December 8, 2015

Breaking the Surface, Tasting the Air

(Me at noon and at 3 pm last Sunday) 

For the second time in ten months, I got to experience a team I love reaching the Championship- Only to end up watching the enemy celebrate. Columbus Crew SC fell in the MLS Cup 2-1 to Portland Timbers FC. For me, there were (faint) echoes of Super Bowl XL in the horrible officiating that went against the Crew and in Columbus' weirdly flat, error-sprinkled performance.  It was a crushing disappointment and a stressful way to spend a beautiful, unseasonably warm December afternoon.

This was a big deal to me- For the first time since I was 8 years old, I was missing a significant chunk of a Seahawks' non-preseason, non-replacement game. My girlfriend and I are both rabid Crew SC supporters, and my Christmas present to her (and to myself) was a day at the MLS Cup (and what was supposed to be a rare Non-Ohio State-related Championship moment for the Arch City). I had experienced three NFC Championship Game victories at Seahawks Stadium, and I was hoping (and honestly kind of expecting) a similar dizzying high on Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium... But it wasn't meant to be.

(My girlfriend and I at the MLS Cup)

Even at the MLS Cup, I couldn't escape Twelvedom. I saw a Timbers FC supporter wearing a Seahawks hat, and for an instant I wanted to bond with him over that... But I was stopped cold by two startling realizations:

1. It would have been a bizarre "breaking of the 4th wall," so to speak. I was there to root for Columbus, not be chummy with the enemy's supporters.

2. I wasn't wearing any Seahawks gear, which while appropriate, suddenly left me feeling absolutely naked when I realized I was in the presence of another 12.

When the final whistle blew after an unfathomably frustrating 90-plus minutes of soccer, I consoled myself with two thoughts: "At least the Seahawks won!" and "At least I didn't miss anything that affected the outcome in Minneapolis!"

Before we headed to MAPFRE, my girlfriend and I ducked into a nearby sports bar to catch the first half of the Seahawks game (Well, I was watching the Seahawks- My girlfriend was engrossed by Carrie Brownstein's memoir. And with good reason! We had just been to the Sleater-Kinney show the night before, and that got her good and hooked on all things S-K-related). By the time we had to leave for the match, Seattle had already built a 14-0 lead. Given that the Hawks would end up pummeling the Vikings 38-7, it turned out that I got to see the "winning" touchdown run by Russell Wilson.

I know that when and how and if I watch the Seahawks on TV doesn't impact the outcome of the games, but I would have felt horribly guilty anyway if the Hawks had lost after I stopped watching. Thanks for letting me off the hook, boys!

I'll leave detailed descriptions of the entire game to the immensely talented Brian Nemhauser, but I do want to mention one thing that leapt out at me early in the game. Russell Wilson's perfect pass and spectacular catch in traffic by Tyler Lockett was punctuated by a helmet-to-helmet flag that set up a later touchdown. That was ALL gold, but did you see Richard Sherman run down the sideline and FREAK THE FUCK OUT celebrating the catch and congratulating Flash? It reminded me of all the times the defense lost their damn minds on the sidelines during/after punishing touchdown sprints by Marshawn. The Legion of Boom fed off the toughness and explosiveness of Lynch and the offense during the crazy-hot streaks during the 2012 and 2014 stretch runs, and we're starting to see something similar brewing now. Not only are the Seahawks clicking, but they are very clearly back to a total commitment to playing FOR each other- And that should terrify the rest of the NFL.

The defense just throttled the best running game (outside of Seattle) in the NFL. They might just be back their natural state as an immovable object festooned in jagged spikes and razor wire. The offense? Holy FUCK. No one is playing better at QB than Russell Carrington Wilson right now. Get a 50-yard TD run called back on a holding flag? Just throw a 50-yard TD on the next play (to Doug Baldwin, who is blossoming into the league's most underrated wideout). Thomas Rawls' emergence continued, and defensive coordinators from Charlotte to Glendale must be losing sleep now that they are confronted with the possibility that they'll have to scheme for Wilson, Rawls. Baldwin, Lockett AND a healthy/HANGRY Marshawn Lynch.

Seattle's next three opponents have a combined record of 10-26. The Hawks should hit Glendale in week 17 at 10-5 (and hopefully with the 5th NFC seed already clinched). It's now PROBABLE that the Seahawks will get the top Wild Card slot and visit a 7-9ish NFC East Champ in the 1st round of the tournament. Charlotte's prize for 16-0 might be a rematch with a Seattle side VASTLY improved since the Panthers edged the befuddled OctoberHawks. Arizona might end up regretting all that shit-talking and crotch-chopping from last month if they are unlucky enough to host us in the NFCCG.

After the MLS Cup, my girlfriend was nearly inconsolable. I comforted her by telling her it was OK to be upset, that it was good to feel things so intensely, even if those feelings come from defeat. I told her I was the one sobbing back in February, and she might need to comfort ME after a season-ending Seahawks loss in the not-too-distant future.

But... Maybe not? They really might not lose again this season. And that consolation reciprocity might have to wait until next winter (if then).

Until then, this song's for her....

Throw me a rope, give me a leg
I haven't seen daylight in what must be day
I took the long way down, lost track of myself
Confidence fell down the steepest of slopes
I'll row you an ocean, I could do more
I feel so much stronger, now that you're here
We've got so much to do, let me make that clear

We win, we lose, only together do we break the rules
We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules

I'm breaking the surface, tasting the air
I'm reaching for things like never before
The anchor is heavy, I can't hold the weight
The guilt holds me down, won't let me be myself
Suck it all in, suck it all up
Let go of thoughts holding me back
I'll push twice as hard towards it you see
And the past falls away to the bottom of the deep

When we leave say goodbye to your old way of life
I can breathe way up high now it's our turn to fly

December 2, 2015

Felling the Timbers, Pillaging the Vikings

For the first time since 1983, this Sunday I won't be watching a Seahawks (regular-and-post-season, non-replacement players) game in anything approaching its entirety. By my count, it's been a streak of 540 games. It started when Dave Krieg came off the bench in relief of Jim Zorn in a mid-season game against Pittsburgh in 1983. The Hawks were down 24-0 at the half, but Krieg rallied the Hawks for three touchdowns and a stupendous near-comeback in a 27-21 loss. Mudbone was given the starting gig, and the magical playoff run of '83 hooked me on the team for life. From then on, I haven't missed a significant play in a Seahawks non-strike regular season or playoff game.

The closest I came to missing a game came in 2008. I had flight arrangements that were going to keep me from seeing that glorious snow-globe win over Brett Favre and the Jets in Mike Holmgren's last home game- But my flight got canceled and I got to witness one of the most satisfying wins in franchise history (at least pre-PCJS). Nothing will keep me from missing at least part of this Sunday's HUGE game in Minneapolis, though. Why?

The Seahawks kick off at 1 pm Columbus time.

The MLS Cup kicks off at 4 pm Columbus time...


It's a Christmas present for my girlfriend (who is also a big Crew SC supporter), and to myself. I've written in this space before about my Crew fandom. The whole piece is worth a read, but the short version is that when I moved to Columbus back in 1999, I quickly realized that while the culture surrounding the Ohio State Buckeyes was too frightening, oppressive and suffocating for my tastes, I still wanted to have local sports rooting interests in my new home. I quickly adopted the Columbus Blue Jackets because I had no existing NHL allegiance, and I spent my adolescence rooting on the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. My path to becoming a Crew supporter was longer and more circuitous, but as my roots in central Ohio grew deeper (and my appreciation for soccer evolved over about a decade), the Crew became my (distant) 2nd biggest sports obsession after the Seahawks (I also participated in a Crew podcast explaining how I ended up as a Twelve and a Crew SC supporter a few years back).

I've been to five matches so far this season (including our defeat of Sounders FC back in May and our loss to Timbers FC in September), but this Sunday's MLS Cup Final is going to be BY FAR the most important match I've ever attended. I went to a USMNT World Cup Qualifier against Jamaica back in 2012, and that night Columbus Crew Stadium had an vibe something like a Seahawks playoff game- I've now been to three NFC Championship Games at Seahawks Stadium, and I expect MAPFRE Stadium's atmosphere Sunday to be at that fevered, raucous level. How often do ANY fans get the chance to see their side win the League Championship IN THEIR HOME STADIUM? This is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Crew SC hoist the MLS Cup in person, and I couldn't pass it up.

...but I am kinda freaking out about missing a big chunk of a very important Seahawks game. 

I'm hoping I can at least catch the first half before heading to MAPFRE. But even that might be pushing it. Sigh. My only hope (HINT) is that some kind, generous 12 (HINT) might give me access to their mobile NFL Sunday Ticket subscription (HINT). But I'm consoling myself with the knowledge that A) We're gonna win and B) I'll be at the games against Cleveland and St. Louis in a few weeks.

