January 22, 2015

Debasers and Negative Creeps: A Rivalry in 16 Parts

For the second year in a row, both #1 seeds have reached the Super Bowl (and it was also probably the modal preseason Super Bowl prediction, just like Seattle v Denver was last season). Right now the Seahawks v Patriots XLIX matchup is considered a toss-up, which is fitting because the two teams have split their previous 16 meetings right down the middle. Let's take a look back at 30+ years of the "Interstate 90" rivalry (It's just a 3,041 mile/42 hour drive)...

BONUS GAME! 12/7/08: Patriots 24 @ Seahawks 21
The 2008 Seahawks were an awful team, but they didn't lay down and die like their 2009 Mora-"led" successors. Facing a Patriots team fighting for the playoffs (and in the middle of an 8-game winning streak), Seattle held leads of 14-3 and 21-13. Seneca Wallace had the best game of his career, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. Marcus Trufant shut down a still-All-Pro Randy Moss, but it wasn't enough. Matt Cassel led New England to the winning score late in the 4th, and Holmgren's farewell tour/death march continued unabated- But at least we put a scare into the Bostonians.

8. 9/20/92 Seahawks 10 @ Patriots 6
Yay! The Seahawks won!

(3 months and 12 horrific losses later)

Shit! Why'd we win that game? We lost our shot to draft Drew Bledsoe!


Chris Warren racked up 122 yards and scored Seattle's lone TD. Cortez Kennedy sacked Hugh Millen three times and started building his resume for Defensive Player of The Year.

7. 9/24/89 Seahawks 24 @ Patriots 3
As late as 1989, box scores for Seattle were still filled with names like Krieg, Warner, Nash, and Green. Dave Krieg fired three touchdown passes (including one to John L. Williams, who stacked up 135 all-purpose yards), Jacob Green, Joe Nash and Rufus Porter all sacked Tony Eason... Wait. Did this game actually happen in 1986?

6. 10/7/90 Seahawks 33 @ Patriots 20
Fun fact: The Seahawks played six games at Foxboro from 1986 to 1993 (Huh?) and won five of them. This one was nothing to brag about, as the Patriots would eventually limp to a 1-15 record. John L. Williams was the offensive standout again, with 108 total yards. Derrick Fenner chipped in 77 yards and two touchdowns and Green and Porter sacked Marc Wilson (the next man up in a sad succession of pre-Bledsoe Patriots quarterbacks).

5. 9/19/93 Seahawks 17 @ Patriots 14
4.10/24/93 Seahawks 10, Patriots 9
I have no idea why we played a non-divisional foe twice in the 1993 regular season. Was that a common practice then? Did I just blank on this? 1993 was also one of those weird-ass seasons where everyone had TWO bye weeks- maybe that had something to do with it? In any case, the NFL saw fit to have the two worst teams from 1992 grapple twice the following season- They must have REALLY wanted to see Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer go at it, huh?

Both these games are particularly vivid for me personally. The September match-up at Foxboro happened on the day I moved into my dorm at Western Washington University. My new roommate was fairly aghast to see that the first thing I did was hook up the TV and yell at it for three hours. Then again, he once made everyone who shared the Fairhaven Stack 8, Floor 3 bathroom come look at a particularly gigantic deuce he dropped... So he wasn't exactly a great exemplar of social grace himself. Chris Warren pulverized the Patriots defense for 174 yards on 36 carries and helped the Hawks build a 17-0 lead... Which the defense tried to crap away, of course. Bledsoe led two 4th-quarter TD drives for the Pats, but Seattle held on to win 17-14.

A month later, I attended the rematch with a girl who was my best friend... but I was also madly in love with her (it was indeed a long story filled with sighs) ... As I wrote in this space before:

Being an 18-year-old dipshit, I had some weird ways of trying to woo her, like taking her to a Seahawks game. Kurt Cobain was still alive (in fact, Nirvana had released In Utero just a month before... it would become the soundtrack of my freshman year), as were the Seahawks chances of a competitive season.

Drew Bledsoe's homecoming wasn't to be... With #11 out with an injury, Scott Zolak faced the Seahawks. But even with that advantage, the Hawks trailed 9-3 late in a very boring game. I was in a near-panic that she wasn't having a good time, and this whole thing was a very bad idea.

Suddenly, Rick Mirer was doing his best Joe Montana impression. He drove us down the field, and with only seconds to play, threw the winning touchdown pass. The crowd went apeshit... even my lady friend got into it, and I got a nice prolonged, semi-passionate hug out of it. At that moment, the future was ablaze with possibilities, both for the Seahawks and my personal life. The Hawks were 4-3, and Rick Mirer was going to lead Seattle to football glory.

That 4-3 start turned into a 6-10 lead turd of a season. That game was the high point of Mirer's career... It was all downhill after that. A couple of months later, my best friend started dating someone. I told her I was in love with her. It wasn't reciprocal. I didn't take it well. Crash. Burn. Despair. 


