January 27, 2014

Post-Traumatic Elway Disorder

For younger Twelves, Sunday's Super Bowl pits our Seahawks against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and the most formidable team the AFC can offer up. For Twelves over 30, XLVIII represents even more than that. Not only would victory make our Hawks World Champions- It would also be the final, decisive victory over the cruelest tormentor our franchise has ever faced: John Elway.

Think for a moment about how much you LOATHE Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh. Us olds in the Twelve Army hated John Elway every bit as much, and sadly our moments of victory over him were rare and fleeting. We never got to see Dave Brown tip an Elway pass to Fredd Young to seal an AFC Championship Game victory at the Kingdome. This is a tale of pain and frustration, of near-ruined childhoods and bloodlust. This is the story of how Washington native John Elway became Public Enemy No. 1 in his home state. Our victory at MetLife Stadium Sunday night will mean just a TINY bit more to Twelves who endured 15 years of torture inflicted by the one we all ended up calling "Mr. Ed." Here's why:

The story begins back in the AFC West, where the Seahawks competed from 1977 to 2001. Before realignment sent Seattle to an NFC West they'd swiftly start dominating, they toiled for a quarter-century in a division they'd win TWICE. That's it. TWICE. Neither division title brought much in terms of bragging rights, either. In both 1988 and 1999, they won the division with a 9-7 record and promptly lost their first playoff game. Over the same era, Denver would win NINE AFC West titles, go to 6 Super Bowls, and win two of them. The Seahawks also had an intense rivalry with the Oakland/L.A. Raiders, but once John Elway became Denver's starting quarterback Seattle's path to the top of the AFC West was effectively roadblocked.

Those two AFC West titles for Seattle? One came in a down year for Elway where he threw 19 interceptions and posted a 71.4 passer rating. The other came the year after he retired. Seahawks fans hated Elway for the same reason Cleveland Cavaliers fans hated Michael Jordan: No matter how good we were, he'd almost always find a way to beat us. Both players had a knack for conjuring what felt like unearned victories out of thin air, and it is absolutely MADDENING to be vanquished that way.. over and over and over again.

Elway was almost the greatest hometown sports hero Washington had ever seen. Born in Port Angeles, he spent a huge chunk of his childhood in the Evergreen State. After a stellar career at Stanford, Elway was billed as a "once-in-a-generation" prospect. After stating that he'd opt to play baseball if drafted by the winless (and hopeless) Baltimore Colts, an intense bidding war developed for the top pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. As chronicled in the great ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Elway To Marino," Elway was eager to be drafted by the Seahawks, and a deal was in place to make that happen, until Seattle management decided they'd rather make a trade putting them in position to draft Penn State running back Curt Warner. While Dave Krieg was still one of the best quarterbacks of the 1980s, and Warner was a highly productive back for most of seven seasons, it's not hard to imagine how different the history of the NFL (and the Seattle Seahawks) would be if Chuck Knox and Mike McCormack had executed the Elway trade with Baltimore.

When Elway entered the league, I was a eight-year-old baby Twelve living in the Tri-Cities. When the Hawks stomped Denver in the 1983 AFC Wild Card game, the rookie Elway couldn't even beat out journeyman Steve DeBerg for the playoff start. After that 31-7 blowout win, Krieg and Warner certainly seemed more valuable than Elway and Denver's forgettable collection of ballcarriers.

Things immediately shifted in 1984- Curt Warner blew out his knee on kickoff weekend, and Elway blossomed into one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. 1984 was the start off fifteen seasons of Elway-generated misery for the Twelve Army... but I'll get back to that in a minute. In those 15 campaigns, Elway would win more games, pass for more yards, and throw more touchdowns against the Seahawks than he did against any other team. While Browns fans are more famous for their rabid, bug-eyed hatred of John Elway than Twelves are, the Seahawks were the team the Broncos climbed over to reach all those playoff games against Cleveland.

Growing up in the Tri-Cities, I felt SURROUNDED by little bastards in Orange jerseys, who delighted in taunting me after every Denver victory over my Hawks and using me like a cash machine. All they'd have to do was tell me "SeaChickens SUCK!" I'd reply "Oh yeah? Wanna bet on it?!?" A huge chunk of my allowances growing up went right into the pockets of little snot-nosed Elway jock-sniffers, which further stoked my wrath toward that horse-faced, leather-skinned cretin.

Of course, 15 years after retiring with two Super Bowl rings, Elway is Denver's Executive VP of Football Operations. He's built the team that the Seahawks will face in XLVIII, and he bested PCJS in the competition for Peyton Manning's services two years ago. Countless older Twelves like me are horrified by the notion of not only losing our 2nd Super Bowl in eight years, but by the notion of JOHN ELWAY being the one hoisting the Lombardi Trophy over our (figuratively) battered bodies. Conversely, an XLVIII win would also represent a small measure of payback against the man who has been our most formidable foe for my whole life as a Twelve. Here's a look back at some of the lowest (and highest) points of Seattle's rivalry with Elway and the Broncos. Enjoy!

1984- Round One
11/25/84 Seahawks 27, Broncos 24
This was one of the best matchups of the 1984 season, with the 10-2 Seahawks visiting the 11-1 Broncos. The fireworks started with an 80-yard Dave Krieg-to-Darryl Turner bomb on the FIRST PLAY for a 7-0 Seattle lead. Krieg would incinerate the Broncos, accumulating 406 passing yards, tossing three TDs and nary an INT. This was also the best regular season game of Steve Largent's Hall of Fame career: 12 catches for 191 yards and a score.

