For pretty obvious personal reasons, I've been thinking about transitions and transformations a lot lately. When an individual or a group fundamentally changes their identity, how do they handle it? How do other people react to that fundamental change?
Before October 2004, the Boston Red Sox had a very distinct identity. They had a storied history, a venerable ballpark, and a reputation for falling apart JUST SHORT of championship glory. They were "cursed," and the term "Red Sox fan" was almost always preceded with "long-suffering." Nine years and three World Series Championships later, the Red Sox are an empire as evil as the one down in the Bronx in the eyes of most non-aligned fans. Their fans? They've gone from "long-suffering" to "insufferable" to the general public. Their regional NFL neighbors have gone through a similar phenomenon: Twenty years ago the Patriots were one of the most irrelevant franchises in the NFL, and an afterthough in their own city. Now, they're perennial contenders who are roundly detested outside their own fan base.
The Seahawks have always had a unique identity based upon NOT having a unique identity. Up until very recently, the Seahawks were most notable for their consistent grey mediocrity. One of the most depressing factoids about our team was that Seattle had the most seasons with between 7 and 9 wins in the 16-game-season era. They weren't good (or bad) enough to make much of an impression on the general public, particularly given that they played in a city geographically isolated from the tastemakers on the Eastern Seaboard. The NFL nation was indifferent to the Seahawks, and the team rarely forced them to take notice.
Seahawks fans? They've rarely been indifferent about this team (The Forgotten Years represented the only era of sustained blackouts, but with an owner actively trying to skip town, withdrawal in disgust was an understandable response for many Twelves), but they've also always tended to expect the worst. The lead would get blown. The star player would blow out his knee. The high-profile draft pick would be a bust. The ball wouldn't bounce our way. The inexplicable call by the officials would go against us. Pessimism, fatalism and cynicism became encoded in the worldview of a wide swath of the Twelve Army.
I'm fascinated by not just the process of transformation, but by how people's perceptions "lag" behind the actual changes. In my own case, I know that even well-meaning people are going to "slip-up" for a while and use the wrong pronouns when referring to me, even though my appearance has radically changed. Once people form a solid impression of another person, or a group, or an institution, it takes time and a LOT of new information to alter that impression.
That's why you get media bobbleheads who still think the Seahawks are a bad road team (6-2 this year, with the two losses by a total of eight point to two playoff teams), and/or they are doomed when kickoff happens at 10 a.m. Pacific Time (6-2 in their last eight such match-ups). That's why I still run into Twelves who refuse to accept our new reality: We have been transformed. We are not who we are before. We're not irrelevant. We're cool. We're not underdogs. We're the favorites. Some Twelves still expect it all to come crumbling down. They're lagging, and they might not catch up until Pete Carroll is thrusting a Lombardi Trophy into the New Jersey night on February 2.
After our 23-0 erasure of the New York Giants yesterday, the Seahawks' dominance can be measured in many ways, but every measure points to the same conclusion: The best team in football hails from South Alaska, and when they're done every team in their path will be a blanket of ash on the ground. They have the best record. The defense leads the league in almost every significant statistical category, as do our special teams. The offense would seem to be the "weak link," but they still are 5th in the NFL in scoring and 2nd in rushing yardage. If the offense had operated at its usual level of efficiency yesterday, the score would have more like 35-0. Seattle offered up a mistake-riddled, penalty-plagued performance and STILL won by more than three touchdowns. Think about that for a second.
Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas III can both make strong cases for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the only reason someone from another team might win is if Sherm and ETIII split the votes of writers looking to reward Seattle's defensive dominance. The defense is so talented that backups like Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane looked like Pro Bowlers against the befuddled Eli Manning and his flummoxed and frightened receivers. Given the chance to start, both might develop into actual Pro Bowlers. Malcolm Smith also shined filling in for K.J. Wright, and Seattle's front four traumatized Manning and euthanized New York's ground attack. On special teams, Steven Hauschka is tied for the league lead in field goal percentage, and leads the NFC in scoring. The punt coverage unit is on pace to allow the fewest return yards in NFL history, and Golden Tate is second to only Kansas City's Dexter McCluster in punt return yardage.
Now Seattle needs to win just one more game to clinch home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. With two home games remaining, it would be a stunning turn of events if they fumbled away the #1 seed. The Seahawks haven't lost home games in consecutive weeks since November of 2008, and it's hard to see how this team could drop both of its remaining contests, even against strong divisional foes like Arizona and St. Louis. All that stands between us and a trip to the Super Bowl is four home games, and we haven't lost at home since Christmas Eve 2011.
People will adjust to how I've changed. Eventually, (almost) everyone will be calling me "her" and "she."
People will also have to adjust to how the Seahawks are changing. EVERYONE will have to call them "World Champions," and soon.
What do you think, sirs?