Friday, November 14, 2014

Mo Injuries Mo Problems

It's only fitting that it would come down to this. With the cyst that reared it's ugly head last season reappearing on the scene, I would have to go under the knife. It was fitting in so many different ways on so many levels. There was the fact that, of all the games to miss, the one against the hometown Giants in Seattle would be quite poetic and doubly hilarious, in a twisted sort of way. All you can do is laugh though. You can't take yourself too seriously, especially when what you do is basically the equivalence of following around Led Zeppelin back in the 70's. They followed the best band of their time around the globe, I sometimes follow the best team in the NFL to St. Louis, Missouri.

Well, maybe it's a little different. It also would have been fitting for me to miss this game due to injury because of all the man-games the Seahawks have lost due to injury this season. However, luckily my buddy Dev had my back, quite literally. I wouldn't have to miss the game due to injury because Docter Dev was going to take care of my cyst and sew it up so that I'd be good as new. I could barely get through the work week with Nicky at the Pickle stand on Carmine, the discomfort from the cyst on my back was getting so bad. Within minutes though, the non-stop annoyance was gone, replaced instead by the feeling of stitches right across your spine.

The procedure wasn't pretty, no, there was blood, puss, and little to no glory. It was necessary though. In a way, it was almost like the Percy Harvin of my body. It had to be removed in order for me to continue forward. Like Percy, the less said about it the better. All there is to say is that if not for an amazing act by an awesome friend, I would have been watching this one at home. Not only did my friend see to it that I was comfortable and relaxed, but he did an outstanding job as well. What could have been a nightmare wasn't, instead I was already thinking about the weekend's travels.

Along this journey I've been lucky enough to experience, my friends have come through for me in ways that I could not have imagined, seemingly always in the clutch. It's monumental to never lose sight of these acts, no matter what twists and turns life takes. They're as big a part of the odyssey as the games or myself, if not bigger. A homeless man in Seattle asked me last season, "do you believe in random acts of kindness?" I answered yes, knowing that if I knew anything, I knew that acts of generosity and kindness still exist all over the globe. Sometimes random, sometimes planned, either way, acts of kindness do exist and it's always been a mission of mine in life to prove it.

Another person who's mission in life, literally, is to be a beacon of civic virtue is my friend, Luis. Big Lou is one of New York's Finest. It is his job to serve and protect, and he puts his life on the line every day just by suiting up and going to work. Lou's also a diehard New York Giants fan and season-ticket holder. The big man bleeds blue, even sporting a tattoo of the Giants classic 'NY' logo on his bicep. While football players put their well being on the line every Sunday and they get paid millions and millions tune in to watch them work, Luis' job doesn't come with that kind of adoration, or price tag. It's not about the money though, and it's definitely not about the fame. It never should be when it comes to that line of work. Frank Serpico would agree with me from his cabin in Harlemville, New York.

Once again, it was a friend who had my back. A week earlier, Lou had booked our flights and hotel to Seattle. He was intent on checking out the game in Seattle with me, whether I had the funds available at the moment or not. Our itinerary was set, and we'd be flying out to Seattle on the morning of the game. That's always a risky decision, but it was our only option with both of us needing to fulfill our various obligations. For Big Lou, it was the graveyard shift. For myself, it was moving from Laura and I's room downstairs to the newly open room upstairs. Our roommates, Becca and Jay, were moving into new digs which meant a bigger room for my lady and I. They leave behind a legacy at our place, and we're left trying to fill their shoes as best as we can. A similar theme to the Seahawks, whose young players have adjusted to trying to fill the shoes of proven leaders past.

In life, and in football, it's a process. Now, the moving process is usually horrendous but with my back in the condition that it was, more help was on the way. Wael and Alex, both good friends of Laura and I, came through to help shuttle things up and down the stairs. I sat there in amazement at the outpouring of support. Just when you think you've seen everything, something else totally unexpected happens and makes you reassess that. As the guys grinded out a thankless task, my body got as much rest as possible before the impending grueling flights out west.

For Luis, it would be his first trip out west, ever. It was an honor that that first time would include a trip to the CLink. The fact that I would be attending as well meant it was an excellent opportunity to see my friend writhe around in discomfort. Our journey begins at 3:20 AM, Sunday morning. Luis picks me up at my place and we're on our way. We head to his place, where he picks up his Giants jersey, and where our buddy Dah-Un meets us to drive us to the airport. Dah-Un, unfortunately for him, was also in attendance at Reliant Stadium last season when the Seahawks came from behind to beat his beloved Texans. I won't lie, I felt bad for Dah-Un on that flight home. Even if the Fireball in my system didn't exactly allow me to display that bit of empathy for my friend.

After getting to the airport and getting through security, we board our flight bound for Sea-Tac. Both of us were exhausted. Our respective schedules and obligations for the week meaning that quality sleep was virtually non-existant. I finally wake up to see that the flight tracker on the TV in front of me says there's 3 hours left to go. Sleeping half of the flight is a win for me, as I'm usually a light sleeper in the air. This was magnified by the fact that my 6'4 1/2" friend's knees had no choice but to invade my leg room. In retrospect, that was the least of our worries. Seated directly in front of us was our own personal nightmare for the remainder of the flight.

No, it wasn't a screaming child or a crying baby. It was far worse. It was a man who had no control over his actions, who's body was being held prisoner. He throttled violently seemingly every few seconds, while Luis and I and the man next to him looked at each other puzzled at first. Were we just asleep and didn't notice this at first? What was wrong with this man? He continued throughout the remainder of the flight, the woman next to him never once telling him to relax or to control himself. What was going on? With every jolt, his chair went crashing back into both mine and Luis' knees. I sat there in discomfort, my back aching, crushed into a corner with a window view with no end in sight. We try zoning out and falling back asleep but our attempts are futile. We were going to have to tough this one out.

Finally, it was too much for Big Lou to bare. With fifteen minutes left in the flight, we tell the man to "please, stop." He turns around to us and reveals an eye covered by a metallic screen. He's obviously just had some sort of surgery on his eye. "I can't", he says, as the reality of the situation sinks in. With the worst of it behind us, it suddenly didn't matter to us anymore. There were more important things. We sat there for the final 15 minutes of the flight, not saying a word to one another. Our plane lands, and despite wanting to kiss the ground like the pope, we refrain and instead head towards the Light Rail to make our way to the game.

Before we could head to the Stadium, or to do any sort of tailgating, we first had to buy our tickets to the game and print them out! I know Luis probably didn't like the idea of heading all the way across the country without tickets in hand, but we needed to find the cheapest tickets possible, and waiting out the secondary market was the best way to ensure that. We find a pair for $110, the lowest that I had seen all week after prices started at nearly $200 on Stubhub. Unfortunately, they get sniped from us just as we pull the trigger. We settle for a pair for $116, still a massive win compared to the $198 tickets I saw in the same section for the same game just days earlier. With our tickets now in hand, we head down to Temple Billiards to kick off the festivities for the day and show my buddy Big Blue Lou, a taste of Seahawk Sunday's in Seattle.

On our way through Pioneer Square, I ask my friend one simple question. "Are you afraid of Marshawn Lynch?" "I'm afraid of no man", he says with added conviction. I tell him that I think his faith is misguided, but that I can't fault him for his approach to life. Upon arrival to Temple, we link up with the usual gameday crew. Todd, Dom, Jordan, Matt, Steve, and a slew of .Netters and those special to them are in attendance and getting properly geared up for yet another crucial game for the home team. Somehow, some way, we were all together again. Just like the Seahawks, we were finally starting to come together at just the right time, or so we could hope. Ryan, a bonafide .Net character if such a thing ever existed, is in attendance and just like Lou, it'll be her first game at CenturyLink. Even more impressive than Lou's milestone, it's her first Seahawks game ever. A battle of the good vibes probably sees her through to victory if the football god's have any sense of justice, rhyme, or reason.

Luis and I toast as we head for the exit's with the rest of those in attendance. The collective mood was optimistic. There was a genuine feeling that perhaps the worst was already behind us. Injuries, poor play, unexpected defeats. That was behind us and there would be more good things to come in the near future. Not to say that everything would be pleasant, no, that wasn't even the case last year when the Seahawks won it all. Just that the team was rounding into form and starting to show the toughness and perseverance that it took to hoist the Lombardi Trophy earlier this year at MetLife. How fitting yet again, as the team standing before the Seahawks as challengers on this day called that same field "home."

Luckily for Luis, he wasn't present last year when the Seahawks intercepted Peyton's brother five times and thumped the Giants. Being the standup guy he is though, he gifted me his two tickets before going away for the weekend. While he was out getting some sun in the Dominican Republic, his team was getting humbled in front of a half-filled stadium by the flock from Seattle. Even worse, half of the half-filled stadium were Seahawks fans. He didn't have to taste the shame of that day, even if I had to taste defeat in front of Luis numerous times before. There was the Giants hellacious destruction of the Seahawks, 44-6 at the Old Meadowlands in 2008. Then, there was me hurrying from my sister's baptism to watch the Seahawks and Charlie Whitehurst get baptized by the GMen by a score of 41-7, at home. Those were some dark days.

Even before then, my first live Seahawks game ended with the Seahawks crumbling late on a frigid day at the Meadowlands back in December of 2001, with Ron Dayne and Kerry Collins helping stun the away team late. I cried that day. A fourteen year old boy crying because Kerry Collins ruined Christmas. To further rub salt in the fresh wounds, the Giants spoiled the kid from Queens' day again the following year with a sloppy 9-6 victory over the team formerly known as the "Seabags." Life is cyclical, and Brandon Browner proved that, albeit in this case almost exactly ten years later. With his memorable interception return for a touchdown to seal the Seahawks improbable road victory at the then-newly named MetLife Stadium in 2011, balance was restored to the universe. After getting abused for four quarters by those around me, I walked out that day with the last laugh, as did every other Seahawks fan in attendance. My friend Luis was just a few seats next to me. He sat stunned, unable to comprehend that his beloved Giants had lost to the team he had seen his team handle numerous times before.

That game marked the swinging of the tide in many ways for Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks. It was a massive road victory, at a time when those weren't easy to come by for the Seahawks. The fact that it was a dreaded "10 AM" game made the victory even that much sweeter. You started to see players believe in themselves, no matter the opponent, no matter the circumstances. The Giants ended up winning the Super Bowl that year, despite the unexpected home defeat. Fast forward just three years later, and that same bunch who pulled the upset on that day in October back in 2011 were now Super Bowl champions. A true rags to riches story if there ever was one in the NFL.

Life had now come full circle for us. Both of our teams were Super Bowl champions now, and the Seahawks were the ones who had won the previous two meetings between the two. They entered this one as the favorite's, as Luis and I entered CenturyLink through the North End Zone. It's cloudy with a light myst falling. "Typical Seattle weather" if you were to ask someone from New York City. In fact, it was the perfect weather for the occasion, if I might say so myself. We get to our seats in time for player introductions, just as Luis had hoped. Soon, Capt. Scott Smiley, the first blind active Army officer is getting the crowd revved up as he raises the 12th Man Flag. It's Luis' first time witnessing the tradition, and it's the perfect candidate to raise the flag to show the true spirit of what the flag raising means.