The Hawks built up a 27-17 lead in the 4th, but it looked like young Elway would pull off a soul-crushing comeback. Denver scored to pull within three, and had a chance to send the game to OT on the final play. Rich Karlis booted the ball with his bare foot... it looked good... then faded... faded... CLANG! the upright. NO GOOD! Seahawks win! Seattle was in control of their own playoff fate with three games left. Win all three, and they'd nail down home field advantage through the AFC playoffs.

1984- Round Two
12/15/84 Broncos 31, Seahawks 14
The Seahawks dropped the penultimate game of the '84 season at Arrowhead (of course), but could still win the AFC West and a first-round bye with a home win over Denver. The Seahawks had been undefeated at home in 1984, and were favored to defeat Elway and the Broncos. It was a deeply weird game in which Dave Krieg clearly outplayed Elway (who threw four interceptions)- But one of Krieg's interceptions was returned for a touchdown, and Denver was able to capitalize on Seattle's other two turnovers as well. The Broncos rolled to a 31-14 win, and the Twelve Army's collective rage towards Elway was kindled.

1986- Round One
10/26/86 Broncos 20, Seahawks 13
While Elway was busy laying waste to Seattle's defense for 321 yards passing, Dave Krieg completed only 6 passes for 26 yards. He'd get yanked in favor of Gale Gilbert, who'd lead Seattle on a tantalizing touchdown drive that convinced Chuck Knox to bench Krieg in favor of Gilbert. After two starts where Gilbert would generate two measly touchdowns, Krieg got his job back, and lead the Seahawks on a furious 5-game rally to end the 1986 season.

1986- Round Two
12/20/86 Seahawks 41, Broncos 16
In the Kingdome rematch, the surging Seahawks shredded the Super Bowl-bound Broncos. Curt Warner galloped for 192 yards and three touchdowns, and Krieg was 17-for-24 for 238 yards and two more scores. Elway would get sacked twice and be held to 187 yards passing while competing less than half his passes. The pain of missing the playoffs would be somewhat alleviated by watching Elway and the Broncos get blown out by the Giants in Super Bowl XXI.

1987- Round One
9/13/87 Broncos 40, Seahawks 17
The Seahawks acquired standout Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth in the offseason, and he immediately endeared himself to the Twelve Army by vowing to hit Elway as hard as he could every chance he got. The Boz would plant Elway in the Mile High Stadium turf twice, but those brief flashes of pleasure were smothered in a blowout loss to the Broncos. Elway threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, and a competitive 20-17 game at halftime turned into a demoralizing 40-17 loss.

1987- Round Two
12/13/87 Seahawks 28, Broncos 21
I was at this game, and I happened to be about 10 feet away from the Broncos team bus as they arrived at the Kingdome. I was in awe of Tony Dorsett, but when Elway came off the bus it took all of the self-control I could muster as a twelve-year-old to keep myself from making a doomed Jeff Gillooly-esque run at his knees. Thankfully, I restrained myself and the Seahawks secured a late-season win that kept their playoff hopes alive, with the game-clinching score coming on a reverse flea-flicker that climaxed with a 40-yard TD strike from Krieg to Ray Butler. Once again, I'd have to console myself by watching the Broncos ultimately fail in Super Bowl XXII.

1988- Wow! A sweep!
12/11/88 Seahawks 21, Broncos 14
9/4/88 Seahawks 42, Broncos 14
The first of only two Seattle season sweeps of the Broncos... If Denver had won either of these games, they would have won the AFC West and Seattle has one less banner hanging from the Seahawks Stadium rafters. The Broncos were two-time defending AFC Champions, and huge favorites over Seattle at Mile High on Kickoff Weekend 1988, but Krieg was mistake free while Elway barfed up three turnovers, and the Hawks escaped with a 21-14 win. One chilling sidenote was Mike Harden's vicious illegal hit on Steve Largent, which broke his facemask, knocked out a few teeth and drew a huge fine from the NFL.

The rematch in Seattle three months later was no contest: Warner and John :L. Williams both rambled for over 100 yards rushing, and Dave Krieg was 19/22 with two TDs and no picks. Oh... and Largent got his revenge, DESTROYING Mike Harden with a perfect (and legal) hit on an interception return.

In a four year span from 1986-1989 the Broncos went to three Super Bowls. In 1988, the Seahawks rose up and smote them right out of postseason contention.

1993- Typical Elway
11/28/93 Broncos 17, Seahawks 9
This was the only time EVER that I arrived late for a Seahawks game. I hit Seattle about 12:30, and drove right into the gaping maw of pre-game traffic, which I usually miss by being ridiculously early. So I found myself sitting on the ramp off I-90, within sight of the Dome, gridlocked. I didn't get into the stadium until a few minutes into the first quarter, but there was no score yet. Yay!

I got to my seat in the 300 level, just in time to see the pivotal play of the game, and of Seattle's season. I hadn't even sat down yet... It was 3rd and long for Denver from midfield. 65,000 twelves combined to make a deafening roar, and it looked like Antonio Edwards was going to force a 3-and-out or a turnover with a vicious blindside hit on Elway...

