Saturday, December 20, 2014

Finding Beast Mode

Sometimes, events in life happen that foreshadow other events. That's definitely been the case on this wild two year journey spent following the Seahawks on their quest for glory, and it was definitely the case this past week. And sometimes in life, it's the smallest of messages that can mean so much. Finding the meaning in these things is one of life's greatest mysteries. Even when we think we've got it all figured out, we don't. It's impossible for us to completely figure out something as complex as life. We can try though.

After a resounding road victory in Philadelphia where our beloved Seahawks set a new franchise record for time of possession, it was time to keep that championship mindset and focus on the next opponent at hand. Seahawks players, coaches, and fans were salivating at the chance to end the 49ers season early, as well as potentially end the reign of terror of 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. 

This was Harbaugh's fourth season with San Francisco, and despite having at least made it to the NFC Championship his first three years by the bay, including 1 Super Bowl appearance, the word was that the 49ers organization was growing tired of his act. The childish tantrums on the sidelines, his constant attempts at working over the officials, his whole act had worn thin. He was in the opposite position of his nemesis, Pete Carroll. Carroll had already won a Super Bowl, was adored by throngs of Seahawks fans, and especially by the man who signs his paychecks, owner Paul Allen.

All of this had hinged on one play from earlier in the 2014 calender year. "The Tip", as it has become known as, set both teams in separate directions. It sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, where they would eventually crush Peyton Manning and the Broncos en route to their first ever Super Bowl, and it sent the 49ers tail spinning into disarray. Their downfall was now nearly complete, some 11 months later, just short of two whole years following an appearance in the Super Bowl. Not For Long (NFL) indeed.

Still, nothing could save a season like beating your rivals in their house while preserving your playoff hopes and potentially dashing their's. The Seahawks must remain on high alert, because the 49ers were a wounded animal with their back's up against the wall. There is nothing more dangerous, in football, and in life.

This was the match up that awaited me. The light at the end of the tunnel. A chance to bury the 49ers season. What could be better? 

I plowed through the work week. Suddenly, standing in the cold for 12 hours didn't seem as bad as it once did. I don't know if it was the propane heater keeping me warm, or if my body had genuinely adapted to being in the cold weather for long periods at a time. Either way, I was "doing what ya gotta do" when you really want something in life. For me, it was continuing to make it to every game and witnessing this 2014 version of the Seahawks do what the 2013 Seahawks had done 10 months prior.

All the days seem to blend together when I'm at work. You meet new, interesting people every day when you're working in the West Village in Manhattan at a pickle stand, but at the end of the day, the routine of serving the pickles becomes exactly that, a routine. It's not an increasingly difficult job either, other than withstanding the elements, so it can become quite routine and days do tend to blend.

One day did stand out among the others though, for a change. It was Friday, and my flight was scheduled to depart out of Newark the following day. Jazz had fronted me the cash to buy my flights earlier in the week, when tickets were at their cheapest. I was extremely grateful for that and looked forward to seeing him on Friday night so that I could pay him back what I owed him. I had our hangout on my mind throughout the day at work, until I walked up to the IFC Theater on the Avenue of the America's. IFC is right down the block from the pickle stand, and they let us use their restrooms in exchange for free pickles. Pickle bartering at it's finest.

I had done this a million times, and I'd do it a million times in the future. This time was different. As I walked to the door, I noticed a man who looked familiar standing outside. I continue past him, open the door, and ask the employee manning the entrance if I could use the restrooms. He obliges, and as I walk past, I mention to him and his partner that the man standing outside of the theater looks exactly like actor John Turturro. "That is John Turturro", the doorman replies, an obvious glimmer of excitement in his eyes. "I knew it!", I exclaimed, as I head down the stairs and into the bathroom.

