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.