Somehow, Elway pulled a Ben Kenobi, sensed his impending doom, ducked under Edwards and fired a perfect 50-yard TD strike to Shannon Sharpe. 7-0 Denver, but it felt like 70-0. The Hawks would get it together, sacking Elway 4 times (including once for a safety) and picking him once, but once Rod Bernstine punched it in late in the 4th to make it 17-9 the game and Seattle's season was over (nope, no two-point conversions in the NFL until 1994, boys and girls). The Seahawks would finish with a 1-4 Death March towards a disappointing 6-10 finish, while Denver once again made the playoffs. This game is still one of my most unpleasant memories of being a Seahawks fan.

1995- We Got Him (For Once)!
12/10/95 Seahawks 31, Broncos 27
This win not only kept Denver out of the playoffs, but it also was the greatest comeback in team history (until that win over Tampa Bay earlier this season), against our Tormentor-In-Chief. I was going to Western at the time, and living in the Fairhaven dorms. It was final exam time, and instead of cramming I was glued to the Hawks/Broncos throwdown. As the game went on, my textbooks started to look more appealing than witnessing another Elway-administered beatdown.

Denver led 20-0 at one point, and even after a Peterson FG, it was 20-3 at the half. Denver was deep in Seattle territory early in the 3rd, about to make it 27-3. The Hawks gambled on D, sending Robert Blackmon on a safety blitz. Blackmon obliterated Elway and Antonio Edwards scooped up the fumble and rambled 83 yards for a TD that completely shifted the momentum. I leaned out my dorm window and brayed like a farm animal after that one... Seattle still trailed 27-17 in the 4th, but rallied for two late touchdowns, leading to more out-the-dorm-window screaming. Simply amazing.

What Elway-related memories/trauma can you add to this, my fellow Twelves?

January 23, 2014

Seahawks 23, 49ers 17

I was eight years old when my father took me to my first Seahawks game way back in 1983. Even though three decades have passed, and everything about myself and the team that I adore has changed, my memories of that day are in 1080p. First seeing the Kingdome as we drove into town on I-90, the impossibly cavernous environment inside the dome itself, and screaming. SO much screaming. One the best life lessons my father ever imparted to me was: "When the other team has the ball, SCREAM."

When I was eight, being given PERMISSION to scream myself hoarse was like being allowed to eat ice cream for dinner while watching Popeye cartoons (I was an odd kid). I was delirious with joy, and the moment the New England Patriots took the field for warm-ups that day I started SHRIEKING at them. Then, as now, moderation was a problem area for me. My father finally convinced me that I at least had to settle down when our Seahawks had the ball- But when the Patriots had it I was a 60-pound roaring demon, and when Seattle won to reach the playoffs for the first time ever, I felt like I had been more than a mere spectator. I had helped push the Hawks to victory, and a Twelve was born.

Just over 30 years later, only yards away from where I was then, it felt like all those years of Twelving were reaching the most dramatic of climaxes. I was standing in a different stadium, the team was decked out in vastly different uniforms- Hell, I had even switched genders- But one thing was familiar: I had an 8-year-old's feeling of wide-eyed anticipation, and I was going to express myself the same way I did then. When the other team had the ball, I was going to scream.

The problem was that thirty more years of life experience also weighed upon me. When I was eight, I didn't truly understand the consequences of a Seahawks loss. I was sad when those '83 Hawks lost in the AFC Championship Game, but I was also convinced that they'd just win the next Super Bowl. Easy-peasy. I went into last Sunday's NFC Championship Game with the terrible, crippling awareness that a loss to the hated San Francisco 49ers would not only end the greatest season in franchise history- It would also irrevocably taint it. The "2013 NFC West Champions" banner would ring as hollow and evoke as much bitterness as its 2004 cousin (which is a constant reminder of our trilogy of failure against the Rams that season). Win, and go to the Super Bowl. Lose, and tumble into pitch-black, shiveringly-cold oblivion with the cackling of your most despicable enemy echoing in your years as you tumble into forlorn nothingness.

The atmosphere at Seahawks Stadium last Sunday was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before (Here's all my pics from my visit to Washington State, by the way). 90 minutes before kickoff the tension was nearly unbearable. Richard Sherman made a point to run through the 49ers and past their fans during warm-ups, and Ricardo Lockette got into a minor yelling/shoving match with a San Francisco player as well. Down at the Seahawks tunnel, there was a parade of various celebrities- There's Macklemore! There's Roger Goodell! There's Dr. Dre! There's Dave Krieg! (OK, that last one is probably only a big deal to us old school Twelves) This was the biggest game the Seattle Seahawks had ever or would ever play at home, and everyone in attendance seemed to understand that.

I was on the edge of madness. Every time I saw someone in 49ers gear rage swelled within me, but I found a great coping mechanism in "shunning" them Dwight Schrute style, and I consoled myself with the notion that they'd all head home slouching and defeated. I did my best to save my energy for the game, but I couldn't resist the urge to rain boos upon Harbaugh and his charges as they took the field. As Phil Dawson booted the opening kickoff, I knew the three most stressful hours of my life had begun. After Russell Wilson fumbled on the game's first snap, the only thing that kept me from absolutely freaking out was screaming at Colin Kaepernick. I blocked out all my nagging doubts by shouting down the rational and contemplative voices in my head. I was no longer a person. I was a Wolf Grey Bullhorn.

