April 15, 2015

"I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy." (My 2006 Seattle Seahawks Story)


In the spring of 2006, the Seahawks were coming off a harrowing defeat in Super Bowl XL and I was going through some major life changes. My son was born that April, and I was getting ready to leave Columbus for a 1-year teaching gig in rural Ohio. Even though Seattle fell two wins shy of a Super Bowl return trip, the 2006 team is one of my favorite squads the franchise has ever fielded. They are somewhat unfairly remembered as simply capitalizing on one of the most gargantuan mistakes in post-season history- But to me they were absolutely heroic. No team in franchise history delivered as many thrilling finishes as the '06ers, and they came much closer to a 2nd consecutive NFC Championship than most remember. Beyond that, they were one of the few handholds I had for hanging onto some sort of sanity through a sleep-deprived year in the Wilderness of Northeast Ohio. 

The offseason began with the Steve Hutchinson debacle, and when the Vikings' front office expertly outmaneuvered Tim Ruskell, Seattle was left with a gaping hole in their offensive line. The Hawks retaliated against Minnesota by using a similar clause in a contract offer to WR Nate Burleson, but the damage was done. The unit that cleared the way for Shaun Alexander's MVP performance of 2005 was irrevocably weakened. On defense, the major offseason acquisition was former All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson. Expectations were dizzying as the Hawks started the campaign where the 2005 season died: At Ford Field in Detroit. The game itself was a snoozeworthy 9-6 affair, but it ended with a Josh Brown game-winning field goal as time expired, and I celebrated our 1-0 start with humility and dignity (not really): 


The next week, Seattle would trade their 2007 first-round pick for former Super Bowl MVP wideout Deion Branch (No, PCJS didn't invent the Seattle tradition of trading 1st-rounders for what they hoped were game-changing receivers). They'd grind out a win over Arizona and hang on to beat the Giants after building a 35-3 lead to reach 3-0 going into a Sunday Night Football showdown at Soldier Field against Chicago. The 37-6 carpet-bombing the Seahawks absorbed seemed to confirm that they were no match for the Bears in the race for the NFC crown. The Hawks limped into the bye with a huge test looming in St. Louis against the still detestable Rams. 

That year my son, my ex-wife and I were exiled to a part of Ohio so remote that the nearest Target was a 30-minute drive away. How rustic was the setting? There were parking spaces for Amish horse-drawn buggies at the local Wal-Mart. On top of the standard travails of raising any newborn, my son had a serious medical condition: Hirschsprung Disease. His life was in danger during the first few weeks of his life, but thankfully the doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital were able to figure out what was going on and perform corrective surgery before it was too late. In October, he endured a 2nd procedure, on top of my early efforts to indoctrinate him: 


The mixture of caring for a child with major health issues and having to leave Columbus for a year took a toll on my ex-wife and I. It was also around this time that it was dawning on me that I was transgender, and that I would need to figure out how to address that realization. For me, the three hours I spent watching the Seahawks each week took on an added significance. I would forget everything else swirling around in my life and just lose myself in Twelvedom (though I did it quietly if the baby was sleeping). 

The next in a procession of heart-stopping wins came on the road in St. Louis. The Hawks fought back from a 21-7 halftime deficit to take a late 27-21 lead. After a Mo Morris fumble deep in STL territory, Torry Holt made a ridiculous 80-yard TD catch that looked like the death blow. Down by a point, Matt Hasselbeck coolly marched the Hawks into Rams territory. An illegal procedure flag was misinterpreted by St. Louis Coach Scott Linehan as a foul that included a 10-second, game-ending clock runoff. That jabbering ninny was wrong, and jogged off the field slack-jawed after Josh Brown nailed the 54-yard game winner at the final gun to steal a 30-28 victory. 

The season took a dark turn a week later against Minnesota, though. It was bad enough that the defense utterly collapsed and made Chester Taylor look like some mutant hybrid of Chuck Foreman and Robert Smith. I also had the misfortune of watching the game with one of the most downbeat and negative Twelves I've ever known. When E,J. Henderson dived at Matt Hasselbeck's knees and knocked him out of action for a month, that Eeyore literally said "Oh, well. Season's over." Needless to say, I didn't invite him over again after that. 

The season was far from over. Seneca Wallace managed the Hawks to a 2-2 record as Hasselbeck recuperated, with the most notable moment being a thrilling 24-22 win over the Rams at Seahawks Stadium. Nate Burleson jolted the Seahawks to life with an 90-yard punt return TD in the 4th quarter, but it still took a 2-minute drill led by Wallace to set up ANOTHER Brown game-winner as the clock hit triple-zero. I was there, and yes, I owned a Deion Branch jersey: 


When Hasselbeck returned, he'd lead Seattle to a key MNF win in the Seahawks Stadium snowglobe against Green Bay. A week later on Sunday Night Football in Denver, Josh Brown won his FOURTH game of the season on a kick in final seconds. The Hawks were 8-4 and still had a decent shot at winning the top seed in the NFC. Instead, the tailspin began. They fell to the Matt Leinart-led 3-9 Cardinals. They got blown out at home on Thursday Night Football in a driving rainstorm by the 5-8 49ers. In those two games, the Hawks were favored to win by a combined 14 points. They played so badly that a close loss to playoff-bound San Diego the next week was treated more like a victory (it also helped that Seattle backed into winning the NFC West that day, too). 