PREDICTIONS FOR SUNDAY: Seahawks 25, Vikings 20; Crew SC 2, Timbers FC 1

A couple of years back I wrote about the surprisingly contentious history between the Seahawks and Vikings. The Hawks have won 8 of the previous 13 meetings between the teams, but let's look back at the Top 5 Seattle wins over the Purple Norsemen...

5. 10/8/78 Seahawks 29, Vikings 28
The 3rd-year expansion Seahawks hosted the 4-time NFC Champion Vikings and gave Bud Grant, Frank Tarkenton, and the Purple People Eaters more than they could handle. The Hawks sprinted out to a 19-7 advantage, but then fell behind 28-19 going into the 4th quarter. Jim Zorn had a proto-Russell Wilson kind of day, passing for 256 yards and also rushing for 45 more (including one passing touchdown and two more via ground). Sherman Smith chipped in 74 yards rushing, San McCullum snared 5 catches for 98 yards and a TD, and Efren Herrera nailed the winning field goal that help put Seattle on the NFL map.

4. 11/4/2012 Seahawks 30, Vikings 20
I was at this game! Despite 182 yards from NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, the Seahawks outslugged the Vikings for a 10-point victory. The Hawks held Minnesota to a mere 44 yards passing, Russell Wilson threw for three TDs, and Marshawn Lynch racked up 124 yards on the ground.

3. 11/1/87 Seahawks 28, Vikings 17
Ahh, the strike year. The Vikings visited Seattle for a key early November matchup, and much of the pre-game talk was about how the "real" Vikings came into the game undefeated, but the team's overall record was only 3-3 because Minnesota's replacement players were putrid even by the low standards applied to those scab games. The Seahawks were 4-2, based in part on the 2-1 record posted by the SeaScabs. Seattle showed they weren't frauds that day- Behind three Dave Krieg TD passes (and that glorious beard he grew during the players' strike- Hmm. That seems relevant!) and 132 all-purpose yards from Curt Warner the Hawks ground out a crucial 28-17 victory. Both teams would make the playoffs, with Seattle falling at Houston in OT in the AFC Wild Card game, and Minnesota ending up a 4th-and-goal away from XXII in a heartbreaking NFC Championship game loss at DC.

2. 9/29/02 Seahawks 48, Vikings 23
Seattle got off to a miserable 0-3 start, and the desperately needed some kind of spark going into the first national showcase for Seahawks Stadium: An appearance on Sunday Night Football. Thankfully their opponents that night were the similarly 0-3 Vikings, and the football-watching nation was treated to a historic performance by Shaun Alexander, who scored five first-half touchdowns on his way to a 221-yard rushing/receiving day. The Hawks would lead 45-10 by halftime and cruise to a 48-23 victory.

1. 12/12/04 Seahawks 27 @ Vikings 23
Almost exactly 11 years ago, the Hawks headed to Minnesota needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They were on the road and coming off a short week after a heartbreaking MNF loss to Dallas. In addition, Darrell Jackson was weighed down with grief immediately after his father's death. No one gave Seattle any chance to win.

D-Jack had perhaps the best game of his career, snagging 10 balls for 135 yards and a TD. Hasselbeck went wild, throwing for 334 yards and three scores... The win was sealed when Michael Boulware picked off an inexplicable Randy Moss option pass in the end zone late in the 4th quarter.

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November 30, 2015

Seahawks 39, Steelers 30

I love Mike Tomlin.

Oh, I DETEST the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's Super Bowl XL, obviously. There's those obnoxious fans, who have been spread through the nation like colonists fleeing Cylons since their main local industry collapsed. They wave their banana-yellow snot rags and rationalize rooting for their probably-a-rapist quarterback. And I'm SURROUNDED by them here in Columbus, where the Steelers are probably the most popular NFL team in the city (particularly when the Browns are having a down year, which is... usually). When you combine the fact that a TON of Yinzers ended up in Columbus basically as economic refugees from Pennsylvania with the reality that lots of Steelers either are former OSU Buckeyes or from Ohio (like Ben Roethlisberger), you end up with far too many Myron Cope idolaters here in the Arch City.

So yeah, fuck them. But Mike Tomlin? I love that guy. I'm sure if I was one of his players, he could get me to gargle boiling tar and bend rebar with my bare hands. Beyond that, the Steelers play an aggressive, entertaining style of football, and I love how he approaches in-game decisions. He goes for 2! He goes for it on 4th down! He fakes field goals! He goes for winning touchdowns when the meek settle for field goals and overtime! If the Steelers logo on his hat didn't send me into blind, irrational rage, I'd have to grudgingly admit I wish more coaches managed games the way he does.

With all that said, it was puzzling to see Tomlin kick a field goal with his team down 32-27 and facing a 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard-line with three minutes left in the game. All day, the Steelers had cut through the Hawks' defense like a lightsaber slicing through, well, anything else. Roethlisberger had thrown for 456 yards, and 3 more would give Pittsburgh the lead against a Seattle team that hadn't shown any ability to close out elite opposition all season.

But the Legion of Boom still has that killer rep (and deservedly so). Fail on 4th down and Seattle probably wins. The Seahawks' offense? They don't have that killer rep, do they? Russell Wilson? He's not elite, right? That offensive line? Nothing special (at best). Marshawn Lynch? Injured. Jimmy Graham? Injured. Seattle's wide receivers? Mere jaywalkers in a game of Frogger if they try to go over the middle (What's that other word for people on the street who aren't riding in cars? It's escaping me right now).

Tomlin bet big on the Seahawks going three-and-out and giving Pittsburgh the ball back with plenty of time to kick the winning field goal. He bet perhaps Pittsburgh's entire season. He bet it ALL against Russell Carrington Wilson.

1st down? A penalty, of course. Pittsburgh only declines because it saves clock.

2nd down? Bad exchange, fumble. Thank the Maker that Thomas Rawls fell on it.

Same old (2015) Seahawks... 3rd and 9. Tomlin's gambit was going to pay off.

Then Tomlin lost so big he ended up begging for bus fare back to the Keystone State.

Pittsburgh blitzed. Why not? It had worked against Wilson all season. RW3 faced down the pressure and fired a blaster bolt to The Angry One, and Doug Baldwin caught it in stride. I yelled at the TV "STAY IN BOUNDS, DOUG!!!" Well, he did. He also escaped two Steelers' defenders (utilizing a Beast-Mode-esque stiff arm to shed one of them) and galloped 80 yards for a game-clinching, season-turning, incredibly-fucking-cathartic touchdown.

In my heart, I know Baldwin's rage-fueled romp will go down as one of the most memorable and important moments of the Pete Carroll era, a pivotal play ranking up there with Sidney Rice's OT winner at Soldier Field in 2012 and Richard Sherman's pick-6 in Houston in 2013. Those were singular moments that redefined what we thought was possible for those teams. Baldwin's score wasn't just a knockout punch for Pittsburgh- It was a warning to the rest of the NFL. The Seahawks are coming. Have that go-bag ready, because a storm is approaching.

The Seahawks offered up a strange-but-stirring performance leading up to Baldwin's score. The defense surrendered more passing yards than any Seattle defense ever had before (and hoo boy, have I seen some shaky pass defenses from the Hawks over the last three decades), but they still snagged four interceptions. DeShawn Shead was picked on all day, but he made play after play that was beyond Cary Williams' skill set. Richard Sherman held the explosive Antonio Brown in check and gathered in his first interception of the season. In the 4th quarter, the front four finally started putting pressure on Roethlisberger, and slowed down that meatheaded goon just enough to give Russell Wilson the chance to win the game.

The Wolfbadger was stupendous, turning in the best performance of his career. Five touchdown passes. 345 yards. 147.9 passer rating. Almost all of it from the pocket, which is supposed to be the hole in his resume. Faced with multiple 3rd-and-longs, he converted every single one of consequence. This is just about when Wilson elevated his play in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and if he can sustain it this time around there's no limit to what Seattle can accomplish.

Doug Baldwin had a career day too, hauling in 6 catches for 145 yards and three TDs. That's some Steve Largent shit, y'all. Baldwin's numbers are constrained by the nature of Seattle's offensive system, but it's reasonable to argue that when he retires Angry Doug will be remembered as the second best wide receiver in franchise history. With Jimmy Graham lost for the season, he's more indispensable than ever. The much-maligned Jermaine Kearse stepped up as well, snaring Wilson's two other TD strikes.

