Still, the belief that there would be a repeat was strong. Seahawks fans believed it, front office folks believed it, and I'm sure the players did too. There were catchy sayings like "rePete" and who wouldn't want to believe after having witnessed the beauty that was 2013. I especially believed, so much so that I sit here on this flight from Detroit to Seattle to continue to try and witness a Seahawks Super Bowl repeat. It's game day as a matter of fact, and the Seahawks are about to hook it up with the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals. In all likelihood, a loss here and the chances of another Seahawks Super Bowl were probably sunk.
Nobody said repeating was going to be easy though, and this is the reality that stares us in the face. However, one can't lose sight of the lessons learned along the journey. Even when things don't go your way, especially when they aren't going your way, it's important to find the silver linings. Life's beauty and it's meaning are evident in nearly everything we do. Sometimes, it's more amazing when we fall because then it sets up our opportunity to redeem ourselves. I've always relished the opportunity at redemption in this life because it isn't always guaranteed.
Despite redemption not being guaranteed, this was exactly the opportunity I was being afforded when the Seahawks traveled to the Midwest to take on their old AFC west foes, the Kansas City Chiefs. Just a few weeks earlier, I had traveled 22 hours on a Greyhound to St. Louis. The Seahawks were taking on the Rams and well, we all know how that ended. An impressive comeback attempt by Seattle that fell just a bit short. Jeff Fisher and the Rams opening up the bag of tricks to pull off the upset. After tasting the bitter taste of defeat I flew back home, a less strenuous 5 hour ride than the 22 hour trek to get there.
It may have been a more manageable trip home, but I couldn't help but feeling that I sold my self short. I could have saved even more money by bussing it home, but I didn't think I'd survive 22 additional hours on a Greyhound home. Especially after a loss, I thought the effects would have been devastating. When it was all said and done though, I was left with regret. Regret for not pushing myself to my limits. Regret for not finding out what I was truly capable of. I had doubted myself, and now I was full of regret. That's the ugly thing about self-doubt. It's a dangerous cycle to fall victim to, and it can be very tough to pull yourself out of it and start believing in yourself again.
Here was the opportunity though, knocking on my door. The Seahawks were traveling back to Missouri. I was still hurting financially, so the bus would be the only mode of transportation that I could afford. This time, I had no choice. Life was deciding for me. I'd be taking a series of busses from Manhattan to KC and there was nothing I could do about it. I embraced this opportunity knowing that not everyone gets a shot at a mulligan and this time, I was. Now hopefully the result of the game would be more pleasant.
What a difference a few days can make. One day you're enjoying an excellent trip with a friend, watching the Seahawks beat said's friend team into submission. A few days later and you're rushing from your job selling pickles on a New York City street corner just to catch a Megabus to Chicago. As I boarded that bus, I had literally no clue what to expect of this upcoming journey. All I knew was that I was ready for whatever life was going to throw at me.
You've got to follow your dreams in life, even if those dreams cross through Toledo. In fact, especially if they cross through Toledo! Penn State, Cleveland, and Chicago were the "bigger" stops along the way, but Toledo was the one I was most excited about. After years of watching the MAC on TV since childhood, I could not believe that I was at the home of the Blue Rockets. What can I say? I'm weird. The bus is pretty empty, so no need for people to be stuffed in together like a can of sardines.
This 17 hour trip to Chicago would have been your run of the mill bus ride to the Midwest, if not for one man. This man was sitting just two rows behind me. After hearing the man talk to those around him, I could tell that he was a person with a lot on his mind and with a lot to say. A storyteller if you will. Much of my life I've been considered a storyteller as well, so I took interest to the tales he was spinning for our fellow weary travelers.
It wasn't until I heard the man mention his aspirations as a writer that I turned around and took note. He's positive of the fact that he's written a great book, the only thing is he needs someone to publish it. I could definitely relate. I struck up a conversation with him and the rest was history. Within minutes of introducing myself, the man and I were deeply engaged in conversation. He tells me that his name is Castro, only it's not really Castro, that's just a pseudonym of created because of the nature of his business. Castro needs to transfer in Cleveland to a bus headed towards South Bend.
I ask if he's a Notre Dame fan making the trip to watch the Fighting Irish play Northwestern. He replies with a wry smile and a story about his life. Like myself, Castro was born and raised in Queens. Fate had brought us together for a reason, we believed, as we continued to share stories about life, ideas, and the things that made us tick as humans.
