Whispers In The Dark

My name is Tex, and I’m a Seattle sports fan.

I was born just a few months after the Seattle Supersonics won the NBA Championship, and did not see another major Seattle team win a championship until I was 34. I grew up watching the inconsistent antics of the Seattle Mariners, and was bewildered when we fired Jim Lefebvre for having the gall to lead us to our first winning season.  We had a handful of power bats and lights-out pitching, but generally, mediocrity was a far-off dream to which we could only hope to aspire. I don’t think I even really watched a World Series until the early 90’s, as I believed that the post-season was just something that happened to other teams.

Under Lou Piniella, they started to gel, the assorted home runs and strikeouts finally coming together to let us win more often than not. In 1995, we actually made it to the playoffs (something we would do only three more times, exiting most often at the hands of the New York Yankees), squeaking in by virtue of a one-game playoff victory against the California Angels. That year was the only one in which we were able to get past the Yankees (proving that we could only get past New York in a best-of-five series), but Cleveland was ready to knock us in out six. The Mariners hung around, earning a playoff berth in 1997 (losing to Baltimore in 4), which helped get them a new stadium built to replace the concrete deathtrap that the Kingdome had become.

The season after they inaugurated their fancy new ballpark (with retractable roof), they made it to the post-season yet again, this time sweeping the White Sox in the ALDS, only to drop the ALCS to the Yankees, who, like Cleveland five years earlier, took four out of six, and sent us home for winter. It was a bitter ending, but we were now a team that could compete. We’d had three playoff appearances in just six years, whereas in the 18 seasons prior to ’95, we’d not had one at all. And then something absolutely magical occurred: SoDo Mojo.

As the 2001 season began, we were coming to terms with the loss of future Hall of Famer, Alex Rodriguez. We had survived the loss of Randy Johnson, and Ken Griffey, Jr., but to lose this kid who looked like he’d be remembered as one of the greatest of all time? Things looked a bit uncertain as we rolled into the new season. And then we started to win. A lot. By the All-Star break (hosted at Safeco, and featuring 8 Mariners), we had a 63-24 record, and looked unstoppable. It wasn’t graceful, and there was a reason “Two Outs, So What?” was a thing that year, as that team often left it until the last possible instant to pull out the win. And when we finished the season with 116 wins, tying a 95 year old Major League record, it seemed like this team was destined to go all the way.

But, in true Seattle fashion, there was no Heimlich maneuver to save us in October. After scraping together the three games we needed against the Indians, we only managed to take one from New York, and just like that, the season was done. In the 13 seasons since that epic run, we’ve made it past the regular season exactly zero times, having only five years with a winning season (more games won than lost), and have a combined 991-1,115 record (.471). We had grown accustomed to losing.

Meanwhile, the Sportsball team next door, The Seattle Seahawks, had begun to make a little noise. Having more appearances (almost double, at that point) than their next door neighbors (and former roommates), they hadn’t had much better luck getting anything done in after the season’s end. But in 2005, our luck was about to change. We won 13 of 16, dominated at home in January ’06, and, with authority, took the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 5th. It was the first time in my life that my team was actually playing for a championship. It would not, however, be their first championship. I had taken the day off of work to watch this unbeatable team go on and claim their glory, and instead was treated to match of bad officiating and anemic offense. We were still playoff contenders in the years which followed, but nowhere like the team which played in the lead-up to Super Bowl eXtra Large…

Before checking back in with my beloved Seachickens, let’s take a brief ride across town and check in on the last team to have won a championship in this city: The Supersonics. Between my birth and 2008, they made the playoffs 18 times, even making it to the Finals in ’95/’96 only to lose to the Chicago Bulls (in the first year of their second three-peat title runs). But in ’08, the Sonics ceased to be, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have gone on to five playoff berths (although they haven’t won a championship either) in six years. It seemed that Seattle would remain the City of the Also Ran.

Which finally brings us back to the Seahawks and their 2013 season. They had looked pretty good, if a little young, the year before, and had to sit and watch their division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, lose the Harbowl to the Ravens in Super Bowl XVII, while they waited for their chance to show the world just what they had. They were the presumptive team to beat, and all season long, they played like untested champions. With a 13-3 record (the same as they’d had on their last Super Bowl run), they hit the playoffs running as the #1 seed. The most anticipated match-up came in the NFC Championship game, as the two best teams in the NFL, the Seahawks and the 49ers, battled for the chance to beat the living crap out of the AFC contender, with Seattle coming out on top. We were going back to the Super Bowl!

As it turned out, that game was rather anti-climactic. We beat the Broncos 43-8, and it was more a showcase for our unstoppable style of play, than any type of contest. I couldn’t believe it while it was happening. I’d seen my teams just lay down and die, despite having amazing years, and it it wasn’t until the last five minutes of the game that I was able to give a sigh of relief. Even if the ‘Hawks had been forced to field their coaching staff, it was now mathematically impossible for Denver to close the gap. The Seattle Seahawks had won the Super Bowl.