Thomas Rawls wasn't as dominant as he was against Santa Clara, but he still offered hope that Seattle can contend for a Super Bowl 50 win even if Marshawn Lynch can't return to the field this season. ALL of the above was made possible by an offensive line that is still flawed but clearly improving every week. Tom Cable deserves some credit this week, as does everyone's favorite punching bag of an offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell.

The Seahawks are 6-5, and currently in position for a playoff berth for the first time all season. As I've said before, this is the exact moment where Seattle starting napalming the rest of the NFL in 2012 and 2014. Huge road challenges against Minnesota and Arizona lay ahead. If the Hawks even just win one of those two games? Not only are they a very safe bet for postseason play, they would also offer "proof of concept" that they could take the rarest of routes to a championship: Win three playoff games on the road, then win the Super Bowl (last done by Green Bay in 2010).

After what we saw yesterday, do you think Charlotte wants any part of us in the playoffs? Do you think Arizona relishes the idea of having to get past us in a 3rd dust-up to get to Santa Clara?

The next couple of months are going to be a fucking blast, aren't they? I'd love to see Pittsburgh again in SB50... assuming Mike Tomlin's bet against Russell Wilson doesn't keep them from even making the playoffs.

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November 24, 2015

Seahawks 29, Santa Clara 13

I've talked a lot in this space lately about how this season has felt like 2004- That forlorn, torturous campaign that ended with a Bobby Engram drop in the end zone and a excruciating playoff loss to the hated St. Louis Rams. We've certainly seen the same sort of spate of blown 4th quarter leads and nauseatingly familiar inconsistent play, but maybe we don't have to reach that far back in history to find a template for comparison. 

Four years ago this week, the Seahawks were in a similar position. They were 6-5, and they had already lost to the division leaders (San Francisco that year), so the NFC West title already seemed out of reach. In all five of their losses, they blew a lead. In three losses, they squandered a 4th-quarter lead. They were talented. They were tough. But something wasn't clicking. 

We know what happened next. The Seahawks posted an upset win at Chicago (in a game NO ONE gave them a chance to win), and then went on a spree of wanton demolition not seen since the cops went on strike in Old Detroit during the 3rd act of Robocop. They won their last 4 regular season games by an aggregate score of 170-43 (including a 42-13 thrashing of the 49ers). They upset DC on the road in the Wild Card game, and were thirty seconds away from a 3rd contest against the Niners (but this time for a trip to the Super Bowl). The team that got to the precipice on the NFC Championship Game bore little resemblance to the team that lost to 4-12 Detroit and 7-9 Miami. 

These Seahawks? They're 5-5. They haven't beaten a team with a winning record yet. They haven't beaten a team with an elite quarterback yet. They've blown BIG 4th quarter leads multiple times. The offensive line has been more putrid than an Arby's grease trap. Their identity-defining, mercilessly punishing All-Pro running back might not play again this season (or ever again for the Seahawks). They're no longer invincible at home, having already lost in Seattle twice. Their All-Pro safety held out for two games and he hasn't been quite the same since. Their franchise quarterback has underperformed on a "Wild Thing Vaughn in most of Major League II" level. They haven't played a complete, impressive 60-minute game yet this season. They are clearly suffering from a post-Super Bowl loss hangover, right? They are done. They are cooked more thoroughly than most Thanksgiving turkeys, right? 

That's the fashionable conventional wisdom, but it might also be deeply wrong. They're still talented enough to build huge leads on teams like Cincinnati and Charlotte, and to erase a huge deficit against Arizona. They have the second best overall defense in the NFL (and also the second best one against the pass, despite some maddening late-game collapses). They have the best rushing offense in the league, even with Marshawn Lynch missing three and a half games so far this season. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are still the best pair of edge pass rushers around, and Jeremy Lane is set to return in order to bolster the Legion of Boom.

Russell Wilson, despite a growing heap of mostly misplaced criticism, just had his best game of the season. That maligned offensive line has vastly improved in recent weeks, keeping Wilson cleaner in the pocket and creating wider running lanes for Seattle ballcarriers. Doug Baldwin is perhaps having the best season of his career. The biggest sources for optimism on offense come in the form of two rookies: WR/KR Tyler Lockett and RB Thomas Rawls. Lockett made an instant impact as a kick returner, but he's becoming a dangerous weapon as a receiver as well. Flash had 2 TDs Sunday, and the last Seahawks rookie wideout to score twice in one game was Joey Galloway all the way back in 1995. 

Lockett, hopefully coupled soon with a healthy Paul Richardson, makes defenses vulnerable to the deep ball on play-action. That only works if Seattle is effectively running the ball. With Thomas Rawls darting into holes and exploding through defenders, that doesn't appear to be a problem for the Seahawks.

The undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan is playing Willie Beamen to Marshawn Lynch's Cap Rooney right now. Sunday he touched the ball a whopping 33 times, and stacked up 245 yards while conquering the Santa Clara end zone twice. Not only does he already have three 100-yard rushing performances- He has averaged a ridiculous 6 yards per carry! Could it be a fluke? Could it just be that he's relatively fresh and healthy compared to the defenses he's flaying alive? Maybe. But the kid is starting to look like another stunning UDFA find by John Schneider, and Life After Shawn is looking slightly less bleak and terrifying all of the sudden.

Next up is Pittsburgh. Fans might want "revenge" for Super Bowl XL, but the players couldn't give less of a fuck about that. They just want to prove they can still beat a playoff-worthy team. In a similar spot 4 years ago, those '12 Hawks stunned the football world with an unexpected triumph in Chicago. With a win over the Steelers, Seattle would serve notice that they're still a legit NFC contender. It's not hyperbole to state that a win this Sunday would change the entire tenor of this season.

Seattle should (and will) beat Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis. If they want to make the playoffs, they'll need to win 2 out 3 from Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Arizona. I don't know about y'all. but I'd prefer to have a playoff spot locked down before that rematch with the Cardinals, if possible. On a totally selfish tip, I'm going to be at the games against Cleveland and St. Louis that bracket Christmas, and I'd like those games to be meaningful. Don't let me down, boys.

You might be thinking "So what? So what if they sneak in as a wild card?" Well, six Wild Card teams have won the Super Bowl, one as recently as 2010. And you don't want another shot at the Packers? At the Panthers? I do, and you KNOW the Hawks do, too.

Oh... Fuck Pittsburgh. Obviously.

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October 29, 2015

Schrödinger's Seahawks

Are the Seattle Seahawks one of the best teams in football, saddled with a losing record mainly due to tough competition and horrible luck? They're currently 6th in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, and all of their losses have come either in overtime, to a currently undefeated team, or both. Only four of their remaining nine games are against teams that currently sport winning records. It would be reasonable to argue they might be on the verge of a winning streak that would vault them towards a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Or are they an inferior team that is only a couple of plays (and an injured Jay Cutler) away from being 1-6? The offensive line just allowed five sacks to a Santa Clara defense that hadn't recorded a sack in their two previous contests. Russell Wilson is running around like John Anderton trying to find that elusive Minority Report, and his decision-making has slipped a notch accordingly. The defense has lurched from dominance to feeble feigned resistance and back again. The only consistent thing about this team has been its placekicker. It would be reasonable to argue that they're well on their way to the first 10-loss campaign of the Pete Carroll era.

Just as Schrödinger's Cat was simultaneously dead and alive, these Seahawks are at once a legitimate Super Bowl contender AND just another team amidst a scrum of below-average, scuffling NFC squads. In a real sense, one of those quantum states will collapse on Sunday when we open the box that is JerryWorld and see what's inside: A living, breathing threat to conquer Santa Clara in February, or the lifeless husk of the team we used to know? 

You can probably guess which side I'm falling on- This team is getting healthier, and they are fortunate to catch Dallas while Tony Romo is still sidelined by injury. AT&T Stadium will be festooned in 12th Man Flags, and before the end, a national TV audience will hear "SEA! HAWKS!" chants loud and clear.  Marshawn Lynch will chomp up ground and clock, and the Legion of Boom will be the fog that turns Matt Cassell inside out. It's also safe to assume that in the event that Dez Bryant plays on Sunday, he won't be 100%. Sherm will shadow him, shut him down. 

My prediction? Seattle 19, Dallas 12. The Hawks roll into the bye at 4-4, and ready for a sprint towards Levi's Stadium over the 2nd half of the season. How about we take a peek at our five most memorable wins over the Minions of the Botox'd Ghoul? 

