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?