After giving me the background details of who he is, Castro finally tells me what's bringing him to South Bend. Cigars, and lots of them. As a matter of fact, he tells me that he hasn't had to work for 2 1/2 years. His routine consists of traveling to Paramus, New Jersey and picking up $366 dollars worth of cigars. He then goes to the biggest football venues of the week and proceeds to sell the cigars individually in the parking lot to partying tailgaters. Shady, sure. Illegal, yeah. However, you've gotta pay the bills and everything else about Castro's character screamed genuinely good human being.
He gets off in Cleveland and we agree to keep in touch. This chance encounter gives me hope that maybe this trip wouldn't be so grueling after all. If there were enough people like 'Castro' along the way, I'd actually enjoy myself rather than dread the hours lost along the way.
I eventually get to Chicago, and it's freezing out. The Windy City earned every bit of it's reputation, but reports were that it was even worse in Kansas City. My layover until my next bus is 12 hours, but I'm too broke to really do anything in Chicago. I wanted to try some alligator sausage per Greg's recommendation, but I stuck with a cream cheese bagel from Dunkin Donuts instead. Besides, after walking around the city for a bit and seeing all of the skyscraper's, I had had enough. It's like New York City and DC had a kid.
Next up was the bus to Kansas City. At first, I had planned on staying awake and writing. With nothing to look at outside though, the desolate non-stop rolling hills literally put me to sleep. I'm one of 10 people on the bus, and I have nearly the entire top deck of the bus to myself. When we arrive in Kansas City 12 hours later, I'm feeling refreshed after all of the sleep I was able to catch up on.
The first thing that greets me in KC is a power plant with plumes of smoke billowing out from it. It's a classic Americana image, and immediately reminds me of the trip to Indianapolis that Greg and I took last season for the game against the Colts. Unfortunately, Greg was unable to make it to KC this time, which hurt because I knew how badly he had wanted to check out one of the crowned jewel's of the midwest. We had hoped that this and the Chargers game would have been switched around when the schedule's were released, and that we'd be able to catch a game at Kaufmann Stadium. Little did we know what a season the Royals would end up having. That would have been one for the ages.
However, real life matters called and Greg would have to skip out. It was just me getting off at that makeshift bus stop on 3rd Street and Grand. It's my first time seeing snow for the year, as there's an inch or so of the white stuff accumulated on the ground below. I walk in to a random Midwestern diner asking how to get to Arrowhead Stadium. The friendly waitress playfully asks one of the patrons if she should serve me or not, considering my choice of attire. My lime green and navy beanie and matching Seahawks scarf making my allegiances known right from the get-go.
That's the thing about Kansas City though. She was only kidding, and ended up helping me find my way to the next bus stop over on 10th and Main. People in Kansas City might take loud and tough, but underneath it all they're warm and hospitable and want to make a good impression for their underrated city. It's 6:45 AM by the time I get on the bus to Arrowhead, and immediately a dude with dreads starts ragging on me because of my gear. "Hey man, we did you guys a favor! We took care of the Broncos for you in the Super Bowl", I said, as the man starts to laugh hysterically.
''That's my team, dude! I AM a Broncos fan", he retorts, as I start laughing just as hysterically. He says he'd rather not rehash the events of February 2nd, so being a gentleman, I oblige. He starts talking about how the Chiefs are going to take us down because of the power of Arrowhead, although he would love it if the Seahawks proved him wrong. It pains him to have to root for the Seahawks with those wounds still so fresh, but such is life as a fan in the NFL. Before I know it, I'm talking with the entire back of the bus about the game. They're confident in their Chiefs, and I admit that the prospect of Charles, Houston, and Smith having big games is something that worries me.
About an hour later and our bus pulls up to a gas station across from the Kansas City stadiums. I hop off the bus and directly in front of me stands Peter Flores, the head of the Midwest Seahawkers. We catch up for a minute before he asks "you ready to bartend?" I'm beyond thrilled at this point, as I had had a blast bartending at the tailgate prior to the Rams game. I had thought of the possibility of doing it again in KC, but didn't know if my services would be required. Luckily, they were. At one point, there are 15 Seahawks fans in this random gas station, and it's starting to look and feel like some of the road games from last season.
We hop in a white SUV and cross the road to enter the parking lot area. After the quickest tailgate setup in league history, we were up and rolling and ready to serve. Thank god for that propane tank I was parked next to, otherwise the 20 degree weather wouldn't have been fun, at all. I'm pouring drinks and chatting fans of both teams up. The atmosphere is fantastic, as KC's version of Blue Thunder swings by and starts jamming as Seahawks respond by dancing to their beats.