Seattle would end the season with a win at Tampa to scratch their way to 9-7, but along the way they absorbed multiple injuries on defense. They would face Bill Parcells and his Dallas Cowboys with a secondary so depleted they were picking guys off the street and telling them to cover Terrell Owens. No one outside the Twelve Army gave the boys in gun-metal blue much of a chance to beat Dallas in the NFC Wild Card Game. 

I was at that game, and I witnessed an instant classic alongside 66,000 of my closest friends. Former loan officer Pete Hunter somehow helped hold T.O. to 2 catches for 26 yards and Seattle trailed by only 7 midway through the 4th quarter. When the Hawks failed on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line, the guy in front of me moaned that the game was over, and I snapped. I screamed "DAMN IT! It's not over!" Kelly Jennings proved me right on the following play, causing a Terry Glenn fumble that ended up out of the end zone for a safety. With 4 minutes left, Hasselbeck found Jerramy Stevens for the go-ahead score. 

Dallas would race deep into Seattle territory and into position to kick the game-winning field goal. A savvy timeout by Mike Holmgren jolted the replay official into overturning a catch that would have given Dallas a first down and allowed them to run out the clock before trying the winning kick. On the replayed down Seattle stopped the Cowboys a yard short, setting up one of the craziest sequences in NFL playoff history. 

Yes, everyone remembers Tony Romo dropping the snap, but that handsome fellow picked the ball up and looked like he had a clear path for the go-ahead TD (Or worse, a first-down that would let Dallas run out ALL of the time left before trying another field goal). Just like he did against Dallas a year earlier (to set up- you guessed it- a Josh Brown game-winner), Jordan Babineaux lived up to his "Big Play Babs" moniker. He chased Romo down and tackled him INCHES from a game-ending first down. Seahawks Stadium roared with ecstasy and relief. 

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 yet another game-winner off Brown's foot. 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.

I was left thinking about that line from Martin Scorsese's The Departed: "I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy." That day, the Seahawks did their jobs, and the Cowboys were the other guys. 

Seattle went into Chicago as huge underdogs in the NFC Divisional Playoff, but came achingly close to a stunning upset that would have sent them to New Orleans for the conference championship game. Shaun Alexander had the last great game of his career, rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The last TD gave Seattle a 24-21 lead that it held deep into the 4th quarter, only to see Rex Grossman sling the Bears into range for the tying field goal with 4 minutes left. Despite his solid overall performance, Alexander failed on 3rd AND 4th-and-1 on the edge of Josh Brown's range just before the 2-minute warning. Seattle would get tantalizingly close to Brown's range again, only to see Hasselbeck take a sack and then be forced to let the clock run out. In the biggest moments of the season, Hutchinson's absence was acutely felt. Overtime. 

Seattle won the coin toss, but perhaps chastened by Alexander's earlier failure they threw the ball deep on 3rd and 2. Incomplete. Ryan Plackemeier's 18-yard punt gave Chicago great field position, and a Grossman beat Ken Hamlin deep on 3rd and 10 to set up Robbie Gould's winning boot. 

The Hawks outplayed the eventual NFC Champions, only to squander a chance to return to the Super Bowl. I am still convinced that if Seattle had gotten the job done that day at Soldier Field, they would have beaten the Saints the following week and given Indianapolis all they could have handled in XLI. Sigh. 

Despite the sour ending, the 2006 Seahawks carved out a special place in franchise lore. They were an over-achieving bunch that gave us a disproportionate number of spectacular high definition memories. Over and over, they were declared to be defeated and hopeless, but ended up getting further than almost anyone anticipated they could. In a mentally grueling stretch of my life, they gave me five months of (mostly) joyous distraction. It was the kind of season that reminded me why I'm a Twelve. 

What are your memories of the 2006 Seahawks? What did I miss? Let's keep this going in the comments!

1 comment:

Richard Lester said...

Great recall your right that was a really memorable team they were literally grabbing guys out of the stands at Seahawks Stadium to play in the secondary kind of like the 1990 season when they were so depleted at linebacker going into the last week of the season. That Chicago game still bothers me because of the fact that the Bears went to the Super Bowl and we had them on the ropes. I still cannot believe more of a rage was not shown by Seahawks fans over the incompetence of Ruskell losing Hutch I mean even the fans with the lowest IQ know you franchise him, but this was the year after he actually looked competent by putting together some key additions to the 2005 Super Bowl team including my favorite 1 year Seahawk of all time Joe Jurevicious. I love your flashback stories of teams from the past you can tell you are a true hard core Seahawks fan cause you still get pissed about things that happened back in the day like I do keep up the great writing my friend.