As the action gets underway with a boot from Steven Hauschka, it's finally time to see what all the fuss was about. The cyst removal, the late shifts at work, the grueling flight, it was all in the rearview mirror at this point. The only thing that stood before us was the present. It was time to fully embrace the moment. It was time to live and die with every play. We had traveled too far and long not to. An NFL game can fly by right in front of you if you aren't truly focused. Luckily, both of us had been looking forward to this moment for a long time, so that wasn't a problem. The Seahawks defense fires the first shots of the day with a resounding three-and-out. In fact, it's a perfect double-tap, as the offense takes to the field and quickly marches down it to that magical place they call "pay dirt." It's Marshawn Lynch who gets in to open the scoring, clearly eager to pick up where he left off against his hometown Raiders just a week earlier.

At some point last year I decided that I was going to enter every game with the same mindset. A simple one at that, but I needed it to help me keep things in perspective. I expect every game to be a blood bath. I'll keep hoping for a Seahawks squashing of their opponent, but that's not what I expect. I expect a dog fight every game, especially with the rest of the league giving the team it's best shot every week with the hopes of adding that signature victory to their resume. So even though the Seahawks took an early 7-0 lead, I knew that there would be more plot twists sure to come.

The Seahawks defense answers the call again, and it's up to Russell and the offense to pad the early 7-0 lead. Russell's pass to Paul Richardson on the drive's opening play is read perfectly by Zack Bowman, who jumps the route before Richardson can finish it and snatches the ball for an interception. Eli Manning shows his savvy later on the ensuing Giants drive as he finds Preston Parker in the back of the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. Things get better before they get worse, as Luis now has something to cheer about. Andre Williams puts the final stamp on a Giants mini-comeback of sorts, as he plows forward into the end zone to put the Giants up by seven early on in the second quarter.

Just like last week, the Seahawks had flown out of the gates, but then stalled after some sloppy play. The sloppy play this week included two Russell Wilson interceptions and a Robert Turbin fumble. For the Giants, Odell Beckham Jr. was showing his immense potential, as he found holes in the Seahawks zones and flashed good hands to haul in several tough balls from the Giants quarterback and captain. Things were even sloppy in the stands, as a motley crew of Canadian women seated directly behind Luis and I start joining the ringing chant of "Seahawks." The only problem of course, is that the Seahawks now have the ball on offense! Admittedly, this is their first Seahawks game and NFL game, period, so I decided to help them instead of mock them. I told them that when the Seahawks have the ball, all communications must cease. When the Giants have the ball however, be as loud and obnoxious as you possibly can be!

With that reminder, and with several reminders from other fans around the 300 sections, the crowd slowly began to rise from it's dormant slumber. Almost like clockwork, so did the Seahawks. Marshawn scores his second touchdown of the game to tie the game at 14 in the second quarter. Unfortunately, the Giants got the ball back before the half and were able to march down the field and set up a Josh Brown field goal before the half. I still don't know how quite how I feel about Josh Brown after disowning him upon his move to the division-rival Rams many years ago. His parting comments weren't too classy, either, so he went from being one of my favorite Seahawks to someone I could care less about. It's weird seeing him in a Giants uniform, but I can barely muster up the energy to dislike him if I tried my hardest. Time truly does heal most wounds.

With the Giants leading 17-14 at the half, Luis and I try and walk around the stadium for a quick tour. The lines for the bathroom are outrageous. The lines for beer and food are equally depressing. Even the pathways to walk around the sections are horrendous, so after walking in place for about 10 minutes, we head back to our seats before we miss any action. Giants fans are excited. They high-five each other, chest bump one another, and mention how they're here to pull the upset no one expected. "I see a lot of big blue", Luis yells, as he high-five's a man wearing an Eli Manning jersey just like he is. Once we get back to our seats, I fixate on the fact that the Seahawks are a second half team. Remember Dave, it's not how you start but how you finish.

After a field goal by 'Hausch Money' ties the game at 17, the two teams continue to fight. The Seahawks defense steps up it's game and the halftime adjustments made my the coaching staff appear to have paid off. Odell Beckham Jr. is no longer having his way with the Seahawks zone. The Giants running game is non-existent, despite the massive (pun intended) loss of Brandon Mebane for the Seahawks defense. Conversely, the Seahawks rushing attack is absolutely throttling the boys in blue from the other coast. Marshawn, Russell, even Turbin and Michael start ripping off huge run after huge run. It's almost as if the Giants have never seen the read-option in their lives before. With every first down, the Giants will to win gets crushed further.

The fourth quarter begins, and what ensues is one of the greatest beatdown's in recent memory. Beast Mode continues his utter domination with a 3rd rushing touchdown, and the defense continues to go to work. This is starting to look like patented Seahawks football. Earl Thomas snags his first interception of the season and races towards midfield on the return. Luis is demoralized as the 12th Man is in mass hysteria. At this point, the Giants are done. They have no chance. The Seahawks continue to run at will, and minutes later, Marshawn scores his fourth touchdown of the game! I turn to Luis and tell him that he clearly upset Marshawn by saying that he fears no man, even Beast Mode himself, before the game. We share a laugh, before focusing back on the action because the Seahawks aren't done yet.

I'll spare the gory details, but when it was all said and done the scoreboard read 38-17. Despite Russell Wilson's struggles through the air, and despite a mediocre performance from the defense in the first half, the Seahawks had dominated. Alvin Bailey filled in nicely for James Carpenter at Left Guard, Russell Okung and Max Unger made their impacts felt with their returns to the lineup, and the running game amassed over 350 yards in the finest single game rush performance ever by the Seattle Seahawks. On defense, the boys tightened up the ship after an uninspired first half of play. Kevin Pierre Louis continues to flash his studly potential in limited opportunities, while Jeremy Lane made a return to the lineup, and broke some poor guy on the Giants' leg in the process. Despite a never-ending list of injuries, the 'Hawks still stood at 6-3 and in control of their own destiny, which is all you can ask for in the NFL, especially with so much season left.

As the rain intensifies, we make our way out of the stadium and back to the streets. We head back to Temple to collect our bags that we had left behind the bar, and while we sit and charge phones, a gentleman in the truest sense of the word arrives at our table with a shot for Luis. A kind gesture from a Seahawks fan to an opposing fan that absolutely blows me away. I thank the man for being so cool, and then we realize that we had met each other just a few weeks ago before the Cowboys game! It turns out he was in the Navy, which is funny, because earlier in the day I had told Luis "I don't know what it is, but most of the people I know who were in the Navy are outstanding, generous people." This man had just proven me right, just like Marshawn had minutes earlier with four touchdown's. Luis and I get to know this man and his girlfriend, before we head on over to the J&M.

Now, the reason we were heading to the J&M was because I received a text message from a very special Seahawks fan to come hang out and catch up. Kam Chancellor's brother Cornel, who I met and befriended during last year's magical quest, was hanging out with friends and family who were all wondering where I had been. As we walked through the doors and towards the seating area in the back, my eyes lit up as I saw the people who helped make last season so special. Before I could sit down and catch up though, the drummer from the house band that's a fixture there known as 'James King and the Southsiders' gives me a shoutout over the microphone. Her name is Susan, and we met last year after a game and always made a point to catch up whenever we saw one another. It was our first time crossing paths this year, and Susan went out of her way to make me feel special with a warm welcome over the mic.

Afterwards, I park next to the Chancellor's and we all catch up. Despite his rival colors, the group is nothing but classy to Luis, as they always are. It's the first time we've seen each other since the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, so we relive the memories and good times one more time before we decide that the flight and everything in between have taken it's toll on us. It's time to go to bed. Luis and I walk to the Moore Hotel, our creepy resting place for the evening, and eventually pass out. I rest easy knowing that the Seahawks won, looked good while doing it, are 6-3, and even demolished my friend's favorite team in the process. It was a good day.

The following morning Luis and I catch up at the hotel before making the usual Seattle tourist rounds. After a Dungeness Crab Omelette breakfast, we stroll around Pike Place Market. Luis is definitely impressed, even purchasing some trinkets for his son, along with some teriyaki glazed salmon jerky. Next, it's the Space Needle and an unexpected trip to the EMP museum. Like Luis, this is my first trip to the EMP, and I must admit that I was blown away. Not only is the 'We Are 12' exhibit a really cool toast to the 12th Man and the Seahawks in general, but there's an outstanding horror film exhibit to go along with a great section on Jimi Hendrix. Jimi is one of my inspirations in life, his wild and untamable spirit a true example of how free people should be with themselves and the rest of the world. Forget the pretense.

After the EMP museum, it's over to Dick's for one of the best burgers in town at a classic Seattle institution. We head back down towards the stadium to Temple for one last drink before our flight home. Not before Luis inhales a Japanese gourmet hot dog though. He goes with Andrew Zimmern's favorite, known as 'The Samurai.' How could a chicken apple sausage with delicious traditional Japanese toppings NOT be amazing? So amazing, in fact, that Luis implores me to use my new-found knowledge of street vending at the pickle stand to create my own Japanese gourmet hot dog stand back in New York City.

The closer we get to CenturyLink, the volume starts to amplify. It's a Monday evening but not just any Monday night, no, it's the second leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals, and the hometown Sounders are welcoming FC Dallas to town. With the score 1-1 after the first leg a week earlier in Dallas, the atmosphere is intense! Supporters gather in the park on Occidental Ave for their traditional march to the stadium. They stand behind their 'Emerald City' banner, as a man with a megaphone inspires the crowd and hypes them up with war cry after war cry. The crowd is electric, but with a schedule to keep, we keep it moving and make our way to Temple.

The place is packed with Sounders fans, not a Dallas supporter in sight. Damon, the doorman, is geared up and ready to go. A very passionate Sounders supporter, Damon had tried his hardest to snag me a ticket. My impending flight made that impossible, but the effort was still greatly appreciated. It appears this "Seattle Freeze" thing that I had told Luis about might have been greatly exaggerated. Luis can't stop mentioning how nice everyone is in Seattle! We finish our last few sips, watch the crowd empty out on their way to the CLink, say our goodbyes, and hit the road.

On our way to the airport, we ponder the future and discuss the possibilities. Things might appear dark now, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. That light is growing brighter and brighter by the minute. It appears that the worst might be behind the Seahawks. Hopefully, the worst is behind yours truly. We breeze through security before boarding our flight home. A redeye to ensure that I can make it to work a mere four hours after we land at JFK. Again, the trip home is difficult due to the stitches on my back and Luis' long legs, but we make it in tact and with a new great experience under our belts. We part ways, a mere 48 hours after our epic adventure had begun.

On my ride home from the airport, I thought about what had just happened. Yeah, the Seahawks had won and that's always great and that's always the goal, but I couldn't help but look at the bigger picture. I stood where I was, because of the help and generosity of a few brave souls. Laura, Jazz, Juan, Steve, Margaret, Luis, Bart, Melissa, Steven... you get the point. The list goes on and on. To my little sister Chloe, if you ever read this, it's the experiences that make it worthwhile in this life. However, those experiences don't mean anything if you don't have anyone to share them with. This road that I've traveled over the past year and a half has been a lonely one at times, a lonely road filled with amazing experiences and memories. However, it doesn't mean as much to me as the continued love and support from the people I call friends in this life.