Down on the field, the Seahawks did their best to absorb the vicious blows being landed by the loathsome (but talented) 49ers. Even after falling behind 10-0, the Hawks didn't panic, and more importantly they stayed true to their identity. They still knew that if they played their best game, victory would be theirs. After that initial miscue, Russell Wilson avoided game-changing mistakes and produced two explosive plays that helped push Seattle to victory. His 51-yard bomb to Doug Baldwin after a lengthy scramble led to Seattle's first points and his 35-yard 4th-and-7 missile to Jermaine Kearse would put the Hawks ahead for good in the final quarter. The WolfBadger outplayed Kaepernick, but the Offensive MVP was (once again) Marshawn Lynch. He posted the first 100-yard rushing performance against San Francisco all season, and his 40-yard dash for a TD in the 3rd quarter pulled the Hawks level with SF- and set up the 25 most stressful minutes of football the Twelve Army has ever endured.

Kapernick responded with his last big play of the day- A jump-pass strike to Boldin that BARELY got past Earl Thomas and gave the lead back to San Francisco. Angry Doug Baldwin replied with a 69-yard kickoff return (part of a career day for number 89: 106 yards receiving and 109 yards on kickoff returns) to set up a field goal. After Big Balls Pete eschewed a 53-yard field goal attempt and Wilson cashed in with that touchdown bomb to Kearse, it was up to the Seattle defense to hold the lead and send the Hawks to New Jersey.

Even though they allowed 17 points and a handful of maddening Kaepernick sprints on broken plays, in the 4th quarter the Seahawks defense showed the fifty-five million watching at home why they are the best in football. First, a Cliff Avril strip-sack that was scooped up by Michael Bennett (Both Avril and Bennett applied harrowing pressure to Kapernick all day, and Seattle's front seven held 49er running backs to 31 yards on 17 carries- Led by Bobby Wagner's 15 tackles). Then, a Kam Chancellor interception of Kaepernick that led to the field goal that extended Seattle's lead to six points (Bam Bam would make 11 tackles, knock down two passes, and give Vernon Davis all-new nightmare fuel). There were three minutes and change left, and one more defensive stop would put the Seahawks in XLVIII.

I was mentally and physically exhausted up in Section 325 by that point, but I somehow squeezed a few more minutes of noise out of my wheezing lungs. I'd love to tell you I was supremely confident, but as the Niners moved deeper and deeper into Seattle territory fright spread through my mind like an infection. Thoughts flashed through my head- Can I get out of the Stadium fast enough to avoid seeing those Emperors of Fucksville celebrate on our field? How would I get back to the light rail without talking to anyone? How depressing is my flight home going to be? Even as these thoughts clouded my mind, I yelled. I screamed. I roared. That was my only tether to some semblance of sanity.

My seats are up in the south end zone, next to the Twelfth Man Flag. They're not the best seats, but sometimes they give me a perspective you don't get watching on TV. With 30 seconds left, the Niners lined up at our 18-yard-line. From where I sat, I could see Richard Sherman was covering Michael Crabtree. Once the ball was snapped, Avril pressured Kaepernick into a slightly hurried throw and I thought "OH SHIT! He threw at Sherm!" For a split second, I thought Sherman would pick the ball off, but we all know what happened next:

Or, as many have posted on various social media platforms: 

Sherman's acrobatics quite literally saved Seattle's season, and at this moment stands as the most important individual effort on a single play in franchise history. Not only did he have the athletic ability to reach the ball, but he had the skill and situational awareness to tip the ball to teammate Malcom Smith. If those aren't the ingredients that produce an NFL DPOY award, I'm not sure what would. 

In an instant I shifted from pre-emptive depression to the most boundless joy imaginable. The Seahawks win! The Seahawks beat the Niners! THE SEAHAWKS ARE GOING TO THE FUCKING SUPER BOWL!!!!! At the moment, I knew that I was experiencing the best it could EVER get at a Seahawks home game. This was it. This was better than my first game. It was better than being there for Steve Largent's last NFL game. It was better than the last regular season game at the Kingdome, or seeing Romo drop the snap, or even the 2005 NFC Championship Game. I have been at dozens of Seahawks home games over the last 30 years, but there's no way another game in Seattle will ever top the 2013 NFC Championship Game. The Hawks battled their fiercest rival with a Super Bowl berth on the line, and both teams played magnificently. With a huge chunk of the nation watching, the Seahawks (and the Twelve Army) prevailed and proved their quality. 

There will be plenty of time over the next 10 days to talk about the post-game hysteria swirling around Richard Sherman, and our history with the Denver Broncos, and Super Bowl XLVIII itself. But it's OK to just look back and marvel at what we just saw, and what our team has already accomplished this season. The Twelve Army has never been louder than it was on Sunday. Those of us at Seahawks Stadium exhausted ourselves- We left it on the field for all of you, and once again the effort paid off. Perhaps Niners fans should consider emulating our behavior at Levi's Stadium, rather than making smug pronouncements about how they're too "classy" to attempt to affect the outcome by making noise. Us Twelves all have a little Dick Sherman in us: We're more concerned about winning games than your approval. 

And this team- Have you ever loved a Seahawks team more than you love these guys? They're talented, confident, compelling, unconventional, appealing, fun to watch... and fucking COOL. How weird is that? The Seahawks are COOL. And now they're one more victory away from professional immortality - Obviously, I think the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl, but last Sunday was a memory worth framing, regardless of the XLVIII outcome. Shit, I already did: 

What do you think, sirs? 

January 17, 2014

Spinning Angst Into Noise

Last August, I was at Panera Bread picking up lunch for my fellow retail serfs when a total bro in his early 20s noticed the Seahawks lanyard I was wearing. He asked me if I was a Hawks fan. I said of course I was. The next words out of his mouth were... "Fuck the Seahawks!"