I was devouring some absolutely heavenly KC barbecue, when some familiar face peeked under the tent. It was Leif and James! I scream out a scream of pure happiness, as this mark's Leif's first game of the season. Hopefully this would help with rediscovering the magic of 2013. Leif brings an amazing positive energy to Seahawks games that can not be denied.
Not only was Leif there, but PredatorHawk made an appearance as well. I was making a drink when all of a sudden I got a request for a "Beast Mode." The Beast Mode was the drink of the day, as it had been in St. Louis just a few weeks earlier. This request was special though, as PredatorHawk was the one holding up the cup and I couldn't disappoint.
We continue pre-gaming and just a few minutes before kickoff, a man named Ben comes up to me and offers me an extra ticket. I had purchased a ticket for $20 the day earlier in Section 307, but this ticket was in section 108, which was where the Midwest Seahawkers would be sitting! Luck had smiled upon me once more. The group makes it's way to the stadium entrance, a massive tilt between two 6-3 teams waiting in the offing.
Once inside the stadium, it's apparent that the atmosphere is legit. I had heard the legends of Arrowhead, and they appeared to be real. This is what it was all about. These were the types of day that I lived for. Two great teams, a hostile environment, sprinkle in some great food and pregame antics, and you have a recipe for the perfect "football Sunday."
The game didn't get off to the perfect start, as Paul Richardson fumbles on the opening kickoff. Luckily, Jeron Johnson jumps on top of the ball and danger is averted. The opening drive sags however, and the Seahawks are forced to punt the ball away. It had been 29 games since the Seahawks defense allowed a touchdown on their opponent's opening drive, but that's exactly what happened on this day. Jamaal Charles glides into the end zone after Alex Smith pitches it to him on a perfectly executed option run to the right pylon. It was a crumby start, but no one said winning at Arrowhead was going to be easy.
What's important is that the Seahawks responded. Throughout the day in fact, they did a pretty good job of responding to adversity and to Kansas City scores. After Hustle Wilson marched the lads down the field, he finds Doug Baldwin in the end zone to tie the game at 7. Doug does an excellent job of keeping the play alive with Russell evading pressure, something that has been lacking from the Seahawks receiving core this season. This touchdown showed that this day would be no different from most for the Seahawks under Pete Carroll. The Seahawks were going to be in this game to the very end.
However, the loss of Brandon Mebane in the middle of defense coupled with the continued absence of linebacker Bobby Wagner meant that it was always going to be a long day for the Seahawks defense. Their efforts to contain the Chiefs rushing attack which was spearheaded by Charles, Davis, and Thomas did not go according to plan. Charles especially was effective at reaching the second level and creating missed tackles while picking up chunks of yardage for KC in the process. These critical losses for the Seattle defense would create problems for them all day long.
Still, the Seahawks resiliency was on full display. Despite allowing another Charles touchdown, they answer with a nice drive that continues to eat up yardage as well as clock. Unfortunately, this drive stalls out and the 'Hawks have to settle for a field goal from Hausch. It would be a prelude of things to come.
The Seahawks defense continued to fight on before the half, despite generally being gashed by the Chiefs running game and unable to get consistent pressure on official Seahawks-killer Alex Smith. It looks like the Chiefs are going to put up another score before the half, but Earl Thomas plays hero and forces a fumble from Travis Kelce at around midfield. It's an opportunity for the Seahawks to redeem themselves and get into the end zone before the half, which we know isn't always guaranteed in this life. However, once again the Seahawks offense just can't seem to make that final big play to get themselves into the end zone for 6. Hausch bangs home another gimme, and the Seahawks head to the half down 1 at 14-13.
Leif, James, and I agree that although the team left some points on the board, this was a pretty good start all things considered. Down 1 at the half in one of the league's toughest environments? We all agreed that we'd take it, and that we believed that Russell would lead the Seahawks to victory in the second half. The half is about to end, when our old friend Garret from Super Bowl weekend in New York City last season appears in the corner of my eye. We call him over and he joins are section of 40 or so screaming Seahawks fans.
The game continues on in the second half with Kansas City's offense picking up where they left off in the first. It's become apparent to us in 108 at this point that the 'Hawks just aren't going to be able to stop the Chiefs ground game with all of their injuries. We must outscore Kansas City in this second half if we want the win, the defense won't be able to held them back for too long. They're able to hold KC to a field goal, but the threat that the Chiefs are posing is definitely real.
