era where the Seahawks join the NFL's elite, and he won't be burdened by decades of trauma inflicted by mediocre football. Of course I'll teach him our team's history, but for him it will be just that: History.

Unfortunately, I'm NOT blissfully unaware of our franchise's aggravating past. Each new development of this offseason has filled me with equal parts pride and bliss. We got Percy Harvin? We got Cliff Avril? Wait, we ALSO got Michael Bennett? I'm in the middle of a long stretch of saying "Woooo! Fuck Yeah!" in my mind whenever I think of my Seahawks. We're on top of ESPN's NFL Power Rankings, Vegas loves us, and we're sure to be the "trendy" Super Bowl pick this summer. I'm not worried about the attention/hype "jinxing" us, and I'm not worried about the team itself believing their press clippings and falling short due to arrogance.

I am, however, worried about my own sanity.

Thirty years of mediocrity has had a curious effect on me: I'm very used to simply being happy/excited if the Seahawks enter the last few weeks of the season with a chance to make the playoffs, and I've become an EXPERT at convincing myself that "if we can just sneak in the playoffs, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN." I have NO idea how to mentally deal with the huge coming shift in expectations- If we enter the last couple weeks of the 2013 season struggling to just get in the playoffs, I'll end up curled up under a desk sucking my thumb and peeing in my pants.

There are two major principles that SHOULD chill us out, but I really don't think they'll work in the heat of the moment.

1. We all seem to think the Seahawks need to get the NFC #1 seed to get to the Super Bowl, but they don't. So many recent Super Bowl winners have been lower seeds with records in the 10-6 range that it ISN'T apocalyptic if Seattle fails to win HFA or even the NFC West. 

2. This team is so talented and young throughout the roster that they are only at the very beginning of a LONG championship window. Barring some series of devastating injuries and/or spectacular front office fuck-ups, the Seahawks will be a formidable Super Bowl contender for at least five years. 

Yeah, I just wrote that, but I really don't think any of it will stem my anxiety next fall. I'd love to lie to you (and myself) and say that I'll be able to "relax and enjoy the ride," but with a World Championship so plausibly at hand, every game will take on a cataclysmic atmosphere. The probable opener at San Francisco won't feel like a Week 1 game- It will feel like the NFC Championship Game, and no matter how much we try to downplay the stakes of that dust-up, a loss would be mentally crushing to Twelves. Every loss (hopefully there will be very few of them) will get substantial national media coverage. There will be nowhere to hide.

I probably should print out those two points I made above and paste them on my bathroom mirror like some sort of twisted daily affirmation. Since I don't have any real preparation for dealing with the Seahawks being "favorites," I expect this season to be more torturous than enjoyable. I'm already a wreck on game days. This fall, I'll probably need to have a stash of air sickness bags close at hand for three hours every Sunday. Shit, I cried after the Bears tied that game last December, and I was a blubbering, spent wreck after we scored in OT to win- I almost fainted in the computer lab I had to watch that game in. 2013? This might the season that finally fucking kills me.

I'll admit right now that it will be worth it. We WILL be champions. But my gut tells me that getting there won't be as much fun as I'd hope it would be, and it will be due to my own panoply of mental afflictions. I'm deeply jealous of my son's childish ability to JUST ENJOY this. I knew what that was like when I was eight, and I blissfully enjoyed that magical playoff run of 1983, unburdened. To paraphrase Lisa Simpson, when it comes to being a Seahawks fan, as knowledge and experience go up, happiness goes down.

This is almost certainly one of those things I'm thinking WAY too hard about. How do you think YOU'LL cope with this seismic shift in expectations for our Seahawks?


HawkTheTezBaugh said...

For years (decades really) our expectations have been tempered by mediocrity. Because of this us older fans may need a year to adjust to the higher expectations. We will be expected to destroy the Jags this season, but what if it's our version of the 2012 dolphins game? He much more devastating and frustrating would a loss like that be?

Raised expectations might make games harder to watch, but every fan base of teams that became winners has had today with that. Patriots fans in the early 2000s, 9er fans (vomit stick a knife in my eye) in the 80s and (oh god don't make me say it) steeler fans in the 70s. I welcome this change, because I know the end result, at least once during the next 5 years, will be a championship.

neurocell said...

I'm assuming that I'll be the same: Stressed out, reading EVERYTHING after a win, wanting to partake in niner-cide after a loss, and moving my Pluto orbit of the Hawk-star, to a Mercury orbit. Just as you, my world orbits and revolves in accordance with how the Hawks perform, and I become more Seahawk-centric as the season approaches.

My father was born in West Virginia, and grew up a stealers' fan. (He abandoned us, that's probably why I chose the light.) He was a fan on the cusp of their (misbegotten) greatness. He was 50 when they won their first playoff game in '72, and 52 when they beat Minnesota (their only non-contested Super Bowl victory.). When the Seahawks win this year, there will be similarities, we both followed our teams form their inceptions. We both followed our teams since childhood. I'll be eight years younger than him, for the Hawks first win.

The differences are staggering, though. pissburgh (Yep, that's how he pronounced it.) was the most inept team in history. They'd had THREE playoff appearances in their history, and no post season wins. They'd been known to cheat (Imagine that.), and their fans were still insufferable. The Hawks have been to the playoffs 12 times, with nine victories. My mom started following the Hawks because of me, but she loved how they played fairly. The Hawks might have been the epitome of mediocrity, but they weren't Tampa Bay pathetic, as the stealers were.

He went into that time ready to abandon his family, I'm heading into this year after starting a great job, and being part of a loving family. The success that we're about to see will be unprecedented in our fan base, but we've followed a team that we can be proud of.

You can always find parallels in history, but what's truly nice is that we have always been here, and we shall always be here. Hawks fans may be diverse, but we are alike in that we have persevered in the face of the rest of the NFL's fans.

Enough of my diatribe. Go Hawks!

Sean Morgan said...

I grew up in Central PA (100 miles east of Pittsburgh and have been a Seahawk fan since 1978 (7 years old) I watched the 'Hawks beat the Raiders on a last minute Zorn to Largent TD. I didn't know a whole lot about football but, I knew who was good (Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders) so I thought, hey this team must be good, They just beat the Raiders. What does a 7 year old know. My first football game was in 1986 when the 'Hawks lost to Pittsburgh at 3 Rivers 13-9. My dad and I were sitting in the second level of the endzone that Mr. Largent caught the lone Seahawk TD. I've lived in WA because of the army and I absolutely fell in love with that area. I had season tickets in 1999, Coach Holmgren's first year. I am going to try to take a yearly trip back there to catch an M's or Seahawks game.

I'm moving back to PA next year after 20 years away due to the army. It is such a great place to live and raise a family. Sure, the fans are incorrigible, but all in all they are nice people. I do despise the Steelers. I am a Mariners fan but, I have an affinity for the Pirates because they were the first professional team I saw play and they are just a likable team full of great history and colorful players.

Long story short, I may lose my mind when a super bowl is ours. I truly thought XL was going to be a typical Super Bowl blowout in Seattle's favor because that was just a special year. But hey, what did a 37 year old life long Seahawks fan know.