3. 9/21/86 Seahawks 38 @ Patriots 31 
The Seahawks visited the defending AFC Champs, but the defense evidently decided to chill out at the hotel rather than face the Pats. Tony Eason torched the Hawks for 414 yards passing and three TDs, and New England held a seemingly secure 10-point lead with less than three minutes left to play. A Norm Johnson FG cut the lead to 7, and after a three-and-out Patrick Hunter blocked a punt that Paul Moyer scooped up in the end zone for the tying touchdown. After another Patriots three-and-out, Dave Krieg hit Ray Butler on a 67-yard rainbow for the winning margin. Krieg would only complete 9 out of his 20 pass attempts, but two were long TDs to Butler (54 and 67 yards). Take that, Tony Eason! There were 38 points scored in the 4th quarter, and this was also the first time I blurted out a curse word during a Seahawks game in front of my parents (I was 11. It was "Fuck!").

2. 10/14/12 Seahawks 24, Patriots 23
The 3-2 Seahawks faced an early-season challenge against the defending AFC Champion Patriots, and sadly I was forced to watch at a sports bar next to a clump of particularly obnoxious New England fans... As I wrote back then:

Despite the dropped interceptions, the fumbles, the mangled punt attempt, the roughing calls, and the lack of a rushing attack, it was only 23-10. Then Russell Wilson hit on a deep ball to Golden Tate... Then on 4th and Goal he threw a perfect pass to Braylon Edwards (who made a spectacular catch). I let out a yelp and a few fist pumps. The Patri-douche reminded me that it was futile. TWICE the defense stopped Tom Brady (one of the top 5 QBs to ever play the game) and gave the ball back to Seattle's offense. First, a flaccid 3-and-out. The Pats then seemed largely content to let their defense win the game. Russell Wilson wasn't going to beat them, right? King Jackass of Greater Massachusetts reminded me of that at maximum volume.

Play-action. Half-roll-out. Perfect rainbow dropped right into Sidney Rice's mitts. Touchdown.

I snapped. All inhibitions were sloughed off in an instant. The Social Contract was shredded. I was 8 years old. It was 1983. I was watching the Seahawks beat the Patriots in the Kingdome to clinch their first playoff spot ever. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I jumped and spun around like Oprah had just given me a new car. It was pure, uncut delirium- The joy that only comes from an unexpected victory. Diamond Joe Assmunch yelled "Too much time!" In my heart, I knew he was right. Over a minute on the clock, and Brady just needed a field goal. We all knew how this one was supposed to end.

Then Tom Brady found out the same thing Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton already learned via bitter experience this season: When the Seattle Seahawks absolutely, positively need to stop you, they don't check your resume first. They will simply brutalize you and your teammates and let you sort through the wreckage. As we stopped the Patriots on 4th down, Mr. Douche England BOLTED for the exit. He wanted NO part of my celebration. It was only then that it hit me... This team is built beat the fucking shit out of you.

Even as New England built a lead, they were getting beaten to a bloody pulp. Finally, in the game's waning moments, it paid the greatest of dividends. Terrific Tom Brady seemed jittery in the face of Seattle's relentless pass rush. Their superstar WRs and TEs racked up some nice fantasy numbers, but couldn't make the plays that would have put the game out of Russell Wilson's reach.

Russell Wilson? All that kid did today was outplay Tom Brady. I am rapturously happy to be wrong about him. I am overjoyed that everything I've written about him now looks laughably obtuse, like those articles from the 1930s telling pregnant women they should smoke in order to relax. He's already a valuable asset only 6 games into his career, able to win games with his arm and his legs when given the chance, and the limit to his potential isn't even visible yet. Go ahead, Twelves. Embrace this. Go buy a Wilson jersey, dagnabit!

1. 12/18/83 Seahawks 24, Patriots 6
The 8-7 Seahawks found themselves needing a home win against the 8-7 Patriots to clinch the franchise's first-ever playoff berth. My Dad took me to that game (my 1st ever, at age 8), and EVERYTHING about it was awe-inspiring; from the first moment I saw the Kingdome driving in from I-90, to the dizzying cavernous grandeur of the Dome's interior. Of course, as I grew older I began to consider King County Stadium more or less a shithole, but on that day, it was the Louvre to me.

I screamed for what seemed like 4 hours straight, starting with a shrieking series of boos aimed at the Patriots as they took the field for warm-ups. We were in the 300 level, and there was no way they could possibly have heard me, but I still roared until my voice was gone. What an annoying little shit, huh?

The game itself was perfect: The deafening roar of the 12th Man, a Largent touchdown, and an easy blowout victory. Famously, the Seahawks came out of the locker room after the game to mingle with the remaining Soldiers of Twelve left in the Dome. If I wasn't already hooked for life, this game sealed the deal.

In less than two weeks, that epochal victory will be bumped out of the top spot on this list.

Would you like to know more?

January 21, 2015

Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)

I thought about it.
I thought about leaving.