I was taken aback. This kid was with his girlfriend and her friends, so he was clearly showing his ass because he wanted to "impress" them (By the way: Fuck you, testosterone). My next move, as usual, was to ask him what team he rooted for. Typically, I'll have a rational answer that parries their assault no matter what team they namecheck... but he said "I'm a Niners fan!" 

Because of course he was. Then MY lizard brain took over and I barked out "FUCK THE NINERS!" As Ron Burgundy once said, that escalated quickly. In seconds we were SCREAMING profanities at each other. In Panera Bread. His girlfriend was pleading with him to stop. I couldn't leave because I was waiting for my co-workers' food. He was getting dumber as I was getting angrier and louder. Finally, I got my soup and got out the door. It was a deeply unpleasant experience. I HATE the 49ers and their fans (here's why)... But I hate what happens to me when we play those shitmongers almost as much.

I'm usually an optimistic, positive person, but when the San Francisco 49ers invade my headspace I turn into a belligerent asshole. My stress level days before the NFC Championship Game couldn't possibly be higher, and it's not because I think the Seahawks will lose- It's from the knowledge that Sunday will either be one of the best days of my life, or one of the worst. The fact that we are playing San Francisco is obscuring the fact that this game is for a spot in the Super Bowl. My hatred for that team and (the vast majority of) their fans is so intense that it clouds my judgement.

Being a fan is inherently irrational, and hating another team and its fan base is pretty much batshit insane. When it comes to the 49ers and the Seahawks, the fervent disdain both teams and fan bases hold for each other is curious (particularly for outsiders). The two cities are largely similar in many important ways (including the fact that they are the two major U.S. cities with the largest per-capita transgender populations), and the teams themselves have similar philosophies, strengths and weaknesses. I can tell myself all of this, and I can "know" it in an intellectual sense, but it doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm about to snap and get all stabby whenever I'm forced to interact with a Forty-Niners fan.

I think that's my problem this week- That I'll be forced to interact with these miscreants. My typical coping mechanism is to minimize my exposure to Niners fans. I can ignore their comments on my blog, and keep them from being published (and I will, you mangy red and gold mutts). I can block them on Twitter, and so on. But this weekend in Seattle their arrogance, entitlement, and comprehensive dumbfuckery will be squarely in my face.

I'm excited about going to the game, and the yearning to empty my lungs upon all those Niner eardrums is overwhelming- But I'm also dreading how the delicious sausage of victory will be made. The relatively small population of 49ers supporters at Seahawks Stadium will still be WAY too large for my tastes, and a good portion of them will be drunk (as will a lot of the Twelves at the game, which won't help matters either). My mind can spin out endless unpleasant and possibly dangerous scenarios for gameday. In addition to that, 30 YEARS of fandom feels like it's been leading up to this game, and there's never been a moment in my life as a Twelve that has felt more apocalyptic. The only historical matchup that could have possibly been bigger than this Sunday's would have been Elway and the Broncos visiting the Kingdome for the AFC Championship Game back in the 1980s. If you add all that up, my mental health is in tatters today.

The good news? The Seahawks are WAY more mentally tough than I am. All that stuff I just blathered about? They give ZERO fucks about all of it. They KNOW how good they are (which is better than any other team in the league (including the 49ers), and they understand how close they are to football immortality. They are unburdened and they are focused on what they need to do on Sunday to reach the Super Bowl.

I am trying to emulate their example, as should all of you who are lucky enough to be at Sunday's game. I intend to save as much of my energy as possible until kickoff. I plan to store up all the irritation, frustration, hatred and anger I have towards San Francisco until then too, point myself towards the field, and become a motherfucking sonic weapon. Every fucking moment Kaepernick and flunkies are on the field, my brother and I will be POUNDING THE SHIT out of their eardrums.

In my head, I keep hearing a variation of Jordan Belfort's "Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing!" speech in The Wold Of Wall Street...

Desperate to avoid a YEAR of Niners fans lording a defeat over you? GOOD. When San Francisco has the ball, start screaming. 

Terrified of the EIGHT MONTHS you will spend tortured by this game if we lose? GOOD. When San Francisco has the ball, start screaming. 

Horrified by the idea of watching Harbaugh and Kaepernick celebrate on our field? GOOD. When San Francisco has the ball, start screaming. 

Forty-Niners fans seem to actually believe that they don't make noise at their home games because they are too classy to attempt to affect the outcome. You know what? I've NEVER been classy. I never will be. I will take every advantage within the rules to help my team win. I'm a loud, dirty, Twelvin' BITCH. I absolutely intend to affect the outcome this Sunday. Along with 68,000 or so of my closest friends, you fuckin' KNOW that I will.

23-12 Seahawks, and on to New Jersey. On Monday morning we'll all be exhausted, voiceless... and enjoying the sweetest Victory Monday of our lives.

What do you think, sirs?

January 12, 2014

Seahawks 23, Saints 15

There was a moment in yesterday's NFC Divisional Playoff that surely delighted the national media bobbleheads and seemed to confirm the doubts of that 5th column of naysayers within the Twelve Army. With the Seahawks hanging onto a 16-8 lead with five minutes remaining, Drew Brees tossed a deep ball that fluttered and died in the howling wind. Two Seattle defenders went up for the easy interception, but neither snared it, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Robert Meachem. The Seahawks were clearly cursed! Super Bowl MVP and future Hall-Of-Famer Drew Brees would surely tie the game, and the Saints would complete the dramatic comeback and win in overtime. Yet another painful chapter would be added to the sordid annals of Seattle professional sports, right up there with the playoff failures of the 1994 Sonics and the 2001 Mariners- Top seeds who all fell far short of the lofty expectations heaped upon them. 