Much like the Seahawks, it was time to rise to my feet and thrive. Before you can thrive, you have to survive. The survival part was hopefully now over. The future wasn't too bright though, with a trip back to Missouri in the offing. I had traveled long and far to watch the Seahawks lose to the Rams just a few weeks earlier. After a 22 hour bus ride, I couldn't help but feel bad about "taking the easy way out" and flying home instead of bussing it back. With funds still low, I would get my opportunity at redemption. Funny how life works sometimes. The obstacles never seem to stop coming. Instead of 22 hours, this trip would be 29 hours. The forecast for next weekend? Horrendous. This would be the most difficult trip of the season yet, for myself and for the Seahawks. It was time to see what we're truly made of. The championship spirit never dies, the trick is, can you rediscover it in time before it's too late? There was no more holding back. Like the old slogan's from Seahawks seasons lost, it was now time!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November Rain

Even the sun goes down, heroes eventually die
Horoscopes often lie and sometimes "y"
Nothin' is for sure nothin' is for certain nothin' lasts forever
But until they close the curtain

Outkast was right. The good guy's do lose sometimes. Russell Wilson IS human. The front office does make mistakes. 2014 was proving that sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way, in football and in life. Luckily, the beautiful memories from 2013 were there to help soften the blow. The great thing was, they'd always be there. They couldn't be taken away from me. They couldn't be taken away from any Seahawks fan. No matter what 2014 had in store for the Seattle Seahawks, I would still be there in their corner.

And still, despite all of the negative energy surrounding the team, the curtain hadn't closed yet. Nothin' lasts forever, especially Seahawks losing streaks under Pete Carroll. The heroes had lost two straight, but they hadn't died. Not yet at least. They had been written off by many who just months were calling them favorites to repeat. That was okay though, because as everybody knows, this team plays better when it's them vs. the world. With their backs up against the wall, they showed their championship mettle by slaying the Panthers in Charlotte for the third year in a row. In a return to the scene where it had all began 13 months earlier, the Seahawks rediscovered their winning touch.

The win was welcomed, if only that it makes a 12 hour bus ride seem not that terrible. There wasn't much time to enjoy it though, as it was right to work after the long bus ride home. I was just happy to be working at that point, so I wasn't about to complain. I spent my week selling pickles and thinking about the possibilities with a game against Oakland at the CLink looming in the horizon.

Nothin' is for certain though, and that was definitely true after a few rainouts at work. What seemed like a foregone conclusion of watching the 'Hawks continue to turn things around, was on the verge of not happening at all. Luckily for me, I have a guardian angel and her name is Margaret. Margaret and I met last year at El Ay Si, the bar/restaurant I had worked at in Queens. It was there that I met her, John, and Paul and it was there that the three of them had vowed to help me on my quest to watch the Seahawks win it all for the first time in team history.

They stayed true to their word and hooked me up with flights and game tickets alike. Margaret, John, and Paul were a huge reason why I was able to realize the ultimate dream last season. That was last season though, and with me not even working at El Ay Si anymore and having not seen them for months, one would understand if they could no longer lend a helping hand. I certainly would. In typical Margaret style though, she came through in the clutch, and in no time she had already booked my flight to Seattle to watch the Seahawks play the Raiders.

The humbling glow hadn't even worn off by the time I received my next bit of good news. Steve, another good friend that I had made just a year earlier, had an extra ticket to the game as well! Just like that, with my destiny mired in a cloud of doubt, my worries had been alleviated. I asked myself, why do I waste the energy in worrying in the first place? The universe had a plan for me, just like it does for all of us. I couldn't control these things, so why even worry about them at all?

I never could think of a good reason why. As I boarded the plane to Seattle on that mild Saturday night at the beginning of November, the only thing I could think of were reasons to be grateful. Worry was the furthest thing from my brain. Soon, there was nothing on my mind, as I passed out watching the Wyoming Cowboys roll up on Fresno State. The game wasn't a snoozer, but I was, after having never really caught up on sleep throughout the week after a grueling bus ride home from Charlotte.

I love falling asleep and waking up in a new city. Not so much for the sense of thrill or excitement to see my new surroundings, but because that means the actual traveling part of travel is done. I'd much rather prefer teleportation to flying, or riding buses, but until that's an actual option it looks like I'm stuck with what we've got. This trip was as close to teleportation as it gets though, and I was feeling that familiar feeling I get whenever I return to my second home.

I'm waiting for the 512 to Everett when a stranger approaches me asking for change. I hand him 2 golden coins worth a dollar and he extends a hand and says thank you. We shake hands, and he tells me that he's from Ethiopia. He sees my Seahawks gear and tells me that he thinks the Seahawks will win tomorrow. He doesn't know much in the way of football, or about the Seahawks, but he tells me about his love for Seattle. Despite being homeless, he still loved the city and just wanted to see his fellow neighbors happy, which was why he was predicting a Seahawks win. It was that simple for him, and that kind of simplicity was beautiful to me.

Once I get on the 512, I'm sitting next to a man who's just getting off of work. He sees my Seahawks hat and starts telling me about how he won't complain now that the team has gotten it's ring. "I'm good for at least the next four years", he says. His words remind me of the "five year rule" that Bill Simmons had come up with years ago. I'm sure by now that even Simmons has gone back on his word about fans not being allowed to get upset with their team for 5 years after winning a championship. Being from New England, it's in his blood to complain about his team, even when they're winning. I tell my new friend about Simmons' theory and he agrees as we share a laugh.

The conversation shifts as he starts telling me about how the Seahawks were all he had over the past few years. He got divorced, lost custody of his child, and had drifted towards alcohol and numbing his pain that way. Soon, he was homeless and stuck in a vicious cycle of misery. The only thing that helped him through those dark times was watching the Seahawks on Sunday's. Just a few days earlier though, he had gotten a job with Beacon Plumbing, and things appeared to be on the upswing. He told me to always finesse it in life, and to never lose hope or faith. He exits the bus without truly knowing the impact he's had on me.

I get off the 512 and Steve is already waiting for me in his car. Memories of last season come flooding back, as Steve and I are reunited after one of the greatest years of both of our lives. We talk about the past, present, and future and all things Seahawks as we always do when we see each other. On our way back to Steve's, I realize just how close he lives to Marysville Pilchuck, the school shattered by a tragic shooting just a week earlier. Steve tells me about driving past the school just a few days earlier, a sea of ribbons lining a mile long radius around the school. A sobering reminder that tomorrow is not promised.

It was nice to be back at Steve's. The last time I had stayed over was between Week 16 and Week 17 of last season. Steve and his family were kind enough to take in the kid from New York City over Christmas, which was enough for me to bury any notion of the 'Seattle Freeze' for good. Sure, there might be some jerks in Seattle, but there's some damn fine people there as well. Steve was living proof of that.

We woke up the next morning and had some breakfast. Steve's wife, Jackie, was around also, and it was great to see her again after meeting her last season. We catch up over some bacon and eggs, as we realize how much things have changed since we all saw each other last. There were injuries, tales of firings and betrayals, and a Super Bowl victory sandwiched in between all of it. No matter how shaky and uncertain things seemed, we couldn't forget that the main mission was already accomplished back on that night in early February.

Soon, Steve and I have to split in order to catch the Sounder train from Everett down to the game. Steve warned me before our trip down to the Rams game together in Week 17 that the Sounder was probably the coolest way to go down to a game in the country. So far, from what I had seen, he was probably right. Nothing beats that scenic view along the water, with everything from spectators to surf shops to seals usually making an appearance. Navel bases and the Ballard locks are some of the other cool things you'll see on this ride, and it all ends with the train pulling in to King Street Station right by the stadium.

We continue the time-honored tradition of heading to Temple before kickoff. However, it's only Jen, Dom, Steve, and I in the basement of a nearly empty bar. The place is usually twice to three times as packed, which leads us to wonder what it will be like in the stands at the game. My mind darts to the Cowboys game at CenturyLink earlier this season, where there were far too many opposing fans and far too little of a homefield advantage for the Seahawks. Deep down inside, I was hoping that history wasn't repeating itself.

We watch the Cowboys fold like a cheap suit against the Cardinals, and 'Blue Thunder' are their usual bad selves, as they rock Temple into a frenzy. Now, it was time to head to the game. Before heading to our seats though, Steve and I must adhere to another time-honored tradition. The pregame hotdog across from Touchdown City! I get a Jones dog with cream cheese, in honor of Walter Jones. On this day, Jones would be getting inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor, so I had no choice really in who's dog I was going to get. The Lynch Dog and the Sherman dogs are classics in their own right, but the Jones dog was the only true way to honor a living legend.


We scarf 'em down and then make our way in through the entrance at Touchdown City. Again, once inside the first thing we notice is that the place is an absolute ghost town. Luckily, however, we hadn't seen too many Raiders fans walking around outside the stadium. With Halloween having just passed, however, it was tough to tell exactly who were actual Raiders fans and who were trick-or-treater's who hadn't quite made it all the way home yet. Every day is Halloween when you're an Oakland Raiders fan.

We make our way to our seats and the view is fantastic. It wouldn't be long before the game turned fantastic for the Seahawks, too. After the Seahawks continued to honor Walter Jones by having his four line mates from the epic 2005 season raise the 12th Man Flag, the action was underway. Despite opening the game with a field goal to take the initial lead, things quickly turned ugly for Oakland. First, it was Marshawn bulldozing their defense into the endzone from the 3 yard line. As if that didn't take a toll on the Raiders' psyche, a string of horrendous turnovers set out to do the job and shatter the Oakland Raiders right there in front of us. Bruce Irvin scores on one of the nicest pick sixes that you'll ever see, and immediately afterwards, Derek Carr pulls his best imitation of his brother David, and gets intercepted by Richard Sherman. Sherm finally gets his first pick of the season and at 14-3 and with the ball deep in Raiders territory, things are looking good for a Seahawks blowout.

The 'Hawks can only settle for a field goal and now trail 17-3. They're awaiting the kickoff from Steven Hauschka when I start telling Steve about how sweet of a lady Jermaine Kearse' grandmother is. I tell him the story she told me about how Jermaine first got in to football. That it was his father who gave him a football when young Jermaine couldn't even carry it, and that that was what pushed Jermaine to pursue a dream of making it to the NFL. It's as I'm telling Steve this story that Jermaine forces the fumble on the ensuing kickoff! Steve and I can't hardly believe the timing for such a play from Kearse, but it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The thing that makes the moment even more perfect, is the fact that Steven Hauschka is the man who recovers the fumble!

No one's perfect, though, not even Steven Hauschka. We get to witness the rare sight of Steven Hauschka missing a field goal, which isn't too big of a deal considering the beating the Seahawks are putting on the Raiders through the early goings. Despite a disturbing plethora of injuries and despite Pete Carroll having to suit up injured players because there were more than 8 inactive players on the roster, the Seahawks were looking like the team so many had expected to see in 2014. As the rain falls over the crowd at CenturyLink, people begin striking up conversations and soon, the party atmosphere was in the air.