This game marked a banner day for Leif and I. It was the first time we actually got to sit together during a game. We had been to countless games together, but never had the chance to sit in the same section. Just two seats apart now, we were finally getting the opportunity. Sitting next to him and James was as much fun as I've had cheering for the Seahawks since last season. We left it all out there in the stands on this day. Not only the three of us, but the rest of the Midwest Seahawkers made Seahawks fans all around the globe proud. Our voices were loud and constant. In fact, we rivaled the noise that Chiefs fans in our section were able to muster up.
I'm sure some are wondering, what about the crowd noise? Is it really louder than the CLink? I'd have to say, no. While I thought it was great that Chiefs fans rarely, if ever, sat down at all during the entire game, that was probably more due to the fact that it was 18 degrees and you might get frozen to your seat if you did try sitting down. Generally, noise wasn't an issue, unless it was 3rd or 4th down. When the CLink is really rocking, it's rocking on every single down. We'll need that kind of non-stop atmosphere for the Cardinals game, that's for sure.
This incredible game of back and forth, old school type football with a focus on the ground game continues to entertain. Once again, it's Earl Thomas saving the Seahawks defense' bacon, this time forcing a fumble by stripping the ball from Jamaal Charles as Charles fights to keep the play alive and get every yard possible. It's Longhorn on Longhorn crime in the Midwest, as Earl's play gives the Seahawks a jolt in the arm they greatly needed.
the Seahawks continue to drive well and pick up yardage, however, they can't seem to punch the ball into the end zone. It's 4th and goal from the Kansas City 2 yard line now, and Seattle is going to go for it. I love the call, but it ends unfavorably for Seattle with Doug Baldwin's plea for pass interference falling upon deaf zebra ears. Our section agrees that it probably was PI, but that the refs will never call it down there in that situation. Funny enough, the league issues an apology on the call just a few days later. Doug wasn't lying. It's all fitting though, as the game was being officiated by Seattle antihero Bill Leavy. He of Super Bowl XL infamy, of course.
And wouldn't you know it? Of course it would be ex-Chief Tony Moeaki who would be on the receiving end of a floater from Hustle in the back of the end zone. The Seahawks were now up 20-17, their first lead of the game. The moxie and perseverance they were showing was truly impressive. It was far from the perfect game on display, but the Seahawks didn't need perfection, just a win would do.
The Seahawks first lead of the game didn't last for long though. Unfortunately, the Chiefs did what they had been doing all day long, and gashed the Seahawks defense en route to an easy touchdown for Kniles Davis. That momentum swing seemed to take the air out of the defending Champions from Seattle. That, as well as the loss of Center Max Unger. We knew it was bad in 108 when the cart drove out on to the field. We didn't want to speculate on the severity of the injury, but we knew that Max was probably done for the day.
And wouldn't you know it, the loss of Unger would play a vital role in the ending of this game. It's not like the Seahawks didn't have a chance to get even. They continued to move the ball downfield, and Marshawn Lynch continued to be a magician on the field. His performance stood out to me as the best performance of any Seahawk on the day, his unbelievable balance and power making him almost impossible to bring down for KC defenders. Even Marshawn was playing hurt though, his balky back once again making things harder on the big fella than it had to be.
When the Seahawks faced another fourth down at around midfield, we knew that this would probably be the play of the day. We were calling for the Beast in 108, and we got our wish. Only, the outcome wasn't what we had imagined. Stuffed, Dontari Poe and company absolutely throttling JR Sweezy and the Seahawks O-Line. It was another massive defensive stand for the stifling Chiefs defense. We were down, but we weren't out. However, a comeback in the waning minutes of the game in such a tough environment would be extremely tough.
The Seahawks defense did it's part though, and held strong. The ball continued to NOT bounce our way though, as on the ensuing punt a bevy of Chiefs special teamers collaborate on pinning the Seahawks offense deep inside their own 5 yard line.
We're so used to seeing Russell lead this team through the improbable, that I still believed. After all, he had done it once before during his rookie season in Chicago. The 98 yard drive he engineered to force overtime is the stuff of Seahawks lore. That's the game I had on my mind as Russell started his newest comeback effort. This wasn't Chicago though, and it wasn't 2012. Instead, this one ended for Seattle on an incomplete pass to Paul Richardson. It was uneventful, and it hurt. It stung badly.
I tried to not let the defeat get to me it, but for some reason this one hurt so bad. Maybe it was the 33 hour travel just to get there, maybe it was the prospect of 33 hours back home with a fresh, tough loss on my mind. Whatever it was, this one hurt more than most. As people, we want to think that when we believe in something and work hard at it, that it'll work out for us. I was foolish in thinking that my travels would make a difference in the game's outcome, but I had known this all along.