5. Seahawks 29, Cowboys 3 (12/16/01)
The Seahawks came into this one at 6-6 and still very much alive in the AFC playoff race (incidentally, this was our LAST AFC playoff race before moving to the NFC in 2002). The Cowboys were 4-8 and led by the eminently forgettable Quincy Carter, but their biggest weakness was against the elements. In the penultimate game the Hawks would ever play at Husky Stadium, the weather was miserable: Temps in the 40s, windy, and rainy. The Cowboys carried themselves like they just wanted to get back into the locker room and get warm & dry, and it clearly affected their performance. Ricky Watters gobbled up 138 yards on 33 touches and opened the scoring with a 1st-quarter touchdown, and a young Shaun Alexander notched one of his 14 touchdowns of the 2001 campaign. After Ike Charton's blowout-punctuating 4th-quarter pick-6, the Cowboys could finally run for the bus (More on the 2001 Seahawks here). 

A little less than a year later, the hope that bloomed in the playoff near-miss of 2001 had wilted. Seattle had a new stadium, a new conference/division and snazzy new uniforms, but on the field the mantra was "Same Old Seahawks." The team stumbled out to a 1-5 start, with newly minted starting QB Trent Dilfer unable to duplicate his magical late-2001 performance after a preseason knee injury. 

Seattle traveled to Dallas as an anonymous foil for Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys. The all-time rushing record was within Smith's grasp, and that was the ONLY storyline fans outside of the Twelve Army cared about. Sure enough, Smith snared the record that day, but the rest of the game would change the course of Seahawks history. 

Trent Dilfer's Achilles Tendon popped (YOUCH), and Matt Hasselbeck was forced to enter the game. Up to this point in his Seattle tenure, Hasselbeck had been a disappointment, but his leadership that day at Texas Stadium gave us a glimpse of the Pro Bowl QB he'd evolve into. Late in the 4th, with the Seahawks possessing the ball in a tie game, Darrell Jackson was leveled with a brutally dirty hit that drew a flag and left D-Jack concussed. Hasselbeck would show the fire that defined his career in the huddle, barking "Nobody fucking does that to us!" He'd lead Seattle on a 13-play, 72-yard drive to the winning field goal, and the Hawks would finish the season with a 6-4 stretch in which Hass threw for over 3000 yards and set the stage for the Seahawks' mid-decade dominance of the NFC West.  

3. Seahawks 31, Cowboys 14 (November 27, 1986) 
"Thanksgiving Day v the Cowboys" conjures up horrifying memories for both younger and older Twelves. In 1980, the Seahawks went to Dallas and got a 51-7 murderplowing for their troubles. In 2008, the Hawks couldn't have possibly looked more worn down and decrepit in a 34-9 defeat at Texas Stadium. In 1986, however, Seattle delivered the best Thanksgiving performance in franchise history (until last year's dust-up in Santa Clara ended with RW3 and Sherm eating turkey on the Niners' logo).

The Seahawks were 7.5 point underdogs that day. They had just snapped a 4-game losing streak with a narrow win over the Eagles at home 4 days earlier, but it looked like their flickering playoff hopes would be snuffed out by the 7-5 Cowboys. Tony Dorsett opened the scoring for Dallas, and everything was going according to plan. Dave Krieg had other ideas, though. Krieg would run for a TD and fire scoring strikes to Steve Largent and Byron Franklin. Curt Warner and John L. Williams would combine for 195 all-purpose yards, and Warner sealed the victory with a 9-yard TD dash in the 4th. The Seahawks would end the '86 season on a glorious 5-game winning streak that no Twelve over the age of 35 will ever forget (which I've talked about in this space more than once).

2. Seahawks 13, Cowboys 10 (October 23, 2005)
This game gets overshadowed by the crazy win over the Giants later in the 2005 season, but I'll always remember it as the moment that year when I finally allowed myself to think: "Holy shit! The Seahawks could actually go to the Super Bowl."

I don't know if I've seen a more physically brutal regular season game than the one Seattle played versus Dallas that day. Late in the 4th Bill Parcell's charges were up 7-3, and intercepted Matt Hasselbeck deep in Seahawks' territory. They were 12 yards away from a deathblow TD (and 10 yards away from a clock-killing first down). Somehow, the Seattle defense held, blasting a scrambling Drew Bledsoe out of bounds INCHES short of converting on 3rd down. Instead of going for it, Dallas kicked a chip-shot field goal. With two minutes left, Seattle was still alive.

Matt Hasselbeck led the Seahawks on a 6-play, 81-yard drive that climaxed with a 1-yard touchdown toss to Ryan Hannam with only 46 seconds left. It seemed like overtime was nigh, barring another late Seattle defensive meltdown. The Cowboys reached only to the Seahawks 37-yard line before calling their final timeout with a mere 14 seconds remaining. Taking a knee and going to OT seemed like the smart play for Dallas, but Parcells let Bledsoe put it up one last time and the Cowboys paid dearly. His pass intended for Terry Glenn hung in the air, only to be snatched by Jordan Babineaux. Big Play Babs started earning his nickname at that instant, smartly stepping out of bounds at the Dallas 32 with only five seconds remaining. (The not yet a traitor) Josh Brown jogged out onto the field and nailed the 50-yard game winner at the final gun. Delirium followed, with Brown tossing off his helmet and the Hawks storming the field. The Seahawks wouldn't lose another meaningful game until Super Bowl XL.

1. Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20 (January 6, 2007)
I've talked a lot about this game in this space before, but I think it's important to focus on the stuff BESIDES Romo's blunder that led to this stunning Seattle victory. First of all, Romo ALMOST still killed our season anyway after fumbling the snap. He nearly ran for the go-ahead TD. Even worse, he was INCHES away from a converting a 1st down that would have allowed Dallas to burn off the clock before trying an even shorter field goal. Jordan Babineaux saved the day with his spectacular hustle and a textbook tackle.

A couple of other things to remember: Even if Dallas had converted that FG attempt, the Seahawks would have had over a minute to get into range for a game-winner off the foot of Brown, who had already won FOUR games in 2006 with last-second kicks (why do you think I bought that shitbird's jersey before he bolted for STL?). After the Seahawks got the ball back, Dallas still had timeouts remaining. If they had held Seattle to a 3-and-out, they would have gotten the ball back in good field position with time to get back into field goal range. Seattle's victory wasn't sealed until Shaun Alexander tore off a 22-yarder to eat up almost all of the time remaining.

Some other things worth remembering about that game:

-Kelly Jennings: Hero!
Few players in Seahawks history have been derided as much as Jennings, but we don't win without the play he made midway through the final quarter. After the Seahawks failed to score on 4th and goal, on the ensuing play Jennings forced a Terry Glenn fumble- that led to a safety that pulled Seattle within 20-15 and gave Hasselbeck and the offense the ball back with an opportunity to score the go-ahead TD.

-Jerramy Stevens: Hero!
Yes, Stevens is rightly remembered as a worthless fucking turd and an embarrassment to our franchise- but for one day, he was absolutely essential to Seattle's victory. Stevens led all receivers that day with five receptions, and scored both Seattle touchdowns, including the go-ahead score late in the 4th. Great job, ya bastad!

-Some Dude We Pulled Off the Street Shut Down T.O.
Future Hall-of-Famer Terrell Owens' stat line that day? Two catches for 26 yards and a fumble. Who was covering him most of that game? Pete Hunter... A rando who was working as a loan officer before his phone rang with a job offer from Seattle days before the playoffs began. After the playoff loss at Chicago the next week, Hunter went back to playing in the Arena league and then the CFL... But for one day he helped shut down Owens with Seattle's season on the line.

Any other memories of "The Romo Game?" Anything big I missed? Let me know!

October 19, 2015

Panthers 27, Seahawks 23

Have you ever been in a situation where it hurt to be around another person, but you knew that it would hurt more to completely disconnect from them? It could be with a friend you wish was something more. It could be with an ex you vainly hope for reconciliation with. It could be with a family member or a friend with whom you knew the relationship was harmful or toxic to one or both of you.

The smart thing to do- The RATIONAL thing, the act of the realist - is to say "I'm sorry. I deeply care about you, but I just can't do this anymore." In the long run, you'd be better off. But I'm guessing that for most of you, like me, this is almost impossible to do in practice.

This is the point I've reached with the Seattle Seahawks. I can't walk away from them- I can't disconnect- but I'm beginning to worry that it's corrosive to my mental health to continue investing my heart and soul into them.

I'm addicted to hope. The hope that things will get better, the hope that real change is possible, the hope that relationships thought to be shredded can be mended. I couldn't survive as a pessimist or even a realist. Hope is oxygen to me. Without it, I'd suffocate. For the longest time, hope of a better future fueled me. I hoped that things would get better after I transitioned. They have (in spectacular fashion), but now without that massive life goal in front of me, I've been left wondering without much certainty "Now what?" I've started drifting a bit.