Of course it's still possible the Seahawks could fall next week, or at MetLife Stadium in three weeks, but yesterday they confounded the assorted doubters and fatalistic pessimists. After that fluky completion, Seattle's top-rated defense forced three straight incompletions, and Shayne Graham's 2nd shanked field goal attempt kept the Hawks' lead at 8. 

Russell Wilson's numbers were fairly pathetic yesterday, and he missed a number of open receivers- but when Seattle absolutely needed a first down to keep the ball away from Brees, he dropped a perfect throw into the arms of Doug Baldwin. Angry Doug did his part with a scintillating sideline catch against excellent coverage. It was hard to not think about the season-saving catches Steve Largent made in a divisional playoff 30 years ago down in Miami's Orange Bowl (that launched Seattle into its first Conference Championship Game). 

On the next play, Marshawn Lynch played the part of Curt Warner. In that divisional playoff win at Miami a generation ago, Warner racked up 151 total yards and found the end zone twice, with one of the scores clinching the franchise's first divisional playoff win. Lynch's final carry gave Seattle a 23-8 lead and notched his 2nd touchdown of the day. Beast Mode added another moniker to his stable of nicknames: SK (Saint Killer). His 143 yards and brace of touchdowns cemented his reputation as one of the best running back in the game today, and with two more stellar performances he'll cleanly pass Shaun Alexander as the greatest back in franchise history (a history also includes Warner, John L. Williams, Chris Warren, Ricky Watters and Mack Strong- reaching the head of that class is an impressive feat). 

If Lynch was playing Warner, Earl Thomas III was Kenny Easley. The rightful Defensive Player of the Year (Yeah, but I wouldn't complain if they gave it to Sherm either). Once again Thomas stood out as the elite player on a defense standing on the brink of immortality, making 11 tackles and killing two New Orleans drives with perfectly-timed pass deflections. Bobby Wagner had perhaps the best game of his brief career, Kam Chancellor racked up 14 tackles, and the combo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril bullied Brees into one of the shakier 300-yard performances you'll ever see. Was the 4th quarter a bit shaky? Of course, but their three quarters of dominance over one of the NFL's most explosive offenses was enough to push Seattle within sight of the Super Bowl. 

The Hawks also displayed their mental and physical toughness against a team desperate to prove they were anything other than a soft, big-offense dome team. Jimmy Graham tried to rattle the Seahawks during pregame warm-ups, and proceeded to make all of one meaningless catch for eight measly yards. The Saints defense hearkened back to their head-hunting glory days in their obvious ham-fisted attempts to intimidate Seattle's receivers. They succeeded in knocking Percy Harvin out of the game (Get well soon, Percy!), but they failed to cow the toughest team in football. To paraphrase a line from Casino, what were the Saints going to do, muscle the Seahawks? The Seahawks ARE the muscle. 

It's worth noting that the difference between victory and defeat yesterday could be found in two relatively mundane areas (turnover differential and special teams). Even though Wilson's numbers were damn-near Whitehurstian, he didn't commit a turnover (compare that to the SEVEN interceptions Andrew Luck threw in this year's postseason tournament), while Seattle's first touchdown was set up by the defense's lone takeaway of the afternoon (but it's worth noting the Hawks dropped two easy interceptions that would have settled matters FAR earlier than the final play of the game). The Hawks were also decisively better than New Orleans on special teams, with a 16-yard Saints punt setting up Seattle's first score and Steven Hauschka drilling all three of his field goal attempts while Graham's two misses buried the black and gold. 

While there are legitimate concerns about Percy Harvin's health and the overall performance of Seattle's offense, this should be a moment for rejoicing. The Seahawks are headed for only the third Conference Championship Game in team history, and that opportunity to reach the Super Bowl will come at home in front of the loudest, most hostile fans in the NFL. I'll be among that horde next Sunday, and I promise that I'll do my part. Whenever the enemy has the ball, I'll be blasting them with every single decibel I can muster. I won't let you guys down, and neither will our boys. 

What Do You Think, Sirs?

January 9, 2014

"Ozymandias" (for the 2013 Seahawks)

We've reached the ante-penultimate chapter of the 2013 Seahawks' season, and millions of Twelves are fervently hoping for a happy ending to this story. But it's not REALLY a story, right? Like life, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens, and a crapload of it is utterly, completely random. Even if your team is the best, they might not win it all. Just ask the 2007 Patriots. But we all like to spin these events into a story, which is why ESPN (and other broadcast outlets) usually try to push a given "narrative." Often they'll ignore information that doesn't fit that prescribed narrative, to the detriment of their coverage, and to the consternation of people who can rub more than a baker's dozen of brain cells together.

But right now? I'm TOTALLY guilty of crafting a "narrative" when it comes to the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. I'm highly confident that we'll defeat New Orleans on Saturday. So why have I never been this nervous before a playoff game before? It's because if the Saints pull the upset, not only will Seattle's season come to a traumatic end- The narrative that I've built up in my head will explosively decompress, too.

