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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