I wonder if that is what has happened to our team. I know that for me, the 30-year quest to finally win a title became an obsession. The final victory of Super Bowl XLVIII was unfathomably cathartic. We had reached the pinnacle of the game that is our national obsession. We were no longer a punchline. I could exhale. I could relax. Of course, the team couldn't. And they didn't. Up until the moment Malcolm Butler stole our dreams of an Emerald Empire, the Seahawks fought and clawed like hungry contenders, not fat and happy Champions coasting on past glory.

After yet another stunning 4th-quarter collapse, we are left with nothing but unpleasant questions. The team isn't shitty. A shitty team wouldn't have led three undefeated teams going into the final quarter this season. The pattern is maddening but inescapable- Once we get deep enough into the games, the offense can't sustain drives. The defense, which resembles its old self for the first 3/4ths of the game, crumbles.

The team isn't old or lacking talent. All of the core starters are in the primes of their careers. Is it poor conditioning? Maybe. Is it poor play-calling, as the "Fire Bevell" brigade screams during and after every loss?  Perhaps. Is it a weak, poorly constructed offensive line? Plausible. It's disturbing to think that it might be all of those things at once. It's even more unsettling to wonder if the team itself isn't sure what the diagnosis is, let alone what the cure might be. From 2012-2014, Seattle consistently wore the enemy down as games dragged on, and either ended up physically dominating them and/or capitalizing on a catastrophic mistake. This season, they are the ones crumbling- They are the ones who have someone else's will imposed upon them. They are no longer the ones who knock.

Last week, I talked about how this season was starting to remind me of 2004. Six weeks in, that's no longer true. Already, 2015 is WORSE than 2004. We're already had our Rams collapse. We've already had our Cowboys implosion, and the season is only a month-and-a-half old. I'm starting to wonder if a better historical parallel is 1985. The Seahawks came into that season as a trendy Super Bowl pick, but underperformed their way to an 8-8 finish, alternating 2 wins with two losses throughout the entire season. The 2015 Hawks are 3/8ths of the way onto producing a distant photo-negative of that forlorn campaign. In fact, we can only hope that Seattle replicates the '85 pattern for at least another fortnight (That would get us to midseason at 4-4).

There is still a flickering light in the distance, but it feels like we are looking at the Sun from the surface of Pluto. Beat two other flawed teams with losing records, and you get a stretch of three home games against the Cardinals, Niners and Steelers. If you come home at 4-4, you still have a fighting chance at a wild card spot or even another NFC West title (If you sweep Arizona).

Next is Santa Clara. I think it's actually a good thing that it's a short week against a familiar, hated rival. The Seahawks should have Bobby Wagner back on the field, and they are still a better team than the Niners- Forgive me if I hope that we enter the 4th quarter trailing and win on a Hauschka kick at the final gun, but blowing so many late leads has me a little shellshocked. If Seattle can't get properly motivated for a trip to the Bay Area against the Red Menace, this season will effectively end before October does.

I'm sure a lot of you have already given up. There is certainly plentiful evidence to support that decision. It's probably the correct and rational one. You'll have three more hours free on Sundays! Yay! Take up a new hobby! May I suggest cross-stitching?

Me? I'm too far gone, and I've never been any good at letting things go. Often, I do this to my detriment. But man... When I actually end up being right, when my optimism ends up being justified? There is no better feeling in the world.

I'm choosing to stay here in the asylum, and it looks like there are some rooms opening up. Who wants to join me in sentimental, irrational insanity?

Would You Like To Know More?

October 12, 2015

Bengals 27, Seahawks 24 (OT)

I've never seen such a beautiful day end up so completely spoiled. 

On Sunday, I brought my son to his first-ever Seahawks game. He's 9, barely older than I was when I went to my first Seahawks game way back in 1983. Not only did that stirring win make me a Twelve for life, but almost all my positive memories of estranged father are connected to watching the Seahawks together. Thankfully, I'm not estranged from my son. We're very close, and his affinity for the Hawks is deeply meaningful to me. He's not from Seattle. Geographically, he should be a Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns fan. Sadly, I only have my kids one weekend a month, so he's not a 12 due to me constantly hammering Bittersweet Symphony into his brainpan. He's a Twelve because the Seahawks are awesome and he wants that connection to me. Here we are before departing for Cincinnati yesterday: 

Taking him to the game was also significant to me because just over a year ago, I was afraid he would end up hating me. When I first tried to come out to him as my authentic self, he hid from me and refused to see me. It turned around soon enough, but us going to the game together was an exemplar of how far we've come since last summer. Here we are up in the nosebleed seats: 

For 3 quarters, it was a blast. It was a gorgeous, sun-drenched, unseasonably warm fall day. To our right, the Cincinnati skyline. To our left, the Ohio River and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge into Kentucky. Below, the Seahawks were stomping out a formidable Bengals team. Russell Wilson was perfect. The defense had Cincinnati's explosive offense locked down. The offensive line was blasting open running lanes for Thomas Rawls. It was going to be an emphatic win, launching the Seahawks towards another title run and forever cementing my son's Twelvedom, 

Then it all unspooled, with Seattle suddenly finding themselves unable to string together first downs on offense, and helpless against the newly dominant Andy Dalton. Everything had to go wrong for Seattle to lose after being up by 3 scores in the 4th quarter, and it did. I was struck with a twinge of nauseating familiarity, though...  

Yesterday's shattering defeat in Cincinnati was unusual but not unprecedented. Almost exactly 11 years ago, the Seahawks held a 17-point lead at home against the hated Rams with less than six minutes left. As I've written in this space before

For 54 minutes, the Seahawks dominated St. Louis. They led 27-10. Shaun Alexander shredded the Rams defense for 150 yards and the defense forced three Marc Bulger interceptions. Then, it was like a switch got flipped- Seattle's offense became a 3-and-out machine, and the defense absolutely could not stop St. Louis' air attack. 27-10 became 27-17, 27-24 and then 27-27 before millions of stunned Twelves could comprehend what was happening. In overtime, Shaun McDonald hauled in a 52-yard Bulger TD and the implosion was complete.

My reaction was more like a panic attack than anything else. I was 29 years old, and decades removed from crying after Seahawks losses- But I simply collapsed into sobs after that game, into a deep, inescapable despair. At that time in my life, I was DEEP into my graduate studies, and there's no way to sugar-coat this: I was fucking miserable. I had spent 5 years in an elite PhD program, and the main effects of the experience were the destruction of my imagination and the near-obliteration my ability to feel joy. That Rams game just seemed to punctuate the darkness in my life at that time. 

But yesterday, I didn't have the luxury of reacting so openly. Throughout the whole day, in the back of my head, was a constant drumbeat of "Keep Jack Safe." Thankfully I didn't have to resort to the tactics that Rick Sanchez's space car used to keep Summer safe, but I kept thinking all day long: "Don't react to provocations. Keep him close by. Get him back home un-traumatized." I was worried that A) rooting for the Seahawks and B) being trans would invite abuse from the Bengals fans surrounding us. But we got lucky- there was a critical mass of Twelves at Paul Brown Stadium that seemed to prevent the Cincy locals from getting too aggressive, and if anyone noticed I was trans, they didn't say anything about it. 

As we left the stadium, Jack was downcast. I stopped him and asked if he was OK. He looked at me and said "I'm just really sad." I saw it in his eyes. The same look I'm sure I had when the Hawks lost in the playoffs to Miami back when I was his age. The pain of caring about the Seattle Seahawks. I hugged him and told him it would be alright, that there was a game next week and that we'd win. 

Did I believe that? I wanted to, but I also had a sickening feeling that this was 2004 all over again- That we'd struggle all season, sneak into the playoffs, and then suffer an even more traumatic fate in the postseason. 

Oh dear God, please nothing like this again. 

But there's a HUGE difference between the 2004 team and this one- This squad has muscle memory of Championship glory, and of climbing out of pits like this to play transcendent football. The 2012 Seahawks started 4-4, then were 6-5 before hitting the playoffs as the hottest team in the league. Just last year, the Hawks started 3-3, then were 6-4 before going on a run that landed them in the Super Bowl. 

This team is a couple of plays away from being 5-1 instead of 2-3. They've dropped two road games to undefeated foes, and lost in OT on the road to a divisional rival (who has also defeated Arizona). Yesterday, there were encouraging signs, particularly from the offensive line, over the first three quarters. This team is still extremely talented, and it stands on the verge of going on another rampage ala 2012 and 2014. Obviously, it has to start this Sunday against the undefeated Panthers. But then there are eminently winnable road dates with Santa Clara and Dallas before a bye and a gargantuan SNF showdown with the Cardinals. 

There's reason to be hopeful. Remember how I said yesterday was spoiled by that collapse? That wasn't entirely accurate. The Seahawks found another legit ground threat in Thomas Rawls, and then there was this... 