At the half, they fired up the old highlight reel of Big Walt escorting former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker 20 yards downfield in the NFC Championship Game back in '05. You gotta love offensive linemen highlights, especially ones from the 90's. Unfortunately, they didn't have those stock footage clips of Walter pushing around escalade's in his backyard. Steve Raible MC's as Paul Allen and the Seahawks decide to now bless the Ring of Honor (as well as the late, great Owen Hart) with blue blazer's! Tez, Easley, Krieg, they're all there with umbrella's alongside the Jones family. The only missing member is Chuck Knox, of course. RIP Coach. Big Walt gets his last hoorah in Seattle, but if I'm being honest I'd prefer that they did Ring of Honor inductions before game's. Squeezed in to the 13 minutes allotted for half time always makes it feel like the ceremony is rushed. Still, it was nice to see Walter get his day in the sun, even if it rained.

And when it rained, it poured on this cold November afternoon in Seattle. It was a bit too soon for the party atmosphere that had set in with the Seahawks ahead 24-3 at the half, having just inducted one of their all-time great's into their Ring of Honor. The Oakland Raiders had shown up in Seattle on this day, and they came to play. Despite the nightmare scenario for them to start the game, they managed to roll with the punches. Derek Carr begins to settle down and start making some throws. He suddenly doesn't look like a rookie at the CLink anymore. The Seahawks had acknowledged before the game that they had learned from the Tampa Bay game from last season. They knew they needed to jump out in front of a winless team now.

This time, they had jumped out in front, but they took their foot off the gas too soon. As well and improved as the Raiders were, the Seahawks were equally unimpressive on offense. They sputtered constantly, as Hustle Wilson had one of his worst days of his still-young career. His throws just weren't on target, but that's bound to happen to the man made of flesh and blood. Many will speculate what led to #3's struggles, but I'm willing to put it in the past and hope that if anyone will get things straightened out, it's Russell.

With Wilson struggling, Marshawn was needed to pick up some of the slack. Beast Mode's always ready to ride and against his hometown team, you know he was ready for action. Before the first snap on offense, Lynch went out with his helmet tucked under his arm and shook hands with a few members of the Raiders. A guy sitting next to us even started ranting about how he was done with Marshawn and his antics. I told him that for all we know they could be really good friends or that being a good sportsman should never be looked at as a bad thing. I asked this man how he could possibly be done with a man who helped bring his city a Super Bowl as well as authoring the Beast Quake for our viewing pleasure? He had a hard time coming up with an answer.

Marshawn answered the bell, as he almost always does. Special Teams usually answer the bell for the Seahawks also, but in this one like in St. Louis before it, they failed to get to their feet before the ten count. A Jon Ryan punt gets blocked and squirts around on the turf for a second before Oakland picks it up and takes it in for a score. Ryan appears to be injured at one point during the game, but keeps on punting. His punts are obviously off for the rest of the game. Even Jon Ryan is human, sometimes.

Oakland scores again, and Seahawks fans are rubbing their eyes to make sure their mind isn't playing tricks on them. It's not, it's only 24-17 at this point and the momentum appears to have shifted over to the Raiders sideline. Steve and I are stunned as well, and can only take solace in the fact that the Rams are making it interesting in San Francisco against the 'Niners. More importantly though, the Seahawks must take care of their own business before worrying about anyone else's. Our attention shifts back to the game.

The Seahawks continue to be out of synch on offense, as the rain intensifies. Luckily, lady luck was in Russell's corner on this day. He got away with two picks and one of them probably would have been a pick six had the defender made the play. Russell managed to escape major damage though, as he so often seems to do. However, the defense that had played so well in the first half, was now struggling to hold their own because the Seahawks offense could not sustain their drives. With time winding down and the score at 30-17, Oakland's Mychal Rivera scores his second touchdown of the game. It's 30-24 now and the Raiders have a shot at recovering an onside kick and maybe leaving Seattle with a miracle victory.

The amount of time in between the extra point and onside kick attempt made you feel like you were at the end of an NBA game. After what seemed like the 5th attempt by Janikowski, he finally gets it off without any whistles. The ball floats up in the air for what seems like an eternity and then falls to the waiting hands of Cooper Helfet. Who drops it. I can't believe my eyes, and think that I might get sick if the Oakland Raiders land on it first. In to the pile of bodies dives Jermaine Kearse, the special teams ace for the day after forcing a fumble that was recovered by Seattle and diving on the onside kick after Helfet muffed it. The Seahawks break out their victory formation and breath a sigh of relief knowing that they dodged a potential bullet against a winless team. With a gameday roster littered with injuries and fresh new faces trying to adapt, it was a miracle that they even won at all!

Steve and I's first game sitting together had ended with a W. He immediately heads to catch the Sounder train back home. As the rain continues to fall, I make my way out of the stadium and back out on to the streets. I walk back towards Temple, as two guys dressed as gorilla's run around and mess around with the fans. There's a street performer playing the drums who's still banging away at them drums despite the constant downpour. I get back to Temple to collect my bag and the good day gets better as Jordan is around, having a drink with some friends.


It had been a while, and after sharing such an amazing journey last year, we talked about the lessons we were now learning this year. We agreed that it was humbling, but that maybe in the long run that would be for the best. We also agreed that it could only be a good thing that all of the younger guys on the roster were getting a chance to play in games that actually mattered. Some of the results had even been promising. This could only serve to benefit the Seahawks in the long run.

After a few beers, I headed back to the airport to catch my flight home. The Seahawks had pieced together their second consecutive win, after having lost two in a row for the first time since October of 2012. That's the funny thing about winning. It truly is the magic elixir. It's just like how in life it seems that sometimes all it takes to get on a bit of a roll is for one thing to happen positively. Then, the rest of the dominoes almost always seem to fall into place. After losing their collective way for a moment earlier in the season, the Seahawks were now on their way toward finding themselves.

Sometimes when circumstances force us to question things, it can lead to the most amazing self-discovery. The Seahawks were learning more and more about themselves every week, as each team provided tough questions for the 'Hawks. Similarly, I was learning a lot about life, and myself, as a result of the Seahawks recent struggles. In a sense, my fate is tied to the success of this team. No one wants to read about a guy who goes to every game if they don't win it all. I had already witnessed them accomplish that feat, but accomplishing it again would be the toughest feat of all.

On my flight back home, I had chosen seat row 40, in honor of Derrick Coleman being on the Injured Reserve. When I got to my seat, there was a deaf gentleman sitting directly behind my seat. He and his buddies who were also deaf, had Seahawks shirts on and apparently had just gone to the game. I thought of what a coincidence it was that they would be sitting in that row just behind Row 40. It was like they were meant to be there. A sign that amazing things do happen all the time, to awesome people. Things weren't exactly following the script, but that's life for you. I had already grown used to the fact that things probably weren't going to go as planned this year.

Still, I was okay with that. Margaret, Steve, and my lady Laura had taught me that there's plenty of people out there who believe in me and want to see me succeed. Just like the Seahawks, I knew that we had each other's back. Speaking of back's, my flight home was a rough one after the cyst on my back from last season appeared to be aggravated. That's what happens when you get stuck in the middle of the row. Much like most of the Seahawks, my name could also be added to the injury list. I made it back to New York City just glad to be back and to be back with a W. As I went back to work to start the week, a sense of renewed optimism was prevalent. The next step would be further solidifying that optimism, and watching it blossom into success. I counted my blessings, thanked my lucky stars, and turned the page to the next chapter while wondering, "what's next?"

Friday, October 31, 2014

Third time's a charm

Despite a hard-luck loss in St. Louis, there was still hope yet for our beloved Seattle Seahawks.  Sure, there were people jumping off the bandwagon by the nano second, but maybe that wasn't the worst thing at this point in time.  This wasn't the time for finger pointing, placing blame, or making excuses.  This was a time to discover the type of grit, perseverance, and resiliency that lie inside the team and it's fans alike.  As the media spun it's rumors to generate clicks and revenue, rather than actually work and report, the team simply went back to work.  As the team attempted to return to their core beliefs, I decided to try and do the same.

Part of what made the journey of last season so great was the way it started.  My lady and I made a 12 hour trek, both ways, from Chinatown to Charlotte.  It wasn't comfortable, it's a pretty dreary experience in fact, but we had each other and we were alright.  It was very similar to how the Seahawks/Panthers game played out as well.  It wasn't pretty, but it was a gritty performance in a tough environment and it was a dreaded 10 AM start as well.  The sun was beating down on us from above, and I'm sure the players on the field must have been absolutely gassed.  Still, they prevailed, and it helped spark the greatest season in team history.

Not only was the journey interesting, but the people we met and got to spend time with were as well.  The night before the game, Seahawks fans united at a bar downtown and absolutely packed the place full of college navy and action green.  It was then that I knew that the 12th Man was going to be a force to be reckoned with the entire season.  The passion, the energy, the generosity, and that feeling of family were on full display.  Those feelings, those emotions, would last all season and made the Seahawks first championship run even more amazing to witness.  While those feelings hadn't vanished entirely so far this season, they were definitely slightly more subdued.

I wanted to recapture those feelings, reconnect with that energy and commitment.  If I was being honest with myself, I wasn't grinding it out either.  I didn't have a job for a while, wasn't visiting my family enough or spending enough time with my girlfriend, and had fallen in a little bit of a hole.  I had rested on my laurels and this is where it had gotten me.  Much like the team though at 3-3, it wasn't something I couldn't dig myself out of.  And despite the loss the week prior in St. Louis, things appeared to be on the upswing.

Now wasn't the time for self-doubt.  It was time to work harder than I had ever in my life before, and continue to keep grinding it out with the hope and belief that good things would happen.  Not only do you have to believe in something in life in order to achieve or attain it, but you have to work hard at it as well. You have to earn it.  You have to earn everything.  That was the major lesson I took away from 2013.  Now was the time to start applying it to life's newest challenges.

What better way to get back at it, then by retracing the footsteps of previous success.  I ordered my bus tickets as soon as I could afford them, with the feeling that last season's great run of luck started with a bus ride to Charlotte.  The ride wouldn't be pretty, but it didn't need to be, it just had to get me there.   I had been through it before and I knew that I was up to the task to handle it, especially after a 22 hour bus ride to St. Louis the week prior.  The only difference this year was that Laura wouldn't be able to attend.  It wouldn't be easy without her, but no one ever said that repeating would be easy.

The work week at the pickle stand, which I'm grateful just to even have at this point, breezed by and before I knew it, it was time to get on that Chinatown bus.  I had seen my mother and my sister earlier in the week and I even got to spend some time with Laura before making the trip south.  I was feeling good about getting back to the basics and the core beliefs that made my who I am.  Despite the ominous mural with a burning bas directly behind me, I boarded that bus with no fear.  A 12 hour bus ride is grueling for sure, but I could already see the light at the end of the tunnel.  That light, was a Seahawks victory and the first step in getting things back on track in 2014.