I was heartbroken and forlorn, and there was a part of me that wanted to look away. For 55 minutes, the Seahawks offense had accomplished next to nothing, and Russell Wilson was playing the worst game of his life. I had an impulse to bolt, to avoid watching the Packers and their fans celebrate on our field. Then I saw Richard Sherman.

Sherm took the field after RCW's 4th pick with his left arm bent and useless, held close to his body like a broken wing. He fought on. While his Green Bay counterparts were so sure of victory they were going to the ground after interceptions (rather than running them back for touchdowns), Sherman kept going despite an obviously painful and debilitating injury. I couldn't abandon him. I had to bear witness. Even though defeat and nothingness was nigh, I had to stay there for him. For them. I told myself to remember Atlanta, Houston, and Tampa Bay. I told myself that we just needed to go defensive stop-TD-successful onside kick-TD. 

But I also knew I was deluding myself. It was over. 

Before the game, I expected a relatively easy victory. I actually was a little depressed because I was sure the game with Green Bay would be a pale imitation of the 2013 NFC Championship Game against the 49ers. I thought that would be impossible to top. By the final five minutes, I had been left stunned and slack-jawed by our sloppy play and Green Bay's clampdown upon our offense. 

I thought about how the Seahawks had given me so much joy during dark, bleak times in my life. I thought about the years before I transitioned, when I was completely dependent upon the Hawks to distract me and give me something to look forward to each week. In an irrational but nevertheless compelling sense, I owed them. I roared for one more Green Bay possession- Yet another set of downs defined by Packer timidity and Seattle ferocity (more on that later). The Seahawks got the ball with just under four minutes left, needing two touchdowns to win. I couldn't think of a historical example of the Seahawks pulling off anything quite like this. The closest parallel was a game at Denver in 1999 where the Seahawks trailed by 10 with 2 minutes left. Those Hawks went TD-onside kick recovery-FG to force overtime. Then Jon Kitna missed a wide-open Joey Galloway for what would have been the winning touchdown, and was sacked/stripped on the following play. Denver ran back the fumble to win the game. 

Same Old Seahawks. 

For 56 minutes the Packers' defense held Seattle 194 yards of total offense. Russell Wilson had only completed 8 passes, and the Seahawks' only touchdown was thrown by Jon "The Regina Rocket" Ryan to rookie free agent Gary Gilliam. The Hawks raced down the field in 6 plays (and less than two minutes), paced by 40 yards from Marshawn Lynch. A RW3 touchdown run cut Green Bay's lead to 5 just before the two-minute warning.

When the Hawks lined up for the onside kick, I held out little hope for a recovery. Only sixteen percent of onside kicks were recovered by the kicking team in the NFL this season. The last time Seattle recovered their own onside kick, Jim Mora was still our coach and I looked a tiny bit different. I thought our best hope was forcing another 3-and-out, and the slim probability of going 80+ yards in just over a minute with no timeouts. 

Then Brandon Bostick went full-on Bill Buckner/Jackie Smith/Chris Webber, abandoning his assignment of blocking Chris Matthews to allow Jordy Nelson to field the kick. Bostick went up for the ball, which went through his hands, ricocheted off his helmet, and dropped into Matthews' mitts.

At that point, I started to get nauseous. My legs began to twitch. The emotional fluctuations of the game were getting to me. They were apparently getting to the Packers' defense, too. The previously somnolent Seattle offense had fully awoken, taking the lead with a minute-and-a-half left on yet another dramatic Beast Mode playoff touchdown (punctuated by an almost dignified and subtle crotch grab). When the WolfBadger's blind cross-field heave was somehow corralled for a successful two-point conversion by Luke Willson, Seahawks Stadium became a roiling mass of incoherent, unbelieving ecstasy. In less than three minutes of game time, the Hawks had hopped off the slab, escaped the morgue and terrorized the entire state of Wisconsin. 

MVP-in-waiting Aaron Rodgers proved his quality by driving the Pack into field goal range to force overtime, but just like against Chicago in 2012 and Denver earlier this season, Seattle won the coin toss and got the ball to start OT. Russell Wilson was so bad in regulation that Pro Football Talk was tittering about how much the value of his next contract had fallen, Thankfully RCW has the same short memory, talent and determination Steve Largent showed in a playoff game 31 years earlier. 

In the divisional playoff at Miami on New Year's Eve 1983, Largent was held without a catch for the first 57 minutes of the game. But with the Seahawks trailing 20-17, the future Hall-of-Famer caught 2 passes for 56 yards to set up Curt Warner's winning touchdown. Just like Steve Largent back then, on Sunday Wilson ended an abysmal day with a season-saving flourish, On a 3rd and 7 from inside Seattle territory, Wilson delivered a perfect 35-yard strike to our modern Largent: Doug Baldwin.

Then, on the next play... This:

Wilson targeted Kearse 6 times Sunday. The first four were intercepted, the 5th attempt fell incomplete, and the last one put Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. Cue Michael Bennett stealing police bicycles. Cue Russell Wilson crying to Erin Andrews. Cue 68,000+ strangers having a rapturous, near-religious shared moment of triumph. Fittingly, Steve Largent gave the George Halas Trophy to Russell Wilson after the game.