As we were driving home, out of the blue Jack said "I guess we're even." 

"What do you mean, Jack?" 

"When you told us you were going to be a girl, I hid in the basement behind a chair, and you spent time with just Lily. Now you're spending time with just me. Now we're even." 

"Oh, that's OK, sweetie." 

"I was just scared because it was a big change. But now it's OK." 

"I love you, Jack."

"I love you, Daddy." 

THAT'S when the tears finally came for me. 

Would You Like To Know More?

October 9, 2015

Matt Hasselbeck: An Appreciation

Last night I cried after watching a fairly meaningless game between two teams I have no emotional connection to- Let me explain why.

For almost half of my life as a Twelve, I've also been a Matt Hasselbeck fan. After the failure of the Jon Kitna experiment, I remember erupting in a spasm of fist-pumpy "Fuck yeah!"s when I saw the news that the Seahawks had traded for Brett Favre's heralded understudy (horrifying the confused patrons of Steve's Dakota Grill in Findlay, Ohio).

I ran out and bought a Hasselbeck jersey immediately (pictured above dorking up the Ballard Locks in September 2001), and I wore it proudly as I endured taunts of "Asselbeck" and "Hasseldick" during a 9-6 win at Cleveland in his first Seattle start. Matthew struggled through that first season, and when Trent Dilfer almost led the Hawks to the playoffs after getting handed the job, it looked like Hasselbeck would join the sad litany of failed experiments under center for the Emerald City (including luminaries such as Dan McGwire, Rick Mirer, Stan Gelbaugh, etc).

But then in 2002 Seattle got off to a 1-5 start and Dilfer popped his Achilles during a game at Texas Stadium. Hasselbeck came in off the bench, and after Darrell Jackson was felled by a vicious, dirty hit Hass reportedly growled in the huddle afterwards:


Beck led the Hawks to the winning FG, and from then on he was probably the NFL's best QB in 2002- Seattle went 6-4 the rest of the way, and Hasselbeck threw for 3000 yards in just 10 games.

The next season began Seattle's 5-year dominance of the NFC West, and my crazy-intense adoration of Hasselbeck. I loved him because he was a great quarterback and because he led the Seahawks into a golden age (Duh), but I would have run through a brick wall for him because he brazenly displayed his emotions to the world, and I could relate to that.

He celebrated touchdowns. He yelled at the officials. He got in the faces of defenders who fucked with him. He wasn't packaged and polished. He did crazy shit like declaring that we wanted the ball (and we were gonna score) after winning overtime coin tosses in playoff games. In a league where most quarterbacks come off as carefully managed and programmed RoboJocks, he was unguarded and more than a little bit of a goofy dork. I couldn't help but think of him as bald football-playing version of Jim Halpert from The Office.

He'd make the Pro Bowl in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Despite uneven play (mainly due to injuries) in 2004 and 2006, he was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks over a 6-year stretch of the last decade- And he delivered a string of unforgettable performances in the name of all us Twelves. The best performance of the "peak Hasselbeck" era came in the 2005 NFC Divisional Playoff. Things looked bleak after NFL MVP Shaun Alexander left the game with a concussion in the first quarter. It felt like Seattle's run of playoff futility might reach 21 seasons, but Hasselbeck stepped up with an efficient performance, including a spectacular TD strike to Jackson and a rushing touchdown where he beat Ex-Hawk Shawn Springs to the pylon, giving us the most indelible image of his Seattle career:

After the brazen incompetence and cowardice of the Super Bowl XL officiating crew robbed Hasselbeck of his rightful championship legacy, he would battle nagging injuries for the remainder of his career. Despite that, he had a career-best performance in 2007, carrying Seattle to the postseason with his arm after the Seahawks' rushing attack disintegrated. After that, his play became increasingly inconsistent and maddening, and after Pete Carroll took over in 2010, Hasselbeck had to battle Charlie Whitehurst for the starting job. After Whitehurst was given the start in an elimination game against St. Louis, it was mildly surprising that Hasselbeck was placed back under center for the Wild Card Game against the World Champion Saints.

In what would turn out to be his final start at Seahawks Stadium, he'd turn in the best game of his career. He had never thrown more than 2 TDs in a playoff game- That day, he threw FOUR. He led Seattle back from a 10-point deficit against the Super Bowl Champs, avoided the big turnovers that had plagued him in 2008-2010, and led Seattle to one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. If you were going to put ONE game from Beck's career in a time capsule for the Seahawks fans of 2060, this would be it.

At this rate, he might keep playing until 2060. Last night in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football, he led Indianapolis to their second straight win in relief of injured Anointed One Andrew Luck (and looked sharp and spry doing it). Hasselbeck was interviewed by CBS after the game, and it was clear that he realized he might have played in his final NFL game. Overcome with emotion and fighting through illness, he was obviously near tears. My feels couldn't even tap the brakes, and the waterworks came for me. 

I once referenced the famous Lincoln quote about U.S, Grant in reference to Hasselbeck: "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Beck is no longer the best quarterback in Seahawks history. Russell Wilson has already staked a claim to that turf. But any Twelve who watched him play knows what he meant for this franchise, and how much he bled for his teammates, and for us. It was magical to see a glimpse of that man's talent and passion again, even if he was wearing a different uniform. 

We love you, Matthew. When you finally retire, I hope it'll be as a Seahawk, and I hope you'll IMMEDIATELY get a spot in the Ring of Honor. When that happens, I'll be there rocking my #8 jersey. 

What are your favorite Hasselbeck moments, Twelves? 

October 8, 2015

Allow Yourself Joy

I fucked up... and so have a lot of you.

Up until Monday night, I only conceptualized this Seahawks season as an epilogue to the last one. The ball disappearing into Malcolm Butler's arms wasn't final defeat- It was just a depressing cliffhanger of a season finale for an amazing show. 2015 was where we'd finish the job, and re-establish the dominion of the Emerald Empire.

The problem with that mindset was twofold: It was a denial of a painful but immutable truth- That as much as we loved the 2014 Seahawks, they were gone. Were they the best team? Yes. Are we always going to be haunted by that final play, and by the nagging suspicion that the Patriots were up to some shady shit? Yes. But that trophy case is always going to be one Lombardi Trophy lighter than it should be, and nothing can or will ever change that.

That denial of Super Bowl XLIX's finality had warped my appreciation of this season's squad. I had made the only thing of value a Super Bowl 50 victory, and in doing that I had robbed myself of something that had been important to me my entire life: The Seahawks bringing me full, unalloyed joy. Every defeat, even every negative play, felt like encroaching darkness. Even the victory over the Bears? That brought me only a brief moment of relief- Not anything approaching jubilation.

Jump ahead to Monday's game: Up 13-3 in the 4th quarter, I felt that same sort of unsatisfying emotion from a week before. The task was going to be completed, the box on the form would be ticked off. But there would be nothing transcendent about it. On to Cincinnati, as be-hoodified Sith Lord of Massachusetts once said.

Then a fumble, and a Detroit touchdown. A nauseous feeling built within me. If we lost, that would be it. 1-3 teams don't win the Super Bowl. 1-3 teams don't even make the playoffs. I felt like Mr. Meeseeks. I would only find peace once the Seahawks "completed their task" of winning Super Bowl 50. Until then, I'd be agony.

Lions stalking deep in Seattle territory; One of the greatest wide receivers of all time catches the ball and sprints for the goal line and the touchdown that would be The End of All Things.

Earl Thomas III hits him low. Cary Williams grabs from behind. The righteous fist of Kam Chancellor, powered by fury greater than Ronnie Lott or even the hallowed Ken Easley, blasts the ball from Calvin Johnson's grasp. Touchback. Seahawks' ball. Victory.

Well, it wasn't that simple, was it? Chancellor wasn't the only Seahawk displaying transcendent talent and a flair for the dramatic Monday night- Victory wasn't assured until the Russell Wilson slipped away from the Detroit rush one last time and fired a strike on the run deep downfield to Jermaine Kearse. The Wolfbadger was somehow turning lead into gold all night long, providing some semblance of offense in the absence of Marshawn Lynch and a functional offensive line.

Then there was "Batghazi." Yeah, KJ Wright batted the ball out of bounds. Yeah, it was technically a foul. But only the most ardent ESPN-shitstirrers and Detroit partisans could argue that a flag should have been thrown in a situation where the yellow laundry NEVER touches the grass. No one but a straight-up hater could argue that Wright's obscure, arcane infraction should trump Chancellor's peerless timing and incomparable effort.

And then I knew- If I didn't allow myself to feel joy after what I had just witnessed, what was the point of being a fan? What Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas III, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and a constellation of other sublime talents do in our names on a weekly basis deserves more than a sigh of relief. 2015 isn't 2014, and that's ok.