On one level, there's the narrative of Seahawks resurrection that revolves around Paul Allen, Pete Carroll, John Schneider and the roster that they've assiduously built over the past four years. Sure, there is the simple angle that they took an old, slow, overpriced team, tore it down and built perhaps the league's deepest roster. The fact the they're on the brink of bringing Seattle its first major professional sports championship since the late 70s would be compelling enough, but a Seahawks Super Bowl victory would be an earthquake that would shake the football world to its core.

PCJS represent some weird NFL amalgamation of Billy Beane and Steve Jobs, adopting tactics that have drawn HOWLS of criticism from their professional contemporaries and football observers (Your DBs are too big! Your quarterback is too small!). They've instituted strategies and practice routines that cut against the grain of the NFL's accumulated conventional wisdoms. They needed to "adapt or die," and they haven't just survived- They've flourished. The sport's old guard would LOVE to see Seattle's fresh tactics fail, so on general principles (above and beyond my own Twelvedom) I'd love to see the rest of the league scramble to copy the weirdo, lotus-posing, left-coast Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. I'd love to see players who were dismissed for for lazy, cowardly reasons like Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman rule this game that I love. A Seahawks Super Bowl win wouldn't just be a victory for Twelves- It would be a win for unconventional thinking in a sport STRANGLED by groupthink.

On a personal level, a Super Bowl win THIS YEAR would be particularly meaningful to me. I've been a Twelve since 1983. I've seen 265 wins and 258 losses (including the playoffs). I've seen hundreds of players suit up in Seahawks blue and green, from Cliff Avril to Jim Zorn. I survived the Ken Behring years and Super Bowl XL. That loss hurt more than anything else I've ever felt as a sports fan. It hit me particularly hard because in February of 2006 I was a DEEPLY unhappy human being, and a Seahawks championship would have been a blast of joy illuminating the darkness that filled my brainpan. But would I have been able to fully enjoy it? To completely appreciate it through my fog of anxiety and depression? Probably not.

There's no need for me to rehash the details of my transition in this space again, but even though I don't believe in fate or destiny or any of that crap, one romantic idea is stuck in my head: That in some larger cosmic sense, the Seahawks were waiting to win the Super Bowl until I was "ready." Until I was living authentically as Johnnie. Do I really think that's what's happening? Of course not- But it's still a powerful notion. That's the narrative that I'm so invested in- That the Seahawks and myself will achieve ultimate triumph/self-actualization more or less simultaneously.

I've bet big on this happening- I have my plane tickets booked for Seattle next weekend. If the Seahawks host the NFC Championship Game, I will be there to help give them one final sonic shove towards New Jersey and Super Bowl XLVIII. If they lose Saturday, I'll enjoy a nice weekend with my family and Seattle-area friends... but I'll still be absolutely crushed. The narrative will collapse and the boulder will roll some distance back down the mountain, so to speak.

If you are going to Saturday's game, scream until you reach the precipice of self-harm when New Orleans has the ball. I promise I'll go forth and do likewise eight days later... and two weeks later, we'll get an ending more satisfying than the finales of Star Trek: TNG, Six Feet Under, and Breaking Bad put together.

What Do You Think, Sirs?

January 6, 2014

Top 5: Seahawks Beat Saints!

Our Seahawks debut in the NFL's annual postseason tournament this Saturday v New Orleans, facing a #6 seed that they whipped 34-7 barely more than a month ago. Before we look forward to that matchup, I'd like to make a few brief remarks about Seattle's sterling regular season. 

-The 2013 Seahawks were in some respects a mirror image of the 2005 team. The '05 Hawks had the NFL's number one offense and the number seven defense, while the '13s had the #1 defense and the #8 offense. The '05s had three All-Pros: Shaun Alexander, Mack Strong and Walter Jones (all offense), while the '13s trio of All-Pros were defenders (Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor). Both teams sent their QBs to the Pro Bowl (Hasselbeck and Wilson- in fact, the quarterbacks put up nearly identical stats). The '13s outpaced the '05s in point differential, +186 to +181. 

-Their legacy will be defined by their post-season performance, but based on the regular season Seattle's defense has a chance to go down as one of the greatest of all time. They lead the league in points allowed, overall yardage allowed, pass defense and turnover ratio. In a league where scoring is at all-time high, it would be a historic accomplishment if the Seahawks were able to win a World Championship behind a dominant defense. 

-Four games stand out when looking back at the regular season. Two were dominant wins on national TV over elite competition (A 29-3 demolition of the 49ers and that 27-point wipeout of the Saints), and two were furious comeback wins over inferior opponents (A 23-20 OT triumph over the Texans after falling behind 20-3, and a 27-24 OT win over Tampa Bay after trailing 21-0). These games highlighted two important qualities of the 2013 Seahawks: Their tendency to deliver their best performances when the pressure on them was the highest, and their refusal to give up when faced with seemingly impossible odds. Both of these attributes will serve them well in the postseason. 

Now the Hawks face the Saints once again, and while anything can happen (obviously), this is still a very favorable matchup for Seattle. Going back to the last meeting with New Orleans on December 2nd, the Seahawks' defense has allowed a minuscule 12.4 points per game. While Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, it's difficult to envision how he'll put up enough points to prevail over Seattle on Saturday. I'll say the Seahawks move on to the NFC Championship Game with a 27-16 win. This weekend's playoff game is the 14th meeting between these teams, and the Hawks have won 7 of the previous meetings. Here's a look back on the 5 best Seattle wins vs New Orleans. 