I’d been living in the Bay Area for over a decade, and was actually working in San Francisco during that playoff run. Oh, the trash-talking, and dirty looks to which I was subjected as the Seahawks ended the Niners’ season, and proved that they were the best. During the off-season, my co-workers took every opportunity to let me know that this coming year was their year, and that no team had repeat in the decade since the New England Patriots won back to back. Honestly, I told them that I was just amazed we’d won it at all, and having witnessed my team go all the way, was prepared to see them go back to their failing ways. But secretly, somewhere deep inside, I hoped that Russell Wilson’s mantra, “Why Not Us?” would carry over to address the ten years of statistics saying that they wouldn’t win (and most likely fail to even reach the playoffs).

The season got underway, and we started losing games we absolutely shouldn’t, and the wins we got were ugly and too close for comfort. And halfway through November, it looked like it was going to be all over. At 6-4, with the best teams in the league (and our own division) left to play, it looked like it might be time to turn our eyes toward next year. And then we beat Arizona. By a margin.

We beat the 49ers in their fancy new Santa Clara stadium just four days later by the same margin for a very happy Thanksgiving.

The Eagles gained some ground on us the following week, but we still beat them by 10. Three games to go, but every one was still win or go home…

We beat the Niners once again, this time back at home. Now at 10-4, our playoff chances were looking better, and San Francisco’s season came abruptly to an end.

We took our second game from Arizona, and were now jockeying not for just a playoff berth, but for the NFC West, and possibly the #1 seed for the second consecutive year.

In the final game of the season, we beat the Rams by two touchdowns, and managed to pick up the top spot in our Conference thanks to some assists in the Win/Loss columns throughout the league.

Back in the playoffs, and back at home, we faced the Carolina Panthers, and took them by fourteen, carrying on our winning streak for a seventh game. We played better than the team which had won it all one year ago, and looked ahead to our opponent in the NFC Championship game: The Green Bay Packers, who we beat by 20 points in the first week of the season.

I turned on the television this morning, eager to stomp the Cheeseheads, and get back the Big Game. Everyone was downplaying the Packers, and yet still finding a way to disparage Seattle. As the clock ticked down toward Kickoff, I joked around with Bad Leon Suave, and started psyching myself up for game time. We talked about Alice in Chains playing halftime, and what songs we thought they should play. And how since Layne Staley died, they should go by Alice in Zip Ties. And then the clock struck noon, and the game was soon underway.

All this season, I’ve been saying that the Seahawks are a Second Half team, and that they always look vulnerable in during the first 30 minutes of the game. None of that prepared me for just how terribly they were going to play. Long gone was the dominant defense, and Russell Wilson finished the half with a Passer Rating of 0, in contrast to having had the highest Passer Rating in football during the playoffs. He’d been perfect the week before, and now he couldn’t throw anything but interceptions. Our defense let through 3 field goals and a touchdown, and it’s a miracle it wasn’t more than that. Goal line stops are great, but so is stuffing downfield. Russell Wilson had finally found an answer to “Why Not Us?” and it wasn’t what he’d wanted to hear.

We didn’t score until ten minutes into the 2nd Half, with our first touchdown courtesy of a trick play by Jon Ryan on 4th Down, and bringing us to within 9. Our defense held the line, and the 3rd Quarter was ours alone. The Packers answered a few minutes into the 4th with a Field Goal, tacking on another 3, and making two touchdowns the only shot we had to win it. The Seahawks looked to get it started with about five minutes left to play, but Russell Wilson’s interception (a career 4th in a game) didn’t give us back the chance to score until we were closing in on three minutes to go in the game. A touchdown by Marshawn Lynch was called back due to a pinky toe out-of-bounds, but Mr. Wilson drove it toward the goal line, and ran it in himself with just before the 2-Minute Warning.

Our only chance was to go for an On-Side kick, which never, ever works. And yet it did. We got the ball back, and with 1:25 left to play, Marshawn Lynch strolls back into the End Zone, and this time it wasn’t coming back. Russell Wilson went for the 2 point conversion, and it looked like we would have to settle for the points we’d had up on the board when Green Bay tightened the noose around him and all looked hopeless. But somehow he managed to float it in to Luke Willson, and gave his team insurance against a Packers Field Goal. About a minute later, that little miracle paid off, as Green Bay punched one through the uprights, and brought the score to 22-22.

The Seattle Seahawks overcame a 16 point deficit, scoring 22 in the 2nd Half, and taking the game to Overtime. 30 minutes ago, they’d been all but ready to go home, and here they were, winning the toss, and getting the first drive of the 5th Quarter. It reminded me of the Week 3 win over Denver, and, after going head-to-head with them all game, just drove the ball downfield on the first possession of OT, and ended that game with authority. It only took 3 minutes and 19 seconds, but after an impressive display of offensive precision that the Seahawks had excelled at until this game, Russell Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse, and the game came to an abrupt end. Seattle had won 28-22, and was on its way to Super Bowl XLIX.

The Patriots won later in the evening, and it somehow seems fitting that if the Seahawks are to be the first team in a decade to repeat, they must get past the last team to have done so.

I’m Tex, and I’m a Seattle sports fan, and for the past while, I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of an elite 12th Man Program. My faith is strong. My Seachickens will prevail. Why Not Us, indeed.

-Tex

I’ll be taking tomorrow off to let this whole experience just sink in. Have a safe and happy MLK Day.

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