I couldn't sleep at all during the overnight bus ride, not for the lack of trying, but because the woman next to me has fallen asleep on me with her elbow digging into my ribcage.  She's out like a lamp though, like a jobber after a 'Million Dollar Dream' from Ted DiBiase.  Luckily, I've got my Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Outkast tunes cranking, as I further attempted to recommit to my roots.  A lot of thoughts tend to run through your head when you're awake and uncomfortable for 12 hours on a bus where you can only hope that your driver got enough sleep the night before.  Which each wild turn, or with each bump that sends the bus slightly off the ground, you start to think about the things that are truly important, to you and in life in general.

After hours of contemplating the past and attempting to prepare for the future, my feet finally touched land in Charlotte.  Those feet have a slight alteration from earlier in the season.  Gone were the new blue wing-tipped shoes with lime green laces, and back in their rightful place were the "Beast Modes" that I had worn to every game the year before.  Much like Darrell Bevell and the rest of the Seahawks, I knew that it was time to feed the beast and rediscover the man who had helped get me to the promised land, quite literally in both cases.  Like Marshawn himself, the 24's still look smooth, sharp, and unique but with a little bit of mileage on them.  They've both been through it all, gone through the mud, been to hell and back and come out the warrior champions that they are.

It was all the southern comfort that I would need on this trip to the not so dirty South.  Charlotte's a very clean city, and even on the outskirts of town where the bus had dropped me off, locals were friendly and said hello despite the fact that I was draped in Seahawks gear.  After wandering around a few stores and a giant parking lot in search of a restroom, a car pulled up to my left.  It was Melissa and Steve, my partners in crime for the day.  Melissa grew up with Laura and has remained close ever since.  After staying with them last year and having a great time, as well as the 'Hawks pulling out the win, I knew that they had to be there to witness it again.

After saying our hello's and taking a minute to catch up, we head to the Southeastern Seahawkers tailgate in the parking lot of Draught Bar & Grill.  It's almost 9:30, but there is still a decent crowd of Seahawks fans who apparently have been there since 8!  Now this was the type of energy, commitment, and passion that was so prevalent last year.  It was a total night and day difference from the crowd at CenturyLink for the Cowboys game, where fans sat on their hands and couldn't be bothered to get up and make noise until it was 3rd down or worse, when it was too late.  Encouraged by the turnout, I began having some flashbacks of September 8th, 2013, the date the Seahawks kickstarted their Super Bowl run with a display of toughness and tenacity that was able to take down the Panthers, as well as the blistering sun.

I've got to hand it to the Southeastern Seahawkers, because they threw an excellent tailgate.  There was a food truck serving pizza, burgers, and other delicious fuel for the day.  The truck even had beer taps built in to it for easy access beer for the masses.  All of this was done by them, basically for free, since the $10 suggested donation went straight to charity anyway.  There's a legendary line from the movie 'Field of Dreams' with Kevin Costner, "if you build it, he will come."  These selfless heroes built it, and the 12th Man did not disappoint, they showed up in droves.  What started as a gathering of a few Seahawks fans had now turned into a full-on Seahawks pregame party.  12 flags are everywhere, and there's a guy with a Russell Wilson head cutout patrolling the area.

With spirits and morale high, Melissa, Steve, and I continue to make our way through the crowd to mingle with other Seahawks fans.  One of the things I love about these road game tailgates over the past 2 seasons now, is that many times the player's family members will frequent these events to.  I rarely approach them or talk to them at too much length out of respect for them and their families, but I just like that they feel comfortable enough around other Seahawks fans to attend, as well as that they have pride in the team and wearing the colors.  Despite usually leaving them to themselves, I couldn't help but strike up a conversation with Jermaine Kearse's grandmother.  After meeting her, I have no choice but to root for Jermaine to end up as one of the greatest Seahawks receivers of all-time.

She goes into detail about Jermaine as a child, and how his father handed him a football before Jermaine was even big enough to carry it.  His father continued to push him to try his hardest, and over the years, Jermaine's love for the game that his father taught him continued to grow.  Sadly, Jermaine's father passed away seven years ago.  It was then that Jermaine told himself that he would always play to make his father proud.  I tell her that I love the fact that Jermaine's a local hero that's now getting to live out his dreams in front of his family and friends on his hometown team.  I admire the fact that he was an undrafted free agent, and that he had to stick on the practice squad for a while before finally emerging onto the scene last year.  She makes sure to remind me that none of it would have been possible without Pete Carroll giving her grandson a chance.  We say our goodbyes, and I let her know that there's a repeat in the making, and that the perseverance these young men are displaying, including her grandson, will be rewarded with another championship.

I'm back with my original crew now, and as soon as Steve mentions the name PredatorHawk, there he is in full gear!  You can tell that he's pumped and excited for this game.  He's been kickin' it with some Panthers fans at their nearby tailgate, and even gets all of them to sign a shirt that he bought to support their group.  Bob's a standup guy like that and part of what makes him such a great ambassador of the Seahawks and Seahawks fans.  I look over for a second and can't believe me eyes!  There stands Ian Robert Smith, all the way from across the pond in England!  I go over and say hello, and he absolutely makes sure to remind me that the Argentines helped his beloved Manchester City win it all last season in the English Premier League.  Ian and I had spoken at the tailgate last year, and when he mentioned that he was a Manchester City fan, I let him know that I am half Argentine.  He had mentioned that he thought Aguero, Demichelis, and Zabaleta would help his lads win it all and I agreed that I thought they would.  It turns out he was right.

In retrospect, I should have asked him what it's like to have two of your favorite teams win championships in their respective sports.  And which one felt better?  Oh well, 'till next time good ole' Ian makes the trip over.  Not only big in stature, but in heart and team spirit as well, I can rest assured that this won't be Ian's last game.  After some hot dogs and a little more Yuengling, it's time to head to the stadium.  The Seahawks fans gathered in the parking lot begin their march to the nearby Bank of America Stadium.  Camera crews are present to capture the atmosphere and spirit of the moment, while Melissa, Steve, and I decide to make our way to our seats.  Our seats are separate, but I decide to head with them up to their's to try and find an empty seat so that we can all sit together. 

We get to our seats and immediately behind us are members of the Lockette family.  Earlier at the tailgate, Steve had gotten Ricardo's uncle a beer.  Ricardo's uncle is a really nice guy and was very grateful for Steve's gesture.  Just a few hours later, they would be sitting one row apart from one another.  The highly unlikely, and seemingly coincidental nature of it all had me thinking back to last year and how many amazing coincidences there were.  Maybe they weren't actually coincidences after all.  Maybe the universe did actually have a way of reaching out a hand and helping open a door whenever you least expected it, so long as you believe and work hard at something.  Regardless, as the game gets underway, my run in the Upper End Zone section comes to an end, as the entire area fills up.  I head towards my actual seat, and tell my friends that I'll see them at halftime.

I don't know why I ever tell anyone that I'll meet them at halftime.  I've done this about 5 times now at various stadiums, and I never actually leave my seat at the half.  I barely pay attention to any of the halftime attractions, but for some reason, I just don't want to miss any of the action when the game returns and the break between halves isn't long enough to walk to another section and make it back without missing something on the field.  That's besides the point though.  On my way towards my seat, I find a great vantage point of the field at around midfield.  A woman wearing a Panthers t-shirt cruises past me in her motorized scooter, with beer in hand.  The Carolina fans are ready for this one, and make no mistake about it, they realize the magnitude of this game for their team.  Both teams fan bases did, actually.  With Seattle at 3-3, a losing record would seem almost unfathomable for the defending Super Bowl champs.  As such, the Panthers stood 3-3-1, and needed to get their act together before digging themselves too deep of a hole.

From the onset, this game feels oddly familiar to the one played last season.  The sun is beating down on the 74,042 people in attendance, although not quite as hot as last year.  Still, if you've ever been down south, you know that the sun just shines a little brighter down there and can really get cooking.  Once again, I curse myself for not bringing any water.  In the early goings, things don't look so good for the Seahawks.  The offense is struggling to find it's rhythm and appears out of sync, while the defense is allowing just enough for the Panthers to sustain drives.  Tharold Simon drops a would-be interception when I get a tap on the shoulder.  It's Mike Flood and his son-in-law, Matt!

Interestingly enough, I had thought about asking Mike if he would be in attendance.  After all, it was there at the tailgate where a drunk man climbed a tree to place a Seahawks jersey a top of it, where I first met Mike.  As the VP of Community Outreach, Mike's been instrumental in me going to as many games as I have.  He's always treated me like a friend, not just some crazy fan, and he's helped me out whenever he's been able to including taking me and friends on tour's of the VMac.  His son-in-law is a giant of a man standing it at 6'10"!  We stand and watch as the Seahawks defense starts bending more and more, allowing first downs and gashing runs from Jonathan Stewart, the University of Oregon product who I was enamored with when coming out of the draft back in the day.

Despite things not looking too good, and another 12 men in the huddle penalty against the 'Hawks, the Seahawks defense holds on a crucial goal-line stand and limits the Panthers to just a field goal from Graham Gano.  It's 6-0, but it could be worse, and a 6 point deficit wasn't going to deter the Seahawks, despite what their current form suggested.  Still, the Seahawks needed to answer with something.  Mike and Matt head back to their seats, and we assure one another that while things were down at at the moment, we'd be the ones walking out smiling when it was all said and done.

I make my way to my seat as an usher tells me that I can't stand where I'm standing anymore.  I make my way to my seat and almost immediately, Paul Richardson injects some life into the team when they absolutely need it most.  With Richardson handling kickoffs while Bryan Walters healed up from a concussion he suffered in practice, #10 made sure to make a positive impression with his opportunity.  His 49 yard return not only gave the Seahawks excellent field position, but it showed what Richardson is capable of when he gets a head of steam in the open field.  The rookie out of Colorado sets the 'Hawks up at around midfield, but despite the tremendous field position, it's eventually Steven Hauschka trotting out for a 58 yarder!  Me and the rest of the Seahawks fans in my section (which there were quite a few of including the couple sitting next to me and the couple in front of me as well) can't believe that Pete is giving Hausch the chance from so deep, but it pays off as Steven drills it on a kick that would have been good from 65!

The game continued on with it's sloppy pace, as both teams refused to grab the game by the horns.  Turnovers and missed opportunities were the theme of the day, as both teams continuously left points on the field.  Both offenses were able to move the ball down the field somewhat effectively, but when it came time for points, both teams seemed allergic to scoring any.  Credit to both defenses for some opportunistic play at times, but this game could have been a shootout if the offenses had brought their A games.  The first half ends with Russell Wilson's possible go-ahead touchdown pass to Marshawn clanking off of the Beast's hands, up into the air, and into the waiting arms of Josh Norman for an interception.  It's a fitting way for the half to end, and the traveling 12th Man licks it's wounds like the black cats they were going up against.  As I expected, I think about meeting Melissa and Steve at the half, but decide against it because I didn't want to miss any of the action.