It's funny... Last season, when Sherm tipped the ball to Smith, my first thought wasn't "We're going to the Super Bowl!" It was "We beat the fuckin' Niners!" I thought nothing would EVER top that moment at any Seahawks game I'd ever attend. On Sunday, when Kearse scored, once again my first thought wasn't about the Super Bowl. It was "OH MY FUCKING GOD WE WON! HOW THE SHIT DID WE WIN????"

We won because the defense played heroically, largely shutting down Aaron Rodgers for the 3rd time in 3 years. We won because Marshawn might be the most clutch playoff running back since Emmitt Smith in the early 90s. We won because our pedestrian wide receivers got open and made plays when it mattered. We won because we played with aggression and joy while our opponents were absolutely paralyzed by cowardice and fear. OVER AND OVER Green Bay had opportunities to crush Seattle, but refused to take them, Mike McCarthy played George McClellan to Pete Carroll's U.S. Grant. I think every Twelve feels about Big Balls Pete the way President Lincoln felt about General Grant: "I cannot spare this man- He fights."

Carroll has molded a roster in his image, a tribe of scrappers whose mental and physical toughness has become legendary with no need for embellishment. They are at once superhuman and DEEPLY human: Their exuberance over the success of their teammates is genuine, as were the tears that flowed from our franchise quarterback after the game.

In the stands, my brother and I hugged and howled and laughed. After the team streamed into the locker room, I went to the ladies room. In a quiet moment to myself, I collapsed into sobs. I was exhausted and emotionally overloaded, but incredulously thankful. Thankful that we won? Yes. Thankful that we still had a chance to repeat as World Champions? Sure. Most of all, I was just happy it wasn't over. There would be one more game for this team I love- A team I love not just because they win, but also because of HOW they win. A team that approaches the game the way I want to approach my life: With hope, joy and limitless energy.

A win on February 1st wouldn't just be a Super Bowl victory, or even the birth of a dynasty. It would sanctify the Emerald City Miracle. Without an XLIX win, it's the Miracle of Ice without beating Finland in the Gold Medal Game. Without an XLIX win, it's coming back from down 3-0 to beat the Yankees without sweeping St. Louis in the World Series.

I was wrong about it being impossible that "The Tip" could ever be topped. Now, it seems impossible that the Emerald City Miracle could be surpassed. The Seahawks, however, have made a habit of proving me wrong.

What do you think, sirs? Share your reactions to the NFCCG in the comments section.

January 13, 2015

The Seattle Cheese Grating Company: A Complete History

Up until a couple of years ago, it was difficult for me to lather up a good hatred of the Green Bay Packers. They've traditionally been a classy organization, they have heaps of (relatively inoffensive) tradition, tons of ties to the Seahawks organization, and they're the only publicly-owned NFL team (Shit- that should make a filthy lib-rul like me LOVE them). Aaron Rodgers is one of my favorite non-Seahawks, and they've been a very entertaining team to watch over the last few years. Back in 1996, when it looked like the Seahawks might bolt for Los Angeles, I strongly considered the Packers to become my new NFL obsession. Unless you root for a rival NFC North team, the Pack was hard to loathe. 

Until, well... you know... That one play. After Golden Tate's game-winning score on Monday Night Football back in 2012, a raging torrent of whinging burst forth from Wisconsin. Gee, you would have thought that the Packers just got screwed out of winning a Super Bowl, instead of losing a game in WEEK 3 on a controversial call. The stench of entitlement coming from Green Bay and all of their fans was nauseating as well... But we'll get back to that play (and that game) later. 

For a LONG time, Brett Favre alone gave us all plenty of reason to root against Green Bay. Mr. Wrangler Jeans dashed Seattle's Super Bowl dreams TWICE in playoff losses at Lambeau Field. In 2003, it was that heart-breaking OT "We want the ball and we're going to score" Wild Card defeat. In 2007, it was a soul-destroying divisional round blowout loss (after we jumped out to a 14-0 early lead). The Seahawks have only won 7 of their 17 previous meetings with the Pack, but this Sunday's NFC Championship Game is BY FAR the most important game these two franchises will ever play against each other. My prediction? A 27-19 Seahawks win that isn't as close as that score would indicate. But I'm getting ahead of myself... Here's our previous 7 wins over Green Bay, ranked: 

How did the Seahawks win a game where Dave Krieg put up a 41.6 QB rating and they turned the ball over 5 times? They ran for 193 yards, including 123 yards and a TD from Curt Warner. Seattle's defense recovered three fumbles and picked off Packers QBs twice, helping the Hawks improve to 6-3. Side note for any Packers fans reading this: Who the fuck was Randy Wright? He was your QB that day, but that sounds like the name of some forgotten 80s R&B singer. 