When I came back upstairs, I thanked them for allowing me to use the restroom, and made my way back outside after offering them free pickles whenever they wanted for their services. It's back to the stinging cold weather, but Turturro is still standing in the same spot as I had left him a few minutes earlier. Being a fan of Turturro's since watching his performance in the film 'Quiz Show', I felt that I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to offer him some kind words.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Turturro. I'm a big fan of your work." I extended my hand for a handshake and Turturro's right hand meets me half way. He smiles, shaking my hand, and offers a simple thank you. I could tell, by the look in his eyes, that he appreciated the gesture and that he especially appreciated me keeping it brief, as I walked away immediately after. This wouldn't be the last person that I'd meet on the weekend who's work I had a deep appreciation for. In fact, the next person I'd meet would make John Turturro look like Pete Metzelaars if he were standing next to Tom Brady.

Meeting John Turturro was a thrill, and I felt that I handled it well and wasn't starstruck. I was proud of that fact, as I boarded my American Airlines flight to Dallas Fort Worth. I had never been to this airport before, and had never flown with American Airlines before either. It was a weekend of first's when it came to my flying "career", and this was only the beginning of it.

Soon, my layover was complete and I boarded my second flight of the day, from Dallas to Seattle. Gate A21 was littered with people wearing Seahawks jerseys, shirts, hats, and everything in between. The Seahawks were looking good again, and that meant that the entire state of Washington was behind them once again as well.

We make it to Seattle much earlier than expected, and as we are landing, the pilot instructs everyone to turn off all of their electronic devices. As we descend, we cut through an incredible layer of fog that doesn't end until our wheels touch the ground. We make a safe landing, which seemed nearly impossible with the conditions outside, we makes me appreciate the job that these pilots do. You almost take their expertise fore granted, but it's a thankless job that I would never be able to do.

Once in Seattle, I contact my host for the weekend, Bart. I first met Bart in Seattle last season before the second game of the season against the 'Niners. Fate had brought us together once again, or was it nostalgia? I decided to stay with Bart because of that first encounter, and wanted to honor it by hanging out with him again during "Niner week." Bart was a generous man, upon first meeting me and finding out about me attempting to go to every game he handed me 50 dollars and told me to hold on to it, because I was going to need it at some point. That gesture was the first of many that showed the true character of the legend of Bart. A retired medic from the Army, Bart would later give me a Marshawn Lynch home jersey for free, as well as giving my buddy Greg 100 dollars to go and by a Seahawks jersey. Greg ended up getting the Russell Wilson away jersey complete with Super Bowl patch.

I meet Bart and his sister, April, in the lobby of their hotel, the Alexis. Bart hands me a Rainier, while April hands me an apple. I let them know that this is the most Washingtonian thing I've ever done in my life. We head upstairs, I drop off my stuff, April heads to bed, and Bart and I make our way to the Owl N Thistle, Bart's preferred local watering hole of choice. I had been to "The Thistle" before, after the NFC Championship Game, and remember a man serving free hot dogs outside wearing a 'Barcade' T-shirt. Barcade was a bar in Brooklyn, with tons of old school arcade games to play, and I was taken aback by the fact that this man in Seattle was wearing such a shirt.

After a couple of drinks to take off the edge from flying, Bart and I decide to call it a night and head back to the hotel. We didn't want to overdo it the night before such a big game. Bart was particularly excited about the potential demise of Harbaugh's Niners, even suggesting that we purchase a casket and act as Pallbearer's after the game, hauling a casket filled with khaki's, a headset, and Niners memorabilia from the 80's and 90's out of CenturyLink once the game was complete. I was kicking myself for not thinking of such an idea earlier, but knew that odds were stadium security wouldn't let us follow through with such a vision anyway.

I woke up especially early to finish my chapter about the Eagles game, having never missed a write up before the next week's game. My streak stayed in tact, as I was able to complete it and post it before we head out at around 10 AM to get the day's festivities started. However, it starts off where we left off, as it's back to the Thistle for breakfast. As if by some sort of magic or sorcery, the game immediately changes from the Dolphins/Patriots matchup that no one is watching, to the Packers/Bills encounter that means so much to the Seattle Seahawks. With home field advantage still a legitimate possibility for Seattle, a loss by one of their rivals for the top spot, Green Bay, would mean that the Seahawks odds would increase exponentially. The crowd, still shaking off the cobwebs from their slumber, live and die with every play. With every Eddie Lacy scamper, the crowd moans, imploring the boys from Orchard Park to simply do better.