The offense isn't where it needs to be, but there are three months to get it right. Because this team will be in the playoffs, and for 30 years of my fandom making the playoffs was cause for celebration. It still should be. More than that, this team will be lethally dangerous, even if they don't drink from the Holy Grail of Home Field Advantage. Any team that boasts the best special teams and the best defense (like these Seahawks) is a team that can win road playoff games. We can (and will) go all 2000 Ravens/2002 Buccaneers on the NFL's asses if we have to. Until then, I'm going to enjoy every second. This isn't just a 17-week footnote to last season. It's a new journey, and over the next few months this team is going to do things none of us have ever seen before.

This Sunday's game has particular personal significance for me. Not only will I be at the game in Cincinnati, but my 9-year-old son will be there with me for his first ever Seahawks game. I was 8 years old when my father took me to my first Seahawks game back in 1983, and after that I was a Twelve for life. I'm hoping that our boys help create an indelible, unforgettable experience for my son on Sunday, but I'm trying to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if we lose.

But we won't. The Seahawks are going to prove they can win a big game on the road. Again. And it won't be the last time we see this team shock the football world this season.

Would You Like To Know More?

September 28, 2015

Seahawks 26, Bears 0

One of the striking things about living in Columbus is getting exposed to the largely negative and paranoid fan culture around the Ohio State football team. It seems like they are only happy for the most fleeting of moments: Immediately after beating Michigan (I'm with you there, Buckeye Nation- Fuck Harbaugh.) and immediately after winning the National Championship. The rest of the time, even when the team is winning- Winning conference championships, winning bowl games... There's a LOT of winning for tOSU, y'all - they seem enveloped by a shroud of gloom.

Last week after class I was talking to a student who was absolutely despondent about the prospects of his Buckeyes. His undefeated Buckeyes. I reminded him that they'd lost all of three games in 3+ seasons with Urban Meyer as Head Coach. I reminded him that they looked shaky early on last season and, you know, won the whole fucking thing at the end of a glorious post-season run. He replied "Yeah, but if they played Michigan State tomorrow, they'd get SMOKED."

I told him "But they aren't playing the Spartans tomorrow, are they? Have a little faith- You'll be happier,"

It struck me like a lightning bolt: I was happier with my 0-2 NFL team than he was with his 3-0 college football team. It seemed perverse, but I wonder who was more delusional- Him, or me?

The Seahawks hit the field yesterday in the midst of utter desperation: No 0-3 team has ever gone on to win the Super Bowl, and the last one to even make the playoffs was the 1998 Buffalo Bills. Any realistic hope for a trip to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50 would be snuffed out by a loss to the undermanned, woebegone Chicago Bears.

In the first half, there was plenty of fuel for the doomsayers: The offensive line allowed four sacks to a Bears defense that hadn't brought down the QB once in the season's first fortnight. Our front five also couldn't seem to create any daylight for Marshawn Lynch. For the first 28 minutes, the only points Seattle scored came on a field goal after a deception-boosted Richard Sherman punt return. The Hawks finally got some rhythm going on offense in the 2-minute drill, but the drive fizzled in the shadow of the Chicago end zone. Seattle led 6-0 at the half, but agitation levels for the Twelve Army were high- And they only increased with word that Lynch was out for the rest of the game with a hamstring injury.

At this point, it's fair to point out that we have seen this OVER AND OVER throughout the Carroll/Wilson era, particularly at home: The Hawks sputter through the first half, but in the second half all the tumblers fall into place and Seattle wins going away. The opposing defense gets worn down, the enemy offense gets harassed into some major snafu, and a game that was competitive at the half ends as a decisive Seahawks victory.

I knew all that, but I was still a jittery and twitchy 12 as the second half began.

Then, Tyler Lockett did his thing. 105 yards for a score, taking advantage of perfect blocking and his unparalleled speed to more or less settle things in Seattle's favor. A 13-0 lead against a Jimmy Clausen-led Bears side felt fairly safe, and it was. While Clausen avoided turnovers, all 10 Chicago possessions under his command ended in a punt, and the Bears offense never got closer than 45 yards away from a touchdown. With Kam Chancellor back on the field, the overmatched and shorthanded Windy City visitors faced an impenetrable secondary and could only muster 48 yards through the air. Yeah, you can grade the Legion of Boom on a curve and say the competition was weak sauce- But an NFL shutout is an NFL shutout, and Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard deserved every drop of his Gatorade shower as time wound down.

Those holes did open up in the Bears' defensive line in the second half, but it was undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls who sailed through them, for 104 yards on 16 totes. Russell Wilson ended up having a respectable day of his own- Avoiding turnovers, posting a triple-digit passer rating, and finding Jimmy Graham for his second touchdown of the young season. For all the fretting about Graham's role in the Seattle offense, he's on pace for 11 touchdowns- Which would end up tied for the second best season of the All-Pro's career, scoring-wise. It's far too early to lump Graham in with the likes of Deion Branch and Percy Harvin, y'all.

So Seattle choked out Chicago. That's cause for relief more than anything. A vastly more explosive Detroit attack visits for Monday Night Football on October 5, and then a trip east to face the unbeaten Bengals in an (ugh) 10 am pacific kickoff looms. If the Hawks play the way they did yesterday, they'll lose one or both of those contests,

Even more concerning? The Arizona Cardinals are taking a blowtorch to every team unlucky enough to wander into their path. It's easy to say that we've seen this before: The Cards run out to a hot start, but then sputter into irrelevance. This feels different, though, and we can't just assume that another Carson Palmer injury will be our salvation. If we faced the Cardinals next Sunday, we'd lose.

But we don't face them next Sunday, do we? The Hawks that will host Arizona on Sunday Night Football in mid-November will be battle-tested and ready for the challenge - But it might take a pair of XLVIII-esque efforts to fend off Arizona's siege upon our NFC West fiefdom.

For now? Be happy and hope Shawn has a quick-healing hamstring. We can't play Rawls Ball indefinitely.

What do you think, sirs?

September 24, 2015

The Chancellor Returns (and a Look at Seahawks-Bears History)

(This is not actually a picture of Kam Chancellor pooping a football)

They were a young, brutal, talented team. They had an efficient young quarterback, a bruising force at halfback, and a defense that tore through the enemy like a debris-flinging tornado. They were coming off a trip to the Super Bowl, but one of their superstars held out in an attempt to finagle a better contract out of the club.

They opened the season with a road loss to a divisional rival, and followed that up by dropping a close game to a rival DESPERATE for payback. After that 0-2 start, the holdout superstar returned. They would end the season on a 12-2 run and win another World Championship.

Am I predicting what will happen to the 2015 Seahawks? Kinda. But what I just described was the story of the 1993 Dallas Cowboys. With Kam Chancellor returning to the VMAC, the historical paralells between those early-90s Dallas teams and our Seahawks couldn't be clearer.

I for one welcome back Kam with open arms. Yeah, his holdout was a stupid, unproductive, destructive decision. He cost himself a lot of money, some credibility in the Seattle locker room, and a lot of goodwill from the Twelve Army. However, given what he has done for this team and this fan base over the years, anyone who isn't willing to cut him some slack is a myopic dope. The vitriol hurled at Chancellor from some elements of the Twelve Army is frankly disturbing and creepy. The team doesn't own him, and neither do you. These guys are autonomous, you know, PEOPLE. Someone tweeted at me a few days ago that he was burning his Chancellor jersey. Fuck you, pal. If you are out there reading this, and you try to turn around and cheer for him now? I kinda wish Kam could hit your fickle ass at full speed. Dipshit.

Anyway, we now turn to Chicago. This looks like an impossible assignment for an overmatched Bears team. It is. My prediction? A 30-12 Seahawks victory. How about we look back at our Top 10 wins over the Bears? Enjoy!

10. 12/12/82 Seahawks 20, Bears 14
This was an unremarkable game between two teams heading for losing seasons, but it's still notable for a couple of reasons. First, this was one of my earliest experiences rooting for Seattle as a 7-year-old proto-Twelve. Earlier that season I was rooting for Washington... Because I thought they were from Washington State (Facepalm). Once I figured that out, I started paying more attention to the Seahawks, and like many fans back then one player in particular enraptured me: Steve Largent. Number 80 hauled in 8 Jim Zorn offerings for 111 yards that day, and Seattle evened their record at 3-3 after an 0-2 start before the '82 Players' Strike. Weird notes? Jim Zorn outgained Walter Peyton on the ground, but Sweetness connected on a 39-yard TD pass to Brian Baschnagel.