Steven Hauschka adds another field goal, as the Seahawks tie it at 6.  Funny enough, it's at this point I realize that the Seahawks are wearing their Wolf Grey's.  I think to myself, that's funny, they just wore them last week.  Now, my girlfriend will tell you that I am color-blind and have been since I was a child.  After looking at my phone real quick, I realize that the team was wearing their wolf grey pants last week in St. Louis, with white jersey's.  Today, they were wearing the all wolf grey look.  I feel like an idiot, but who cares.

I remember that the Seahawks are undefeated when wearing wolf grey, and that gives me a little bit of comfort as the game heads down the stretch with seemingly neither team wanting to win it.  I'm flanked by Seahawks fans from Orlando to my left, and a Panthers fan who came to the game by himself to my right.  I was pretty lucky, as everyone was knowledgable about the game and knew exactly what was going on on the field.  That's not always a given at an NFL football game these days.  All of us have one thing in common though, we're all nervous wrecks and can't deal with the sight of our respective team giving up even an inch.  The woman in front of me turns to me and says "you're not from here are you?" to which I reply "nope, I'm from New York City!"  She looks at me in the eye and says "I thought so.  Welcome to the south" and turns to continue sort of watching the game.  I laugh, as it's the most southern thing that's ever happened to me.

With the Panthers facing 3rd and 8 from deep inside their own territory, it looks like the Seahawks defense will come up with another huge stop.  However, they would be left to rue a missed opportunity for a safety by Michael Bennett on Cam Newton just seconds earlier, as Newton heaves one up to Kelvin Benjamin deep down field.  As the ball floated through the air, time seemed to slow down.   I saw the trajectory, where Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were on the field, and just knew that somehow Benjamin was going to come down with this ball.  The crowd roars as Benjamin comes up from the turf holding the ball in the air to show his fans that he did what he gets paid to do.  It's a demoralizing blow for the Seahawks and their fans, and seems to fall in line with the way the season had gone up to that point.

However, the Seahawks defense might have bent, but they did not break.  Gano was forced to try and hit a 3rd field goal after a clutch sack of Cam Newton by Brandon Mebane derailed the Panthers drive.  Gano connected, but there was plenty of time on the clock, and at 9-6, the offense only needed to get into field goal range to try and take the game into overtime.  Hauschka nailed one from 58 on this same side of the field, so there was reason to believe that this game would at least go to OT.  Then, there was also the fact that Russell Wilson was due for a magical comeback, game winning drive after his previous efforts in San Diego and at home against Dallas fell short.  The man they said was too short, never got the chance in St. Louis after the league botched a fumble at the end of the game, so now was a perfect time to atone for the mistakes of games past.

Calm, cool, poised, and collected, Russell began to lead the Seahawks down the field on their attempted march toward victory.  Precise and accurate despite a shaky performance throughout, the man one of my best friend's Jazz calls 'Hustle Wilson' starts to work his magic.  The Seahawks are being cautious of the clock, using the no-huddle offense to keep the Panthers defense out on the field, not allowing for substitutions and allowing fatigue to set in when it mattered most.  Russell is straight surgical in his approach, and the rest of the Seahawks offense follows suit.  Kevin Norwood makes a great grab on a pass that got on him in a hurry, showing the great hands and clutch ability that he became known for while a member of the Crimson Tide.  Then, after some more heroic play by #3, he finds Luke Willson on a seam route down the middle of the field and connects for a touchdown, as Willson bulldozes his way into the endzone for 6!  The Seahawks fans around me and I go wild, as it feels like a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders.

At 13-9, the Panthers would get the ball back, but by this time their offense was sunk.  Team morale was low, and the offensive line couldn't prevent Bruce Irvin from taking down Cam twice and preserving the victory for Seattle.  Much like last season and the season before it, the Seahawks had come to Charlotte and beat the Panthers in a defensive battle.  A slugfest that definitely won't go down as one of the prettiest games in NFL history, but more importantly will go down as a Seahawks victory in the standings.  A badly needed victory that brought the Seahawks record to 4-3, and a victory that could possibly help positively effect a team that's had to deal with rumor mongers, malcontents, and everything in between.  The Seahawks had won it the way they won many games last year, ugly, and it was further proof that ugly can be beautiful.

I meet with my friends outside of the stadium and we talk about the game and their experience.  They enjoyed it, and walked around the stadium during the game checking out the contest from different vantage points.  We head back to their car when we bump into PredatorHawk!  He's on cloud nine and has lost his voice from all the yelling he was doing.  I can't help but love it.  Unfortunately, I receive a text message informing me that my 8:30 PM bus ride is now rescheduled to 6 PM.  If I missed the bus at 6, I could board the 11:30 PM bus so there was that consolation prize.  Melissa, Steve, and I decide to not worry about the bus and to have a few drinks and some food instead.

We're at a wing spot Downtown and I'm eating some Sriracha Honey Lime boneless wings when Mike Flood comes up to us from out of nowhere!  He's there with the whole family, and we talk and catch up and discuss the much needed win.  Great people usually surround themselves with equally great people, and that's the case with Mike and his family.  Mike even hands me a page from a coloring book that belongs to his grandson.  It has my name, the score, and Go Hawks on it.  I assure him that it'll go up on the refrigerator first thing when I get back home to New York City.

After watching the Cardinals comeback against the Eagles and the Saints shellacking of the Packers, we decide to head on over to the bus stop.  We were waiting in the parking lot when another hopeful passenger told us that the bus would be canceled and that the next one wouldn't leave until 4 PM the next day!   With work lined up the next day, I absolutely couldn't call out so my mind started spinning at the possibilities.  After attempting to call the bus depot with no luck for nearly half an hour, the young man finally received a call back from the offices in Chinatown!  The bus was in fact, on it's way!  No worries, it had just broken down and they thought they had the problem fixed!  Wait a minute, so you're telling me I'm getting on to a bus for 12 hours that just broke down?  Not fun, that's for sure.
Luckily though, I got the last seat on the bus!  Unluckily for me, it was literally the last seat in the bus, right next to the bathroom door that had no choice but to hit me repeatedly every time someone went in and out of the bathroom.  This meant no sleep for the next 12 hours, but hey, Russell Wilson himself says that there's no time to sleep.  He's obviously taken the bus from Chinatown to Charlotte and back.  I didn't care though, it was worth it.  24 hours of brutal, uncomfortable travel and a victory to show for it.

As we passed through the Holland Tunnel after cruising through North Carolina, Virginia, DC, and Jersey, that familiar feeling started to come back.  That feeling of "mission accomplished."  The feeling of knowing you put in the work and truly earned everything.  It had been missing for the past few weeks, but luckily the NFL season is a marathon and not a sprint.  As I finally got off of that bus, I was not tired, no quite the opposite in fact.  I was reinvigorated with the belief that the Seahawks were turning things around and about to go on a tear.  It might not be pretty every step of the way, but we were on the right path towards rediscovering our identity.  That championship mindset.  I boarded the subway and headed to work.  The grind wasn't over.  Not now, not never.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wolf Greyhound Blues

I finally thought I'd found what I was looking for.  The hunger, the passion, the unshakable belief that something good was always just right around the corner.  Believing in the universe coming up big when I needed it most and believing in the Seahawks always coming up big when we needed it most.  After tasting defeat unexpectedly at home against the Cowboys, I sat on my flight home (only my second flight back to NYC from Seattle after a loss) and thought about ways that I too, like the team, could get back to my roots and rediscover my identity.  Then, the idea came to me. I'd finally found it.

With funds low and the budget tight, something drastic had to be done.  That's when I thought about the possibility of taking the bus to St. Louis rather than taking a flight.  As I looked up tickets, they were actually pretty affordable, and midway through the week I had convinced myself that I would be taking a bus from Manhattan to Missouri.  At 22 hours each way, this would no doubt be the most grueling travel that I had faced since my Seahawk odyssey began in September of 2013.  Still, despite the seemingly daunting task, I was excited for an opportunity to see parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio that I hadn't seen before.  I'd even be getting a chance to see parts of Maryland, Indiana, and Missouri, so I was actually looking forward to the trip by the week's end.  Then, everything changed.

It was at Horman's Best Pickles stand that I first learned of the news regarding Percy Harvin's trade.  I'll never forget where I was or what I was doing on that day.  I'm sure a lot of people will feel that way on what was surely one of the most shocking days in Seahawks history.  In my case, I was working selling pickles on the corner of Carmine and the Avenue of Americas.  My lovely lady Laura was off to the right of the stand, having come to visit me after getting off from her job nearby.  Suddenly, a man and a woman stood before me and the first thing the guy says to me is "you heard about the trade, right?!"  Having been working, I wasn't able to check my phone for a while.  "No, what trade" I replied, as I suddenly wondered what trade it could be they were talking about and who exactly these people were.

"The Seahawks just traded Percy Harvin to the Jets!" the man shouts, as his girlfriend chimes in protesting his virtue.  I quickly grab my phone from my jeans pocket, and realize that I have 11 unread text messages.  I stood there perplexed, first at the news of the trade, and secondly at the thought of who these people were, and how they knew I was a Seahawks fan.  It was then that I realized that I was wearing my Seahawks t-shirt from Training Camp in 2013.  I pull up one of the text's from my buddy Greg to discover that Percy Harvin had indeed been traded to the New York Jets.  I wasn't ready for this.  Just days before a long haul across the country, I was caught completely by surprise and it took me a while to be able to reel it in at work and focus on the task at hand.

As news of altercations from last season involving Harvin began to spread, my mind could not comprehend what had happened.  I had so many questions that I didn't even know where to start to look for answers.  All I could do, was think of the positives.  Greg passed by the pickle stand that night, and the two of us spoke about how the money saved from Harvin's deal could potentially be used to lock up other stalwart's of the team for the future.  Perhaps even Marshawn Lynch. Still, we could not help but think of the assets that were lost, both draft picks and players, to make room for #11.  Ironically, he'd be heading to New York.  Surely, the New York media will not be as respectful of Mr. Harvin's personal space as he's been used to so far in his career in Minnesota and Seattle.

However, we both agreed that what was important was that the Seahawks were attempting to fix the problem.  Not only that, but both Pete Carroll and John Schneider had to check their ego's at the door in making such a move, so they must have some serious conviction behind their beliefs on what needed to happen for the betterment of the team.  There's probably countless teams in the league where that wouldn't happen.  Where the player in question would have remained a member of the team for far too long, destroying the locker room while the coaches continue to justify his large salary by funneling him the ball.  Not in Seattle.  Pete Carroll's #1 rule is to protect the team, and he and John Schneider practiced what they preach in shipping Percy off to East Rutherford.

There wasn't much time to let the news digest.  The following morning, it was time to head to the Port Authority in Manhattan to catch a 9 AM Greyhound bus from NYC to Baltimore.  From Baltimore, we'd then be heading to Pittsburgh, followed by stops in Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis before finally ending up in St. Louis a mere 22 hours after it all began.  Luckily I'd only be making the grueling trip once as I found a reasonable ticket for a flight back home after the game.  All I had to do was work a shift that Monday at the pickle stand and I'd be making back the money spent on a flight home, so it wasn't that bad.  I figured that my body would thank me later and that it's a marathon, not a race, and that I had to preserve myself whenever I could.