The Packers used to play a couple games a year down in Milwaukee, and those were usually the dates on the schedule against less "attractive" opponents. Before they stopped the Green Bay/Milwaukee split after the 1994 season, the Seahawks would face the Packers four times in Milwaukee and only once at Lambeau. Evidently our team from South Alaska wasn't worthy of prime dates up in Green Bay?

Anyway, in 1984 the Seahawks rolled into Alice Cooper's favorite town 5-2 and expecting an easy win over the 1-6 Packers. Lynn Dickey and James Lofton made the Hawks work for this victory, though. Dickey torched Seattle's usually dominant 1984 defense for 364 yards and three TDs, and future Hall-of-Famer Lofton had 5 grabs for 162 yards. After one quarter, Seattle trailed 17-7, and they were well on their way to a surprising defeat (Seattle also committed 17 penalties that cost 128 yards of field position. Damn!). Thankfully Krieg and Largent almost matched Dickey & Lofton- Mudbone racked up 310 passing yards, and Largent hauled in 7 catches for 129 yards and a TD. The defense would also sack Dickey 6 times and pick off three of his passes, helping Seattle get out of town with a 6-point victory. 

I actually still have the videotape of this one- what I remember is Derrick Fenner just going OFF on the Pack, and thankfully my memory didn't fail me this time. Both teams came in at 6-6, so this was effectively an elimination game for the losers. Despite facing a Packers team led by Anthony Dilweg at QB (wait-who?), Seattle was a significant underdog- A dome team wasn't going to win an outdoor December game with temps down in the 20s, right? 

The Hawks had a nice little streak of good luck going at this point- They had won three of their last four games. One was the miraculous "Kreig-to Skansi" win at Arrowhead, and the other two were consecutive 13-10 OT wins over Houston and San Diego. On that chilly Milwaukee day it certainly helped us that Dilweg played down to his awful-sounding name- The dude went 6 for 22 for 69 yards and a pick before he was replaced by Blair Kiel (Man- they really had a dry spell at QB between Dickey and Don Majkowski, huh?). Kiel was a HUGE improvement, but by then Seattle had built a 20-0 lead primarily on the legs of Fenner, who toted the ball 20 times for 112 yards and a TD. Kiel would throw two 4th-quarter touchdowns to make all us Twelves sweat, but the Hawks hung on to win 20-14. 

It was Monday Night Football, and the return of Mike Holmgren to Lambeau Field as Seattle's Head Coach. I remember pacing back and forth in my pathetic graduate dorm room at Ohio State, sweating and on the verge of puking before this one. Very few outside of the Twelve Army gave us any chance of victory, and it looked like Green Bay would snatch the early lead until Shawn Springs scooped and scored on a blocked field goal attempt. In my Springs jersey I ran out in the hallway braying like an ass, frightening the foreign students on my floor who had no fucking clue what a Seahawk was.  

Favre would answer with a long TD pass to tie the game, but Cortez Kennedy sacked Favre thrice and Springs snatched two of Seattle's four interceptions. Ricky Watters gashed GB for 125 yards on 31 carries and sent the Pack into a downward spiral that led to 8-8 and Ray Rhodes getting canned after just one year as Head Coach. 

Seattle rode this upset win over the Packers on MNF to a winning season and a playoff appearance (Well, there was that horrific collapse over the season's last six weeks, but still...). 

A SNOW GAME IN SEATTLE! This one was a great example of why Seahawks Stadium was a HUGE upgrade over the Kingdome- As loud as the Dome could get, it could never provide us with a memory quite like this one: Shaun Alexander shredding the Green Bay defense inside a snow globe. 

Hasselbeck and Favre cancelled each other out, both chucking three interceptions- But the Pack had no answer for Alexander, who delivered one of the last great performance of his career (we tend to forget the great games he had in our losses to San Diego and Chicago later that season). SA rambled for 201 yards on 40 (!) carries, but Seattle still found itself trailing a 4-6 team at home 21-12 in the 2nd half. Hasselbeck would finish strong with three late TD passes and the Hawks would end an unforgettable night with a 34-24 win. 

This game feels like it happened four YEARS ago, not four short months ago. Percy Harvin (Who?) had 100 total yards, Russell Wilson fired two TD passes, and Marshawn Lynch added two more scores and 110 yards as Seattle opened up their title defense in style. 

Let's cut the shit: It was a catch. The short version? Tate established possession and had two feet down in the end zone before Jennings got his mitts on the ball and got HIS feet on the ground. Touchdown, Seahawks! That one play aside, this was still a great win for the Seahawks on the national stage of Monday Night Football. As I wrote back then: 

The focus on officiating going full-on Chernobyl obscures a huge plotline of last night's game: The emergence of a Super-Bowl quality defense in Seattle. The eight first-half sacks jump off the stat sheet, but the Seahawks absolutely DOMINATED the reigning NFL MVP and one of the most powerful offensive attacks of all time. Aaron Rodgers could only lead Green Bay into the end zone once, and that was with a big scabby assist from a bullshit DPI on Kam Chancellor. Twelve points allowed against a team only months removed from averaging 35 ppg is more than impressive- it's a sign that we might just have the best defense in football. The defense was so comprehensively spectacular that it's hard to single out any players for individual plaudits. The moment that will stick with me is the complete smothering of Green Bay's final attempt to run out the clock (which was set up by one of about a dozen superlative Seattle special teams plays)- When we absolutely needed a stop, they got one. The Legion of Boom is starting to get a 2000 Ravens/2002 Bucs vibe going, and that should soil pantaloons all over the league.