9. 11/5/78 Seahawks 31 @ Bears 29
The 4-5 Hawks entered Soldier Field as 3-point underdogs, but they'd escape Chicago with a win that'd start a 5-2 streak to conclude the 1978 campaign. Sherman Smith dashed for 125 yards and two touchdowns, and Largent added 126 yards and a brace of touchdowns of his own. Sidebar: Chicago's coach that year was Neill Armstrong. Think about how many times he had to say "No, I'm not THE Neil Armstrong." Think about the mental discipline he had to exert to keep from rolling his eyes and sighing EVERY DAMN TIME it came up. Poor bastard.

8. 9/23/84 Seahawks 38, Bears 9
How did the Seahawks win with Dave Krieg only completing 6 passes? How did they win with Largent catching just one pass and while gaining a paltry 203 yards of total offense? The Seattle defense OBLITERATED Chicago's offense, sacking Chicago QBs 4 times, forcing 6 turnovers, and scoring a trio of touchdowns. This was also only the 2nd Seahawks game I ever attended, and Largent's lone catch will be forever burned into my memory banks. It's at the 0:27 mark of the clip below. WOW.

7. 10/19/03 Seahawks 24, Bears 17
The Seahawks came into this game 4-1 and as 11-point favorites over the 1-4 Bears. The Hawks sputtered out to a 17-6 lead and the Twelve Army watched in horror as Chicago scored a field goal, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion in short order to tie the game. Seattle got the ball with four minutes left, and Shaun Alexander gobbled up 48 of his 101 rushing yards on that final drive, including a 25-yard touchdown run to put the Hawks back on top. A Marcus Trufant interception on Chicago's ensuing drive sealed the win, but this near-miss was a harbinger of the collapses to come (later that season in Baltimore, and... well... the entire 2004 season).

6. 9/19/99 Seahawks 14 @ Bears 13
Ladies and gents, this was the one and only highlight of the brief Glenn Foley era in Seahawks lore. In fact, it was Foley's only start at QB for the Seahawks. At least he made the most of it, throwing for 283 yards, 2 4th quarter TDs and no picks. This was a pretty typical 10-am-start sleepwalking performance for Seattle until the final quarter, when the Seahawks sprung up off the mat and erased a 13-0 Chicago advantage. In the final minutes, Foley hit Fabian Bownes (who?) for the game-winning 49-yard score.

On a personal note, this game went down on my first weekend after moving out to Columbus for grad school, and the Seahawks win took the edge off the spectacular loneliness and isolation I was feeling at the time. More about the 1999 season here...

5. 11/18/07 Seahawks 30, Bears 23
The Twelve Army was still smarting from an OT divisional playoff loss at Soldier Field 10 months earlier, and demanded a small measure of satisfaction in the rematch at Seahawks Stadium. Chicago jumped out to a worrisome 10-0 lead early, but Matt Hasselbeck came through with an all-time great performance: 30/44 for 337 yards, 2 TDs and 0 picks (isn't Beck's 2007 season incredible in retrospect, given that Seattle absolutely couldn't do a damn thing on the ground?). D.J. Hackett flashed his (ultimately untapped) potential with a 9-catch, 136-yard day, and the defense sealed the win by forcing a Rex Grossman fumble late in the 4th quarter. Side note: this was also the game where The Traitor Josh Brown LIT UP Devin Hester on a kickoff return... ahhh, memories.

4. 12/18/11 Seahawks 38 @ Bears 14 
Despite missing important starters like Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, the Bears were still favored to beat the Seahawks. No one should ever get too high and mighty about dominating Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown, but the Seattle defense DID rack up four sacks and four interceptions that day, including the momentum-shifting 3rd Quarter pick-six from Red Bryant. Big Red snatched Hanie's errant toss out of the air and rumbled 20 yards for the score that put Seattle ahead for good in one of the highlights of the 2011 Seattle campaign.

3. 10/17/10 Seahawks 23 @ Bears 20
The 2-2 Seahawks were supposed to get mangled by the big, scary 4-1 Bears, but Seattle shocked every Non-Twelve alive and delivered the first big road win of the Pete Carroll era. Marshawn Lynch scored a TD in his first Seahawks action after being traded by Buffalo, and the Hawks hung on for the victory after getting TERRORIZED by a late Devin Hester punt return TD. As I wrote in this space at the time:

Usually it's Seattle's QB who takes a 3-hour beating when the Hawks hit the road. Not today... It was amazing to watch the Seahawks defense beat Jay Cutler to a dazed, fuzzy pulp with six sacks, a safety, and a fuck-load of hits/hurries.

Usually it's an opposing WR that runs wild all over Seattle for 10 catches and 135 yards. Not today... Mike Williams fucking TOOK the #1 WR job today with a "comeback player of the year" sort of performance.

It went on and on... Russell Okung took a big step towards me buying his jersey with a complete ERASURE of Julius Peppers. The young guys in our secondary got beat a handful of times, but overall they played great, buttressed by the veteran leadership of Lawyer Milloy and future Ring-of-Honoree Marcus Trufant. Jon Ryan pinned the Bears inside the 20 what, like 17 times? It sure felt that way.

Beast Mode/Young Nastman are going to spearhead a great ground attack, hopefully well into the middle of the decade. It was heartening to see Lynch turn negative plays into something positive, if not at least neutral, more than once. 

(It's bracing to go back and read my old posts. Remember when we thought Mike Williams was going to become an All-Pro WR? Remember when I used to call Justin Forsett "Young Nastyman?" And did I seriously want an Okung jersey back then?) 

2. 12/2/12 Seahawks 23 @ Bears 17 (OT)
I can't really improve upon what I wrote at the time... Here's an excerpt:

The Seahawks trailed 14-10 late in the 4th, but on the final regulation drive Russell Wilson started picking up chunks of real estate with his arm and his legs, and suddenly Seattle was across midfield. Wilson made a spectacular throw on the run to Sidney Rice, and Golden Tate topped that with a stupendous effort to score the winning touchdown with only 20 seconds left to play. Twelves loosed a million celebratory tweets- We were going to pull it off. 

Effervescent joy turned into black, curdled despair in an instant. Jay Cutler chucked it deep to an inexplicably open Brandon Marshall (who DOMINATED Seattle DBs all afternoon) and Chicago was in field goal range. Our old nemesis Robbie Gould banged home the tying field goal... Overtime. The most painful Seahawks loss since Super Bowl XL loomed. I started dreading the aftermath, and plotted my strategy for avoiding media coverage of this devastating collapse. Every Seahawks fan alive KNEW that if Chicago got the ball back, we would lose. We no longer trusted our defense to secure victory- Our only chance was to win the coin toss and drive all the way into Bears territory and score ANOTHER touchdown. I was a wreck. I was sitting in front of my computer, shaking, frazzled and gently weeping... and with no real expectation of victory. 

Eighty MORE yards (and the Bears defense) stood between the Seahawks and a narrative-shifting, season-altering victory. Russell Wilson's temperament is thankfully much more stable than mine, and he led the Hawks on a triumphant 12-play, 7-and-a-half minute march. Wilson personally chewed up 28 of those yards on the ground, and only threw two passes over the entire drive. One was a perfect dart to Doug Baldwin to convert a 3rd-and-10, and the other was the game-winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, who got over the goal line before getting absolutely DESTROYED by a Bears defender. 

Two drives. 177 yards. Two game-winning touchdowns. That's what Russell Wilson delivered on Seattle's last two possessions. On a day that seemed to fit all the cliches of failure in Seahawks lore, Wilson decided to punch up the script and write a more interesting ending.

Seattle wouldn't lose again in the 2012 regular season, and they'd outscore their last four victims by an aggregate score of 170-43.One sobering note: Sidney Rice's winning touchdown takes on somber overtones now that he is out of football due to concussions sustained on plays like the final one in overtime that day.

1. 12/20/87 Seahawks 34, Bears 21
The Seahawks came to Chicago needing a win to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Considering that they faced a trip to Arrowhead the next week, Seattle's post-season hopes seemed dim. Not only was it a 10 am kickoff with the wind chill in the 20s, it was also the final regular season home game for the great Walter Payton. To the vast bulk of the football public, the Seahawks might as well have been wearing unis that said "Opponent" like Homer Simpson wore before he fought Drederick Tatum.

The Seahawks responded by delivering their best performance of that 1987 season. Walter Payton was held to 79 yards rushing; the Seattle defense, led by Brian Bosworth (who wasn't bad at all in '87), Eugene Robinson, and the Nash/Bryant/Green wall, forced 5 turnovers. Dave Krieg was basically flawless, Curt Warner scored twice, and John L. Williams delivered one of the greatest TDs in team history (1:45 mark of following clip).

What do you think, sirs?