However, things nearly ended before they even started, as I just missed the C train that I was banking on taking straight to 42nd Street.  I was a little upset, but I tried not to let it get to me.  Soon, I heard a Jamaican woman tell her son that they were going to walk to the next stop, Bedford-Nostrand, to catch the express.  I realized that she was a genius, the Russell Wilson to my Paul Richardson if you will.  She was going to lead me to the promised land. And much like Wilson, she set me up with the perfect play, and like Richardson hopefully, I took it to the house with the jets!

I sprinted down Fulton Street towards the next stop which was just a few blocks away.  I reach the station as I start to run out of gas, and as I swipe my MetroCard I see that the A train that was going to save me at just the right time, was just pulling out of the station.  My bus was scheduled to leave at 9 and it was already 8 and I had missed two trains.  Self-doubt began to creep in for a second, as I even thought about leaving the station and taking a cab to 42nd Street instead. With the unpredictable nature of traffic in Manhattan, a cab was no sure thing either, so I was caught in no-man's land.

Thankfully for me, another A train was directly behind the one that had just left me in the dust.  I got on this train knowing that, barring a horrendous collapse from the MTA, I'd probably be getting to my bus on time and I had the Jamaican mother with great foresight to thank.  She showed me the way, and I followed, and I was rewarded.  Fortunately, there was no collapse from the usually unreliable MTA, and I made it to my bus' gate with a few minutes to spare actually.

I've got to say, there's something liberating about not traveling with any bags or luggage.  The only thing I had with me this time was my "portable briefcase", otherwise known as a black plastic bag with an iPad, all of my chargers, and some snacks in it.  I've traveled with less before, and that's when you truly feel liberated.  Still, what I was rolling with wasn't half bad.  To make things even better, every bus that I'd be taking was equipped with free WiFi and power outlets so that I wouldn't run out of juice while I wrote or talked with my girlfriend.  The ride to Baltimore from Manhattan is a quick one, relatively, and before I knew it I was transferring to a bus headed to Pittsburgh.

I'm still haunted by Super Bowl XL, although I must admit, 2013 went a long way in my healing process from those scars.  That doesn't mean I didn't utter some foul words under my breath when the bus driver said "next stop, Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers."  I wished that we were still cruising through the Pennsylvania countryside, which was pleasant and made me feel like I was back in Pullman for just a minute.  After about an hour layover in Pittsburgh, we re-boarded with our sights set on Ohio.  As we were leaving though, we drove past PNC Park and I was able to get a shot of what's known as one of the nicest ballparks in all of baseball.

I dose in and out of sleep, trying to time everything just perfectly, doing anything I possibly can to make this ride seem shorter than it really was.  There was no avoiding it though, this was the long haul.  Although, I must say, a 22 hour bus ride is infinitely more comfortable than even a 6 hour plane ride.  We head in to Columbus, Ohio, our next stop.  It's my first time in the great state of Ohio, and it's a brief trip, but hopefully I'll be back next season for the game against the Bengals, which will be played in Cincy.  The Buckeyes had just trounced Rutgers, so the Greyhound employees were all decked out in their scarlet red.  I watch the third quarter of the Notre Dame/Florida State game before having to re-board the bus.  Our next destination, Indianapolis, which meant that we were finally almost in St. Louis.

One of the great things about traveling by bus is the type of people that you meet.  Gone are the suits, laptops, and break-neck paced travelers who are merely trying to get from point a to point b, not embracing the true spirit of travel.  Replace those suits with tattered velour jumpsuits, the laptops with what would now be considered ancient DVD players that made the whole bus sound like it was going to blow up when it first turned on and tried to read the disc, and instead of a stream of people moving at lightyear speeds you've got people traveling 4 days via bus from North Carolina to California.  The stories you hear are a lot different too.  Business meetings?  The guy behind me just got out of prison after 10 years and just wants to start a tattoo shop with his new lady and settle down.  These are the things you hear when you take a bus across the United States.  Real, gritty stories from real, gritty people.

Grit is a term I associate with Indianapolis.  We roll in to the city, drab and desolate surrounded only by smokestacks, power plants, and factories.  Indianapolis is old-school Americana at it's finest.  A charming town with some pretty cool residents as well.  The Greyhound station is right near Lucas Oil Stadium, and my mind starts to flashback to the Seahawks tough loss there last season.  What a game that was.  Much like some of the games so far this season, it seemed that lady luck just wasn't in Seattle's corner, in fact, she was wearing a blue #12 jersey on that day.  Still, a beautiful stadium and a great city and I was happy to be back.  I can't wait to re-board the bus this time, because the Indy Greyhound stop smells horrendous.  There's salt of the earth, and then there's the smell of salty sweat.

We hop back on the bus with St. Louis now in our sights.  18 hours down, 4 to go.  There go those salt of the earth type people that you find on a Greyhound bus, and this time there was one sitting right next to me.  He seemed to be a cowboy of sorts, legit though, not a Cowboys fan.  After a while of trying to sleep, we both realize that we can't so we start talking to one another instead.  His name is Josh, he's a Bengals fan, and he's from Indiana.  I've got a soft-spot in my heart for the Bungies (no, that's not a typo, but what I liked to call them as a kid), so I immediately was captivated by this Indiana cowboy who just wanted to smoke a damn cigarette.  We talk for a couple of hours about football, life in Indiana and life in NYC, and being fans of two teams that used to be prime candidates for "laughingstock of the NFL" that had now suddenly morphed into potential candidates for "best of the NFL."

Our bus driver gets lost for a few minutes, but eventually, we make it to St. Louis at around 7 AM Central time.  The game doesn't start until 12, so I contact my old friend Bob aka the PredatorHawk to see if there's anyone tailgating at this ungodly time of day.  The Midwest Seahawkers know how to party, so of course, they're already setting up things just near the stadium.  It's about a mile walk from where I'm at so I part ways with my new buddy Josh, wish the Bengals the best of luck, and head towards the Edward Jones Dome.  On the way, I see a statue of a kangaroo, and the Scottrade Center, home of the St. Louis Blues.  They've got an awesome statue of Al MacInnis out front that puts most other bronze statues to shame.

I feel like I'm walking through downtown Atlanta in the Walking Dead.  The downtown streets are empty, mostly all blocked off due to a marathon.  I walk through the roads with no fear, as I spot the legendary Arch in the distance, as well as Busch stadium.  It's the 4th stadium I've seen so far on this trip across the country to the midwest.  PNC Park, Lucas Oil Stadium, Scottrade Center, and Busch Stadium, and I hadn't even gotten to the Edward Jones Dome.  As a sports enthusiast my entire life, it's pretty cool getting to see all of these new, nice parks scattered about.  I continue my peaceful walk to 7th Street and just north of the stadium.  The tailgate awaits!

I'm down by the stadium now and it all comes back to me.  Things start to look familiar from last season.  I make my way to the rundown parking lot where the tailgate is about to go down and who do I see?  PredatorHawk!  Bob is a great guy and my girlfriend and I had met him in Charlotte for the season opener last year.  Along the way Bob hooked it up with a ticket to the Titans game, let me crash at his hotel room between the Titans and Cardinals games when lord knows I wouldn't have been able to afford one, and genuinely did everything he could to help me conquer my quest.  I owe a lot of what I was able to accomplish to Bob, and I'm thankful that I was able to meet such a good person along my travels.

Bob's got the bar going, and he's churning out bloody mary's for the masses like it's his job.  Peter Flores is there too, helping set things up.  Also in attendance, is the dude from the 'Rams Rules' videos of infamy, but I can't quite remember his name.  Nice guy though, along with all of his buddies, who seem to be certain that the Rams will find a way to lose this game.  I tell them, not so fast!  There's something unsettling about this one for me as a Seahawks fan.  Confidence isn't too high around both camps, but Rams fans are visibly dejected.  Losing is taking it's toll on them.  Still, we cheers to a good game and they go on their way.  Shortly after, Bob feels a twinge in his side.  Is it the dreaded oblique strain that so many Seahawks dealt with last year?!  Whatever it was, Bob was looking too good, so I asked if he wanted me to step in and bartend instead.  After all, that's one of my callings in this life.

I mostly enjoyed bartending.  I love talking to people and getting to know new faces, as well as hearing the stories that people are more likely to tell once they've had a bit of alcohol.  I always truly enjoy serving people, and trying to make something that their senses might like.  It had been a few months though, but I figured it was like riding a bike.  Soon, hordes of people were coming up to the table asking for drinks, so I decided to improvise.  The "menu", if you could call it that, would consist of three drinks.  The Hauschka, the Jon Ryan, and the Beast Mode.  The Hauschka was created because a dude was actually wearing a Hauschka jersey and wanted a drink.  The Hauschka was a combination of House vodka and Arizona Cherry Lime Rickey, and folks said it was delicious!  The Jon Ryan consists of Tanqueray Gin, Arizona Mango Lime Rickey and Arizona Cherry Lime Rickey, another crowd pleaser.

As the Hauschka and Ryan went like hotcakes, we had to improvise with what we had.  Sometimes, improvisation can lead to the greatest creations or moments in the history of mankind.  Russell Wilson is a living testament to this idea.  I ask Jane, who was sitting by me kind of overseeing all of this while talking to her husband, if we have any more liquor. She points to a black plastic bag.  I reach in and grab a bottle of Bacardi 'Wolf Berry' and with the Seahawks slated to wear Wolf Grey's on the day, I figure that this will be perfect.  Thus, the 'Beast Mode' was born.

Some blueberry rum (infused with Wolf Berry, whatever that is), Arizona Mango Lime Rickey, and Orange Citrus Mountain Dew energy drink and we were set!  People were loving these Beast Modes, saying they tasted exactly like Skittles!  It was a success, and it was great to see everyone having a great time and enjoying themselves.  Being able to help was also a great feeling, and for the first time all year, that great vibe and harmoniousness of the 12th Man was all around me.  As I stood there bartending and talking to people, I told them of my travels.  People were blown away, and couldn't believe that I traveled 22 hours on busses to bartend in the back of a beat-up parking lot across the street from the Edward Jones Dome.  "You gotta be a team player!" was my line for the day.

Some people were so blown away by my story, that they insisted on "wanting to contribute" and started handing me $20's!  I couldn't believe what was happening, but before I knew it, I walked out of that parking lot with more money than when I started.  A considerable amount more.  It was unbelievable and I'll never forget Marcus, Rob, or Bob, just a few of the people who went above and beyond the call of duty as citizens of this universe and Seahawks fans, to try and help someone out.  We cleaned up the mess we had made, toasted to a great tailgate with some slices of pepperoni pizza topped on the fly with some pulled pork (it was as delicious as it sounds!), and headed towards the gates to see if the Seahawks could regain their confidence and get back in to the win column.  I was especially optimistic, after having seen a great deal of compassion from complete strangers who reached out to me and helped me in a time of need, even though they didn't even know the magnitude of what they had done.

