September 17, 2015

A Brief History of No-Win Scenarios (and of Beating Green Bay)

The other night I was in a particularly dark mood- The ongoing turmoil in my personal life, coupled with last Sunday's loss in St. Louis, had left me in a fogbank of doom. I happened to flip on ESPN2, and they were giving our 2010 playoff win over the Saints the "NFL's Greatest Games" treatment. 

I watched it and thought about what was going on in my life at that time. I knew that I was transgender, but I had no idea how I could possibly pull off the dozen minor miracles needed for me to actually start living authentically. I was wrapped up in an itchy, bed-bug-festooned blanket of despair, and it looked like that hopelessness would be punctuated by a brutal playoff beating for my Seahawks. 

Instead, we got the first real taste of life in Pete Carroll's world: He somehow cajoled a Championship-worthy performance out of a team that had lost 9 games by an average of 21 points. The worst team to ever sneak past the bouncer into the NFL playoff club chased the defending Super Bowl Champions out of the VIP lounge. Matt Hasselbeck dropped dimes like it was 2005 (after the worst season of his career), the 25th-best defense in the league slowed down Drew Brees JUST enough, and Marshawn Lynch gave us the first glimpse of his groin-grabbingly transcendent talent... 

It would be overly flippant to say that victory inspired me to start my transition, but it did drive home an important lesson: That even in what seem like hopeless circumstances, victory is possible. We saw it in 2011 with an upset win over Baltimore, in 2012 with comeback wins over New England and Chicago (and the epic- but subsequently squandered- comeback in the divisional playoff at Atlanta), in 2013 with wins after falling in 20-3 and 21-0 holes against Houston and Tampa Bay, and in 2014 with the rise from a stumblebum 6-4 start to the NFC's top seed and the beyond improbable theft of the NFC Championship from Green Bay (more on that later).  

Now almost no one gives Seattle a chance to emerge from Lambeau Field victorious this Sunday. No Kam Chancellor. A shaky offensive line. An insanely motivated opponent playing in front of a rabid home crowd. Hopeless. 

Have the Seahawks always won in circumstances like this under Pete Carroll? No. Have they consistently defied expectations and delivered performances that made games like this a 60-minute brawl? Hell yes. 

The Seahawks will win Sunday night. How about 27-23? That sounds about right. 

Until then, entertain yourself with this look back at our previous eight wins over Green Bay. Enjoy! 

8. 11/15/87 Seahawks 24, Packers 13 
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 on their way to a wild card playoff berth.

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 and 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 only happened a year ago? Wow. Percy Harvin (Seriously- It feels like he was on the team for XLVIII and that was it) 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 else can I say about this one? Between this and the - ugh- "Fail Mary," I can totally understand why the Packers and their fans want to slice our boys up with dull, rusty straight razors. 

I'm still sort of baffled by the timidity with which Green Bay played that day. settling for field goals twice after getting to our one-yard-line early on, going to the ground after Russell Wilson's 4th interception, and just generally not opening it up and relying on their league MVP quarterback to go out and win the game. Here's some of what I said back in January: 

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. 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.

Green Bay is unlikely to repeat those mistakes from last January- But the Seahawks haven't lost that nasty edge, either. Expect Marshawn to have a huge night. Expect a big special teams play. Expect a takeaway at a key moment. Expect what everyone else thinks is impossible, because they have accomplished feats like this often enough to call it a trend. 

What do you think, sirs?

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