What do you think, sirs? Did I miss anything? 

January 11, 2015

Seahawks 31, Panthers 17

(Photo by Rod Mar)

Five years ago today, Pete Carroll was hired as the Seahawks new head coach. He inherited a roster that was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (so to speak). One seemingly small move in Carroll's complete demolition/rebuild of the Seahawks in 2010 was the 5th round selection of a safety out of Virgina Tech: Kam Chancellor. Seattle's starting safeties in 2009 were the serviceable duo of Jordan Babineaux and Deon Grant (whose average age was 28.5). Just like at every other position, Carroll's goal was to get younger/better/cheaper in the defensive backfield. Expectations were high for first-rounder Earl Thomas from Texas, but the former high school quarterback Chancellor slid into the 5th. The move into the secondary served Kam well with the Hokies, and he'd quickly build a reputation for wanton brutality once he reached the NFL. 

Bam Bam Kam has already made his mark in the league, being selected to three Pro Bowls, being named 2nd-team All-Pro twice, and surely haunting Vernon Davis' nightmares (among dozens of other offensive players). However, yesterday Chancellor delivered the best performance of his already illustrious career. He made 11 tackles, including an incredible individual effort to blow up a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams and a first down-denying hammering of sentient boulder Mike Tolbert. A bewildering flag denied him credit for an acrobatic blocked field goal at the end of the first half. With Charlotte deep in Seattle territory, and aiming to pull within 7 with six minutes left, Chancellor jumped the route and sped 90 yards for the clinching score (highlights here). 

Chancellor is one of three Seattle DBs on a trajectory for Canton (Richard Sherman and Thomas also turned in spectacular performances against Charlotte). Constructing the Legion of Boom was relatively simple compared to the task of finding a quarterback who could lead Seattle to championship glory. Charlie Whitehurst? Oof. Tarvaris Jackson? Great leader. Tough and well-liked. Not the guy. Matt Flynn? Steady, but far from spectacular. Typically, if a new coach/GM combo made THREE bad calls at QB, they'd be chased out of town by a surly mob. Still on the board in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft? Russell Carrington Wilson. 

The WolfBadger is 41-13 as Seattle's starting quarterback, and already has a Super Bowl ring. But since he doesn't throw for 4000 yards and 35 TDs every season, he gets tagged as a "game manager." If the small-minded bobbleheads of narrow vision weren't swayed by RCW's performance, they'll never be. There was the DIME he dropped fifty yards downfield to Jermaine Kearse for a 63-yard TD. There was his performance on 3rd downs: 8-for-8 for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 149.2 passer rating was the 2nd highest of his career, and he turned in a dominant performance despite only scratching out 22 yards rushing.

Yesterday the Seahawks proved they could win even when things didn't go exactly according to plan. Despite Marshawn Lynch being held to only 59 yards, despite holding the ball for only 25 minutes, and despite allowing 17 points & 362 yards to the Panthers, Seattle pulled away in the 4th quarter. The standout play of Wilson and Chancellor was more than enough to counter a solid Charlotte game plan and a better-than-expected day from Cam Newton. As usual, it was all about the ball, too. Seattle won the turnover battle 3-0, and the winning margin of 14 was directly attributable to 2 touchdowns off takeaways. 

There are concerns going into the NFC Championship against Green Bay. Paul Richardson is out for the year after tearing his ACL, taking away a deep threat in the passing game. The status of Max Unger and Byron Maxwell is uncertain. MVP-in-waiting Aaron Rodgers is coming to town. This NFC Championship Game won't have the extra jolt it did last season against our most hated rivals, but it is shaping up to be an epic dust-up. Mike McCarthy, Rodgers, Carroll and Wilson will all be eyeing a legacy-securing second Lombardi Trophy. I can't help but think about the last time the Seahawks went up against the league MVP and his high-powered offense. How'd that turn out?

I'd like to wrap up on a personal note: I'll be at the game next Sunday. Immediately after the loss at Kansas City that dropped us to 6-4, I had to decide when I'd come out to Seattle for my usual Wintertime visit. In a fit of optimism, I picked the weekend of the NFC Championship Game. I'm GIDDY that the Hawks are making me look like a seer, and I'm ecstatic that I'll be there to once again give our boys a sonic boost towards the Super Bowl. They've never lost a playoff game I've attended, and they aren't going to break that streak next week. 

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from this: 

To this: 

Sidebar... I've gone from this: 

To this: 

Upgrades all around (And we haven't even peaked yet)!