The Midwest Seahawkers gathered in the parking lot before heading back to the hotel. Leif and James bid farewell, a drive back to Minneapolis staring them in the face. Garret and I hitched a ride with Peter and the Seahawkers, but the rest of what happens is a mystery to me. Jameson playing the part of great equalizer. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head to the bus station to catch my ride back home. I think it was Garret who helped get me to the bus station in one piece, only it was the wrong bus station!
I had hit rock bottom. My cab driver drops me off in a random hotel parking lot, right beside my bus home for the night. He tells me that all I have to do is go inside the hotel where the bus driver is staying and wait for him in the lobby. Unfortunately, that's not how things work, but it only cost me $6. A police officer and the hotel receptionist inform me that I'll have to walk to the bus station a little way's away instead. I was lost, the Seahawks had lost, and the trip home was looking brutal. I did the only thing I knew how and called my lady to hear her voice.
She worried for me. She could tell that I wasn't in a great situation. I'll never forget her telling me to get it together and go find my bus home! I'll never forget the worry in her voice and how it made me feel. I took my lady's advice and trekked it to the bus station, not before falling face first on a patch of grass that was missing a divot. I picked myself up, and carried on.
I finally did catch that bus. I was exhausted from the events of the past 3 days and passed out straight through until we made it back to Chicago. My layover wasn't quite this long this time, and as I boarded my noon Greyhound bus home to NYC, I thought that finally the end of this marathon journey was in sight.
I make my way on to the bus and there's a man with a mohawk and tattoos talking to himself. I figure it's no big deal, but then he stands and blocks the aisle way to say "I know you all hate me, please, someone punch me in the face!" The nervous bus riders look around at one another, wondering if they should do anything. He sits back down and everything appears to be okay. Our bus is about to depart, and the man stands once again with the same speech. I think of the 17 hours of travel ahead, and decide that I can't put up with it. I tell the bus driver about the man and she passes the message along to security. Security removes the man from the bus, as it turns out he's schizophrenic and his mother did not show up although she was supposed to be riding with him.
It was a sad turn of events, but it had to be done. A mother with her newborn child thanks me and suddenly everyone is no longer on edge. I look up at the bus number and laugh, #6660 of course. Bus #6660, 66 hours of travel...it was a truly hellacious trip. I spoke too soon though, as the front door to the bus breaks in Indiana. Luckily, we're at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, but we remain stranded waiting for a repairman for over 2 hours. The repairman finally comes and saves the day and we're on our way, but now I miss my connecting bus in Cleveland.
Luckily, I did, because it was there that I met Andre. Andre was a German traveler who was also traveling on bus #6660. He strikes up a conversation with me and we discuss a wide range of topics varying from Dirk Nowitzki, the universe, Kevin Willis, traveling, and the 1995 Houston Rockets. After I tell him of my Seahawks travels and the struggles they've encountered during their quest for a repeat, he reminds me that it's always harder to repeat than it is to win it the first time. He mentions that, as a big fan of basketball, he remembers the '95 Houston Rockets repeating despite a relatively unsuccessful regular season. They got in as a #6 seed and then proceeded to steamroll the 3, 2, and 1 seeds en route to a convincing finals victory against the Orlando Magic.
Andre inspired me, because I was starting to think that maybe it wasn't the Seahawks year. Maybe it wasn't meant to be and I had misread the tea leaves. Maybe it was time to go home and put this journey on hold and return to my family and my amazingly understanding girlfriend. Faithfully by Journey was playing on my headphones, and it struck a chord with me. It made me think of Laura and everything she had done for me. For the first time during my travels, I had thought about calling it quits. I won't lie.
Andre talked me back from that ledge, reminding me that life can still be beautiful even when you don't win. Even if the Seahawks didn't win, it was still a remarkable story that needed to be told. Life is full of up's and downs. I couldn't get too high, and I couldn't get too low. I had to bounce back and stay the course with the plan.
I finally made it back to New York City on Tuesday afternoon. I was down, but I wasn't out, just like the Seahawks. I had survived the toughest travel of this year and a half long journey to date, but it wasn't about to get any easier. The Cardinals were 9-1 and looking for blood. This season hadn't followed the script, at all, but it wasn't over yet, despite what the bandwagoners who were jumping overboard might think. History was littered with teams who struggled throughout the season, only to sneak into the playoffs, catch fire, and go on to win it all. Why not Seattle this year? Why not us? I headed straight to work after my bus arrived in Manhattan, and I was ready for the stretch run that would ultimately decide the fate of the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.