Two weeks earlier, the Seahawks had suffered a humiliating 24-0 home loss to the eventual NFC Champion L.A. Rams (in which they were held to -7 yards of total offense). After an upset win at Cleveland, the Hawks came back home to face Archie Manning and the Saints, who were still very much alive in the NFC West race (for you kids out there- Back in Olden Times, Atlanta and New Orleans were in the NFC West. No, it really didn't make any sense). 

Peyton and Eli's Dad was outdueled by Jim Zorn, who scorched the Saints for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Steve Largent snagged 9 of Zorn's passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle would win 5 out of their last 6 to finish at 9-7, and the loss would keep Manning and the forlorn Saints from making their 1st-ever playoff appearance. Those aforementioned Rams edged New Orleans to take the NFC West, and would become the first 9-7 team to reach the Super Bowl. 

This game is notable for two main reasons. It's the last Seahawks home game that wasn't a sellout. I was there, and it was odd to see so many empty seats in our brand new stadium. Also, Ken Hamlin did this to Donte Stallworth: 

Despite almost dying ON THE FIELD, Stallworth had 8 catches for 101 yards that day. Shaun Alexander paced the Seahawks attack with 124 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, and the Hawks would start an undefeated (and subsequently sold out) 2003 home schedule. 

I was at this game in pre-Katrina New Orleans. This was back when Seahawks fans were still terrified at the prospect of a 10 am pacific road game to start the season, but Shaun Alexander's 166 total yards and three touchdowns led Seattle to a key road victory. Darrell Jackson chipped in with 7 catches for 98 yards, and the Hawks would run out to a 3-0 start before... well, I've blathered on about the torturous 2004 campaign before, haven't I? Here's some of what I wrote back then: 

Before the game there was a torrential downpour emptying its bowels upon the city… As I waited and waited and waited for the streetcar that would take me to the Superdome I got repeatedly soaked by passing cars… In a credit to all Saints fans, a cab driver in a Duece McCallister jersey gave me a ride to the Dome (for free no less! I tried to give him some cash, but he declined).. 

The Superdome reminded me of something out of a 70s vision of the future.. Very Logans Run/Rollerball. The best way to describe it (particularly for northwesterners) is to compare it to the old Kingdome. Imagine that they spent another $50 mil on the Kingdome putting down carpet, installing escalators, enclosing the ramps to the upper deck inside the building, and making it feel like a swanky convention center from 1976… Still a nice enough facility, but certainly of a bygone era.. Even the jumbotrons were quaintly small and fuzzy.. 

The game was technically a “sellout,” but it was blacked out on New Orleans TV and there was MAYBE a crowd of 45k on hand.. my section was less than half full, and most of the people in it were Seahawks fans (I got my tickets through the Hawks.. a special deal as a season ticket holder).. Generally the Saints fans were ok.. they seemed more interested in getting tipsy than giving me crap… 

Despite a week of national media build-up about how the Seahawks were oh so vulnerable, and about how the Saints would take down a Seattle team ripe for an upset, the Hawks dominated Drew Brees and his associates from start to finish. Brees was held to a meager 147 yards passing, and Russell Wilson gouged the New Orleans defense for 3 touchdown passes and 357 total yards. 

Once again, we're starting to hear about how the Saints will take advantage of (largely imaginary) Seattle deficiencies this Saturday. They won't learn until Russell Wilson is holding the Lombardi Trophy in a few weeks, will they? 

The "BeastQuake" is rightly recalled as the greatest play in franchise history, but what's gotten somewhat forgotten in the focus upon Lynch's heroic victory-sealing run is Matt Hasselbeck's virtuoso performance in his final home start as Seattle's quarterback. A week after Charlie Whitehurst led the Seahawks to a win over St. Louis to crawl into the playoffs at 7-9, many observers felt he should remain the starter against the defending World Champion Saints. Hasselbeck had limped to the 2010 finish line after a season where he had thrown only 12 TDs v 17 interceptions, only won 6 of his 14 starts, and posted a disappointing 73.2 passer rating. There wasn't much reason to hope that he'd lead Seattle to an upset win, but he tossed four touchdown passes to push the Hawks to a 34-30 4th quarter lead... and we all know what happened after that. 

I wrote this back then: 

I haven't gone more than a few hours without some total stranger remarking on how amazing the game was, or how loud the crowd was, or how Lynch's TD was the craziest run they'd ever seen. I've always worn my Seahawks fandom on my sleeve, and most of the time I have a "fuck you" attitude about it (because the most common reaction is usually "WHY are you a Seahawks fan?"), but since Saturday I've just been BEAMING with pride. 

There is such an intense sense of vindication right now for those of us who endured and stood by this team through the first 15 frustrating games of this season. For those of us who wished fervently for THIS team to prove the haters wrong, for those who never got fixated on next year's draft position, these have been a thoroughly satisfying few days. 

Has any Seahawks squad transformed its legacy in two weeks more than the 2010 version? On Boxing Day, you could have credibly argued that they were one of the 5 or 6 WORST teams the franchise has fielded. Now? They're one of only SIX squads (seven now) in franchise history to win a playoff game (1983, 1984, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010)! The legacy of Matt Hasselbeck was burnished, and Marshawn Lynch became a Seahawks legend based on a single, unbelievable play. No matter what happens in Chicago on Sunday (we'd lose 35-24), the Seahawks have reached the divisional playoffs four out of the last six years. Who else has made it to the NFL's "elite eight" four or more times since 2005? Baltimore, Indianapolis, New England and San Diego.

Here's the "SoundFX" treatment of that glorious win...

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