I ditch my "portable briefcase" at the gate, and the security guard who's about to screen me can't help but laugh at the sight of a man carrying his entire life in his two hands.  Chargers, an iPad, keys, wallet, ID, everything was out for all to see.  I'm sure that I looked like I was in various stages of homelessness, but I simply didn't care.   Our group gets through security and we head to our seats.  As fate would have it, my ticket that I had purchased in Section 420 for only $10 was right next to the Midwest Seahawkers in Section 419!  I bypass going to my seat and sit with my fellow Diehard's instead.  I'll always be able to tell my grandchildren that I paid $10 for an NFL game during the height of Roger Goodell's money-making empire.

We get to our seats as the game gets underway.  The Seahawks defense starts with an impressive opening drive, for a change, and forces the Rams offense to go 3 and out.  It's just one drive, but with the way the defense has been playing as of late, it felt like much more.  Soon, the Seahawks offense is on the field to try and answer questions about how the offense will look without Percy Harvin.  The answer to that question, is a little bit more like last year's offense, as the 'Hawks march down the field on the back of a great catch and run by Doug Baldwin.  Much like last year though, the offense bogs down inside the red zone and has to settle for a field goal.  Still, it's a positive start to the game and that's all the 'Hawks are looking for after a week shrouded by negativity.

The positivity doesn't last long though, after the Seahawks special teams are caught napping on a kick return.  Cunningham takes the ball into Seahawks territory with ease down the right sideline, as it appears that everyone just thought he'd take a knee.  It's not long before Tre Mason gets in the end zone, the Rams go up 7-3, and section 419 starts to quiet down a bit.  419 literally has their backs up against the wall in this one, as we are in the last row of seats in the stadium!  I bang the wall behind me whenever I feel the Seahawks defense needs a little more encouragement.  It's the second game this season, along with the Washington game at FedEx Field, where the group I'm sitting with has had a wall, or chainlink fence, behind us.  When I look at how this season is unfolding, it makes sense.  Our backs are up against the wall.

Things get even uglier for Seattle, as Bennie Cunningham adds to the Seahawks misery with a 5 yard touchdown reception from the surprisingly effective Austin Davis.  To make matters even worse, after a Seahawks drive stalls out around midfield, Jon Ryan's punt is fielded on an over-the-shoulder grab by Steadman Bailey and taken to the house for a 90 yard punt return touchdown!  The entire Seahawks special teams unit gets drawn in by Tavon Austin's coy acting job, pretending to camp under the ball about to field the punt, meanwhile the ball is on the other side of the field and Steadman Bailey has one of the easiest touchdowns of his life.  Once again, the Rams special teams unit takes the Seahawks to school.  As you would expect though, Russell Wilson leads a drive for a field goal at the end of the half, showing signs of life and the fight that helped make this team Super Bowl champions just 8 months earlier.

With the score 21-6 at the half, our group in Section 419 is dumb-founded.  This is not what we were expecting.  I did not expect to travel 22 hours on a plethora of buses just to watch the Seahawks get annihilated by the struggling Rams.  Was this rock bottom?  We soldiered on to find out, as we always do. 

The Seahawks offense picks up right where they left off in the first half, and steadily progress down the field before scoring a touchdown on a 19 yard scramble by Russell Wilson.  He beats Ogletree to the edge, and the rest is history.  It is obvious that 'Hustle Wilson' means business, and that his razor-sharp focus will have the Seahawks in this game at the end of it.  With a multitude of injuries and the trade of Percy Harvin, guys like Cooper Helfet, Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood, Robert Turbin, and even Christine Michael start to get their opportunities.  All hands are now on deck.

The defense continues to stiffen, and the 'Hawks offense gets the ball back and once again #3 proceeds to tear the Rams defense apart.  Russell is absorbing some hits though, as the porous offensive line continues to struggle with keeping #3 upright.  As for Marshawn Lynch, he could have had a big day, but it seemed that any time he had a nice run for decent yardage, it was negated by a penalty.  It was just that kind of day for Beast.  It makes sense that the Rams were keyed in on Lynch after the Harvin trade.  With all the talk of "getting back to the basics" for Seattle, the Rams would be fools not to know that that meant a steady dosage of Marshawn.  They were ready though, and did a solid job of containing him for the most part.

Seattle didn't need Lynch on this day though, because Russell Wilson was doing everything.  He scrambles down the left sideline for a monster gain, one of the best run's I've ever seen him make in his young, 3 year career.  Later, Russ throws a perfectly placed pass to Cooper Helfet, who somehow manages to make an excellent grab while keeping both feet in bounds.  After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field is confirmed, and Cooper Helfet had his first career touchdown in the NFL.  A beautiful one at that.  The young man who is also Marshawn Lynch's roommate and considers Marshawn to be his best friend, had just made a remarkable catch to make the game 21-19.  The 'Hawks go for two, and nearly convert on a diving effort from Jermaine Kearse, but maybe Jermaine should have just let the pass float by because Robert Turbin was there waiting for the ball behind him, only to see it bounce off of Kearse's hands and off the turf for an incomplete pass.  The score reads 21-19, and I'll take it at this point after the way this one started.

Unfortunately, as has been the case too often this season, the defense was unable to stop the Rams.  Austin Davis continues to elude the Seahawks mostly invisible pass rush, and the Rams answer with a touchdown of their own from Davis to Kendricks.  Our crew in 419 takes it as a sucker punch to the gut that we saw coming from a mile away.  With 5:36 left in the game, and the Rams up 28-19, we were still optimistic that the 'Hawks could steal this game.  With Russell Wilson having been unstoppable since the end of the second quarter, the Seahawks were always going to have a chance.  Luckily, the Rams defense goes into prevent and looks more like swiss cheese than an NFL defense, and Russell continues to shred his divisional foes in an attempt to escape from Missouri with a W.  After a quick-strike drive gets the 'Hawks into scoring position, Russ finds Doug Baldwin, who continues his breakout game of 2014 by slipping past defenders and waltzing into the end zone for 6.  Is that Percy Harvin he's mocking, with his quick jab celebration?  We'll have to wait for Doug's playing days to be over, and for his autobiography to come out to find out the answer to that one.


The scoreboard now reads '28-26' with St. Louis on top, and 3 minutes and 18 seconds left to play in the ballgame.  Momentum was definitely firmly in the Seahawks corner, as the Rams started their drive knowing that they needed a first down or two to ice the game.  However, the Seahawks defense knew that as well, and on 3rd down Richard Sherman makes what appears to be a game saving play as he defends a pass into the slot from Davis.  What happened next, was the second worst thing to happen all day.  On 4th down, inside their own 25 yard line and up by 2, the Rams fake the punt and catch the Seahawks with their pants down on special teams for the 3rd time on the day.  The Rams pick up the first down and the Midwest Seahawkers dejectedly stand there with nothing to say.  Rams fans go insane, as it appears that their lowly squad had just gone toe to toe with the world champions and walked away victorious.

The rest of the game seemed a formality at this point, and the rookie officiating crew assigned to this game must have felt the same way.  With the Rams attempting to run out the clock, Bennie Cunningham picks up a first down that should end it.  However, he fumbles the ball before he hits the turf.  The ball rolls around on the ground and a mad dash to jump on top of it ensues.  A St. Louis player dives on the ball first, but the ball squirts out from under him and appears to fall into the waiting arms of Richard Sherman, or at least two other Seahawks defenders who were right behind him who also dove after the loose ball.  Section 419 perks up again, as it looks like the Seahawks might take a page out of their 2013 season and steal a road victory when it seemed most improbable.

However, the refs had somewhere to be after the game, as the ball is ruled having been recovered by the Rams, despite what everyone in the Edward Jones Dome had witnessed with their own eyes.  There is no review, no nothing.  Just a kneel down from Austin Davis and a Rams victory.  Russell Wilson's opportunity to win the game would never materialize on this day, and the Seahawks fans in attendance were left to rue what was a mysterious call at best, but probably one of the worst botchings of a fumble in NFL history.  I leave the arena absolutely furious, as are most Seahawks fans that had just witnessed that atrocity.  I didn't want to take anything away from St. Louis, who deserved credit for pulling out a tough victory, but the Seahawks were robbed of a chance to win it late, and that's all I ask for, is a chance.

The Midwest Seahawkers head back to our post on 7th Street and commiserate over our terrible luck.  Somehow, the Seahawks were now 3-3 and in the midst of a two game losing streak, something we hadn't experienced since October of 2012.  Still, we knew in our heart of heart's that it was well deserved, and as Bob, Peter, Jane, and I parted ways we knew that changes would have to be made if the Seahawks wanted to turn things around.  I say my goodbyes, assure everyone that the Seahawks are still going to win the Super Bowl, and sprint for the train to the airport on 6th and Washington.  I board the train with no time to spare, and am immediately greeted inside by two fellow dejected Seahawks fans.  We discuss what went wrong and whether or not the Seahawks could turn things around, which we all agreed that they could and would.

Seated just a few feet away from us was a woman wearing a Helfet jersey.  You don't see those too often, and usually in that case, it's a relative or friend of said rare name on jersey.  In this case, it was Cooper Helfet's mom.  We told her it was a pleasure to meet her, and congratulations on an excellent moment for her son and I'm sure her and all of his loved ones, too.  It was a beautiful grab, one that Sidney Rice is certainly proud of, the Seahawks toe-tapping king himself.  I'm playing, Doug, don't get upset.  You definitely earned that crown with the clutch nature of your toe-tappers last year, I'm sure Sid agrees.

Helfet's mother, Marj, is a down to earth person, who tells us that Luke Willson is a really good tight end also, and probably a better blocker than her son.  She was very honest about Cooper's abilities as a blocker, but pointed to the fact that her son is definitely more of a pass-catcher, as was evident by his play earlier in the day.  Before getting off at the airport, I let her know that the Seahawks are still going to win it all, and that Cooper's going to play a surprisingly large part in it.  He could be the red zone target Russell Wilson has been looking for since the injuries and eventual retirement of Sidney Rice.  I board my plane home truly wondering what's next?

So, despite a disappointing loss and a 3-3 record, there was still a lot to be upbeat about.  Much like the Seahawks, things started to come together a bit in St. Louis.  A bit of that magic from last season and 2012 had seemed to reappear.  I took a bus 22 hours to St. Louis just to watch the Seahawks lose, and the only thing I was left thinking was "maybe if I had taken the bus home also, they would have won?"  Much like the 'Hawks, I only went half way.  It was a great experience and left me know that I was capable of much more, much like the team must have felt after this game.  I know I know... it doesn't matter if I fly, bus, train, or walk it to a game, it has nothing to do with what happens on the field.  Still, that feeling of not giving it my absolute 120 percent of what I now remembered I was capable of, had me scrambling to buy my round-trip bus tickets from Chinatown to Charlotte.

It would be a return to where it all began last September.  So much has happened since then.  With the Seahawks season facing a major turning point, two 12 hour bus trips lie ahead.  Was St. Louis rock bottom? Or would 3-4, a losing record, be rock bottom instead?  Who knows yet?  Not me.  All I knew is that I was going to have to go back to my roots for a clue on what to do next.  All aboard the Chinatown bus.  Hope my driver got enough sleep last night.