January 6, 2015

Ranking the Seahawks Playoff Wins (1983-2014)

This Saturday the Seahawks host the Charlotte Panthers (No, I don't call them "Carolina," because that's a deeply asinine moniker for a pro team) in the 23rd playoff game in franchise history (OK, 25th if you count Super Bowls, but I put those in a category of their own, personally), and they'll be trying to notch their 12th (! NUMEROLOGY ALERT !) all-time post-season win. As we inhale before another 3-game sprint to championship glory, let's look back at our 11 previous playoff wins.

11. 12/24/83 Seahawks 31, Broncos 7
You'd think the first-ever playoff win in team history would be higher on the list, but this one is overshadowed by the upset win at Miami the following week (SPOILER ALERT). In addition, the game was a snoozer blowout. Steve DeBerg led the Broncos to their doom that day, before being replaced by (then rookie) John Elway in garbage time.

Dave Krieg only threw 13 passes that day, but he completed 12 of them for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns.

10. 1/5/08 Seahawks 35, DC 14
In the 21st Century, the Grim Reaper of DC Super Bowl dreams has worn blue and green. In the 2007 NFC Wild Card Game, DC was a fashionable pick to upset the Seahawks. Why? DC Free Safety Sean Taylor was murdered in late November, and the team banded together in the wake of that tragedy and hit the postseason on a 4-game winning streak. Sentimentality was certainly on DC's side, as was a strong national desire to see them meet Dallas in the divisional playoff the following week. Seattle came in having lost 2 of their last 3, but built a 13-0 lead going into the 4th quarter. Then all hell broke loose.

DC scored two quick touchdowns to take a 14-13 lead, and after a special teams brainfart on the ensuing kickoff gave them the ball deep in Seattle territory, things looked dire for the Seahawks. However, the defense held, and Shaun Suisham shanked a 30-yard field goal attempt. A Matt Hasselbeck interception snuffed the next Seattle drive, but then the defense stood firm again. Beck would then put an exclamation point on his Pro Bowl-bound 2007 campaign with a 20-yard TD strike to D.J.  Hackett. With six minutes left, the Hawks were up by a touchdown, and then Marcus Trufant sealed the win in style...

9. 1/11/14 Seahawks 23, Saints 15
The Hawks ran out to a 16-0 lead over New Orleans, but put Twelves into a state of panic in the 4th quarter (At one point I yelled at the TV and ordered Bobby Wagner to urinate upon a prostrate Saints player. Not my finest moment). After cutting the lead to 8, Drew Brees tossed a deep ball that fluttered and died in the howling wind. Two Seattle defenders went up for the easy interception, but neither snared it, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Robert Meachem. The Seahawks were clearly cursed! Future Hall-Of-Famer Drew Brees would surely tie the game, and the Saints would complete the dramatic comeback and win in overtime, right? Thankfully, no. After that fluky completion, Seattle's top-rated defense forced three straight incompletions, and Shayne Graham's 2nd shanked field goal attempt (What is up with kickers named some variety of "Sean" and 4th-quarter FG tries in Seattle?) kept the Hawks' lead at 8. On the ensuing drive, a clutch Russell Wilson completion to Doug Baldwin on 3rd and 8 set up Marshawn Lynch's game-clinching touchdown scamper.

8. 1/6/13 Seahawks 24 @ DC 14
Remember when Robert Griffin III was Offensive Rookie of the Year? It feels like that was 20 years ago, not 2. RGIII would lead DC to an early 14-0 lead, but would also clearly injure himself on the 2nd TD, a victim of the horrendously maintained playing surface at FedEx Field (later our own Chris Clemons would succumb as well). The Seattle defense stopped DC cold the rest of the evening, and a ferocious 27-yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown run would put the Hawks up for good in the 4th quarter. The Seahawks got their first road playoff win since 1983, and the career trajectories of RGIII and Russell Wilson began their spectacular divergence.

7. 1/15/06 Seahawks 20, DC 10
21 years. The Seahawks hadn't won a playoff game in 21 years, and despite winning the #1 seed in the NFC, Twelves were nervous and the football-watching nation was deeply skeptical. Anxiety turned into pants-ruining panic when NFL MVP Shaun Alexander was knocked out of the game with a concussion early on. Matt Hasselbeck responded with a gutsy performance punctuated by victory over former Hawk Shawn Springs in a sprint to the end zone pylon to provide all the points Seattle would need. Darrell Jackson delivered a stand-out performance with 9 catches for 143 yards & a score, and after Mack Strong converted a late 3rd down the Seahawks advanced to just the 2nd conference title game in franchise history.

6. 1/6/07 Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20
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 Josh Brown, who had already won FOUR games in 2006 with last-second kicks. 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.

5. 12/22/84 Seahawks 13, Raiders 7
The Seahawks entered the 1984 playoffs on a two-game losing streak, and the national media gave the fading Hawks little chance to knock off the World Champion Raiders. The greatest defense in team history (Pre-LOB Division) had its finest hour in that Wild Card game, though... Easley, Green, Nash, Brown, Bryant and the rest held L.A. to a single touchdown while sacking Plunkett 6 times and forcing three turnovers.

