December 16, 2014

Able Archers (and the Final Victory Over The Santa Clara Red Menace)

When I was a kid growing up in the Tri-Cities in the 1980s, I marinated in what seemed like an immutable global reality: That the "Cold War" between the United States and the Soviet Union would continue throughout my lifetime. Just miles away was the N-Reactor at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which produced plutonium for the American nuclear arsenal. More than once, I heard adults brag about how the work there was so important that it made my hometown a Soviet "first strike" target. After watching "The Day After" when it aired on ABC in the fall of 1983, I would have regular nightmares about nuclear war for decades (Even now, every once in a while... What a retro apocalypse!). 

Like most people alive during that era, I thought that either Mutually Assured Destruction would keep the peace (relatively speaking) until I naturally shuffled off this mortal coil... Or I'd perish with most of humanity in the nuclear holocaust World War III would rain down upon us. Either way, the Cold War would go on interminably. Even in popular culture set in the future, that perspective was obvious. Go watch the underrated 1984 sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2010: The Year We Make Contact includes a young Helen Mirren as a Soviet Cosmonaut, as well as a batch of hilariously incorrect predictions about life in the Time of the BeastQuake. People would commonly keep Dolphins as housepets! There'd be manned missions to Jupiter! The Astrodome would still be the home of the Houston Astros, and so on. A key plot point of the movie was that even while American and Soviet explorers were trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the Discovery in the first film, their governments were on the brink of war (caused by a vaguely Cuban-Missile-Crisis-esque standoff in Honduras). When I saw the movie on cable, I remember being pissed that we had to hitch a ride with those Commies to Jupiter, and also hoping that we'd beat the Soviets to Mars in real life (at age 10, I was a good little Alex P. Keaton-style conservative). 

Nobody had any idea the Soviet Union would collapse just six years later. That fearsome empire was far more fragile than anyone could have imagined, and when it started to unravel it quickly became clear the whole system was rotted out from the inside. 

In 2011, the Red Menace down the coast in San Francisco seemed to have found a leader who would return them to the Super Bowl glory they enjoyed back when Sly Stallone was kicking Russkie ass from Vietnamese POW camps to Moscow boxing rings. Jim Harbaugh quickly molded the Niners' considerable talent into a Super Bowl contender, and that season San Francisco beat the Seahawks twice while Pete Carroll was still searching for his franchise quarterback (though in the December match-up in Seattle the Hawks very nearly stole a victory). Harbaugh immediately (and stunningly) became a much bigger irritant to the Twelve Army than Mike Singletary had ever been. His arrogance and petulance made him incredibly easy to hate, and his team took on the same aggravating attitude. A pair of fumbled punts in the NFC Championship would keep the 49ers from reaching Super Bowl XLVI, but the young, talented San Franciscans were primed to accomplish big things. 

In 2012, Harbaugh found HIS quarterback in Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, and an concussion to Alex Smith gave Mr. Walmart Khakis a flimsy pretext to switch QBs. Smith had led SF to a narrow win over the Seahawks at Candlestick, but in the rematch at Seahawks Stadium on Sunday Night Football, Seattle snuffed out the Niners 42-13. If not for a defensive collapse in the final 30 seconds at Atlanta in the divisional playoffs, the fierce NFC West rivals would have met again in the conference championship game. Harbaugh and Kaepernick had their shot at Super Bowl glory in the Superdome, but their post-power outage comeback attempt to win XLVII fell just short. But now Harbaugh had his franchise QB, right? 

In 2013, San Francisco blew their shot at revenge/redemption. In the SNF rematch in Seattle, they absorbed a 29-3 walloping. They'd eke out a 19-17 win at the Stick in December, but that couldn't stop Seattle from winning the NFC West and locking down home field advantage for the playoffs. Finally, the dust-up the football world was waiting for happened in the NFC Championship Game. Us 12s have that game seared into our grey matter for all time... Beast Mode TD... A 4th Down bomb to Kearse to put us ahead... 3 4th quarter Kaepernick turnovers... The Tip.. The interception... The Crabtree shove... "The Best Corner In The Game..." Green and Blue confetti. Two weeks later the Seahawks would win it all, but surely these two titans would keep trading haymakers for years to come, right? 

Early in the 2014 campaign, BOTH contenders were staggering. The losses and injuries piled up (and so did the arrests down in Santa Clara). The anonymous sources started talking: Harbaugh had lost the Niners' locker room. Russell Wilson wasn't "black enough," and so on. Two weeks ago, we saw the paths of these franchises violently diverge. The 7-4 Hawks went into the "Field of Jeans" (ugh) and hung a humbling 19-3 defeat on the 7-4 49ers. The Seahawks had gotten healthy, excised the locker room cancer named Percy Harvin, and surfed upon a new tidal wave of confidence and enthusiasm. The Niners? Their season reached a humiliating nadir with a loss to the forlorn, nomadic Raiders. Could they salvage their season (and destroy Seattle's) with a win over the Seahawks on Sunday? 

For a half, it looked like they might. Russell Wilson threw an awful interception (after a highly dubious decision by Pete Carroll to take one last shot at the end zone rather than kick a field goal with eight seconds left in the half), and for a second it looked like the half might end with a Santa Clara pick-6 and a 14-3 Seahawks deficit. Somehow, Wilson got downfield and beat two 49er blockers to prevent the score, and from that moment on Seattle dominated. 

The defense held Santa Clara to just 67 total yards in the second half, and the offense rode Marshawn Lynch to a pair of scores to end the Niners' playoff hopes with a 17-7 win. With Jim Harbaugh and possibly Colin Kaepernick about to be deposed by the Santa Clara Politburo, we can consign this chapter of the Seahawks-Niners rivalry to the history books. Today we dance on top of the Berlin Wall and attack it with pickaxes and bulldozers. Carroll and Harbaugh faced off 9 times since 2011, and Seattle went 5-4. The Hawks won by an aggregate score of 187-127, and most importantly they brought a Lombardi Trophy home to Renton. Harbaugh couldn't do likewise for the 49ers, and their five Super Bowl victories will fade further and further from memory with each passing year. 

The war is over, and the Seahawks claimed final, total victory over Harbaugh, Kaepernick, and all their flunkies. It's now a one-Superpower world, and the Red Menace will have to deal with an unpleasant new reality: As they try to rebuild yet again, they'll be living under the hegemony of the Emerald Empire. 

Have fun watching us win it all again, comrades. Dasvadanya, Harbaugh. 

What do you think, sirs? 

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