Coach Knox called 51(!) running plays, and Dr. Dan Doornink put up Curt Warner numbers: 29 carries, 126 yards and a key 3rd-down conversion late in the game. In all, the Seahawks rushed for 205 yards as a team and took complete control of the game. This is still probably the most physically dominant win in team history.

4. 1/8/11 Seahawks 41, Saints 36
The BeastQuake is the 2nd greatest play in franchise history (after Sherm's tip to Smith in  the 2013 NFC Championship), and it was so blindingly awesome that it obscured the incredibly satisfying final performance by Matt Hasselbeck at Seahawks Stadium. After three sub-par/injury-marred seasons, Hass came up HUGE against New Orleans, firing four touchdown passes and outplaying defending Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. When he ran off the field in front of the Twelve Army for the last time, it was in a moment of unexpected, satisfying triumph.

3. 12/31/83 Seahawks 27 @ Dolphins 20
A whole generation of kids became Twelves for life on New Year's Eve 1983. I was eight, and just two weeks earlier I went to my first game at the Kingdome- The Seahawks won and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They won the Wild Card game against Denver, but anyone with sufficient football acumen KNEW that was as high as the '83 Seahawks would fly. Now they had to schlep to Miami and face the defending AFC Champions, led by rookie phenom Dan Marino. The Seahawks got a collective pat on the head and a "nice season, kid" from the football world. They'd all get to see that epic Dolphins/Raiders AFC title game cage match everyone was dreaming about, right?

Weird shit started going down, though. For one thing, Dave Krieg was outdueling Marino. The unheralded Seattle defense outplayed the famous "Killer B's." Chuck Knox was out-coaching Don Fucking Shula, and Miami had no answer for Curt Warner, who racked up 113 yards and two TDs on the ground. Miami held Steve Largent without a catch all day, but #80 would haul in two catches for 56 yards on the climactic Seattle possession to set up Warner's go-ahead touchdown run. Nobody needed mistletoe as an excuse to kiss a stranger in Seattle that night... 

2. 1/22/06 Seahawks 34, Panthers 14
As I wrote back then, about the Seahawks earning their first trip to the Super Bowl:

From the moment owner Paul Allen raised the 12th Man Flag, the crowd became a roaring, towel swirling mass of noise which only rested when Seattle had the ball. When did the crowd go particularly insane?

-Hass to back-up QB Seneca Wallace (huh? We were ALL stunned), followed immediately by a lazer-beam snagged by Jerramy Stevens.. 7-0 Seahawks.

-Lofa Tatupu picks off Jake Delhomme (I spontaneously hugged my little brother for the first of many times at that moment)..

-D-Jack scores to ice it.. 27-7 Seahawks..

Once the score got to 34-7, the party began.. Chants of MVP for Shaun Alexander, roaring choruses of “Super Bowl! Super Bowl!”, old-school types singing “na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey hey hey.. gooooodbye!”

You know all about the action that went down on the field, but I was so gratified to see my team blossom before my eyes as a juggernaut on both sides of the ball. 

Steve Smith? Erased. Those road-warrior Panthers? Reduced to quivering piss-stained wrecks by our smothering D and the assault of the 12th Man. Jake Delhomme? Don’t EVER claim he’s half the QB Hass is after that display of inept chucking and diving… The “soft” Seahawks? Ask Nick Going’s concussed brainpan about that one.

Every week, legions of reporters and opposing fans sound our death knell.. Every week, our opponents have been the ones feeling the bony hand of the football reaper on their shoulders… Pretty nice pattern, huh?

After the final kneel-down, grown men cried, including a little bit of misting up on my end.. Complete strangers hugged each other, and our howls of triumph cut through the damp Seattle night sky.

For 22 years I’ve waited for this, and it’s even better than all those scenarios I’ve imagined for years.

The best was yet to come... 8 years later.

1. 1/19/14 Seahawks 23. Niners 17
'The Tip" is the greatest play in team history, but what about "The Catch?" Earlier in the 4th quarter, with the Hawks trailing 17-13, Seattle faced a 4th-and-7 from the San Francisco 35. Thanks to NFL Films, we know that Pete Carroll considered a 52-yard field goal attempt, but Steven Hauschka didn't think he could connect from that distance. Russell Wilson was convinced he could get the Niners to jump offsides with a hard count, and Big Balls Pete decided to gamble in the biggest of spots. RW3 was prophetic, and the flag on SF gave Seattle a free play. Wilson took advantage, firing a RPG to Jermaine Kearse, who made the catch blanketed by a defender. Seattle took the lead for good, and here's what I wrote in this space about the game's dramatic conclusion:

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: He somehow tipped the ball volleyball-style back to Malcolm Smith. Interception. Bedlam. 

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. 

What do you think, Twelves? Did I get the rankings right? Let me know in the comments!