A major breakthrough comes as the group I'm with, Bart and April's friends, are finishing up their meals. As only fries on their plates remain, Marcus Thigpen returns a punt the distance, 75 yards, and the Bills go on top 7-3 in the first quarter. You've never seen Seahawks fans show the Bills so much love before, as the entire pub is showing Buffalo their support as Thigpen zooms down the sideline before cutting back across field and waltzing in for the score. A good feeling is in the air, and I turn to one of Bart's friends beside me, a Niners fan, to let him know that this doesn't bode well for the 49ers chances on the day.

The two games couldn't be more far apart, not only the thousands of miles separating the two cities but one game being a fierce division rivalry with the other being a rare non-conference meeting. Still, there was some sort of Seahawks magic, some form of energy, present in both cities. That could not be denied. It was beginning to feel a bit like last season. Not only were the Seahawks firing on all cylinders and dominating on defense like last season, but that magical, inescapable feeling that everything would turn up Seahawks was back as well.

From there, our group disbands until it's just Bart and I making our way towards Temple Billiards. It had become a ritual, much like the Inuits praying to the spirits of the animal's they had just killed, to descend upon Temple on game day. It was there that I met Bart over a year earlier, and it was there that we would be meeting Jordan, Todd, Dom, Eli and a host of other Seahawk diehards. Our weeks may have all been different, filled with unique experiences, but on Sunday's we were all the same.

You can tell right away that belief in this year's team are at an all-time high. Comparisons to last season are being thrown around like footballs during warm ups just a few short blocks away at CenturyLink Field. Meanwhile, in the background, the Buffalo Bills are continuing to do away with the Packers. People hoot and holler, and damn near lose their minds, as the Bills defense comes away with another interception of Rodgers. Bacarri Rambo, a candidate for the greatest name in life ever, could run for mayor of Seattle on this day, after getting his second interception helps secure a Buffalo upset. 

Enthusiasm is in the air, as is celebration. You can tell that this day is going to be special. Even more special than it already has been. Eli arrives, and we toast to our customary pregame ritual of a shot of Jameson. I'd be sitting with Eli in Section 124, this marking my third game in his seats. We met when Eli reached out to gift me a ticket to the season finale against the Rams last season. Then, I sat there for the game against the Broncos and actually ended up in an amazing photo of Kam Chancellor leaping to intercept a Peyton Manning pass intended for Wes Welker. Make no mistake about it, these were excellent seats!

We rush to our seats and before long, it's time for the raising of the 12th Man flag. As if the football gods were trying to appease me and only me, one of my all-time favorite athletes gets the call to raise the flag. It's John Olerud, and I absolutely lose my mind. "Johnny Ole" was and still is, my favorite baseball player of all-time. It stems back to when my father and I attended a Blue Jays/Yankees game at Yankee Stadium back in the '90's. I still remember my state of amazement, as I asked my father why the first basemen for Toronto was wearing a helmet on the field. He seemed to be just as amazed as I was, and had no answer for my probing question.

That moment made me a Blue Jays fan for life, and a John Olerud fan especially. He would end up playing not only for the local Seattle Mariners, but with the New York Mets as well, and he continued wearing that helmet out on to the field. I eventually learned the truth, that Olerud had had an aneurysm and he wore the helmet for protection. I'll always remember that helmet, his sweet stroke from the left side, and his vacuum cleaner of a glove that made every infielder he every played with look better than they probably were on defense. Oh, and did I mention that Olerud was a Coug, having played for Washington State University during his college days? Yet another reason for him to be my favorite baseball player of all-time. I'm sorry, Mickey Tettleton.

My state of pandemonium continues, as the raising of the 12th Man flag segues perfectly into the opening kickoff. The time we had all waited for was here. The CLink was in rare voice, and ready to witness the end of the 49ers reign of terror under Jim Harbaugh. Section 124, and the rest of the South End Zone, is a mad house, as Steven Hauschka kicks to a waiting Bruce Ellington, and the game is under way.

The rest, as they say, is history. It was yet another special day for the Seahawks in their home under the stewardship of Pete Carroll. Sure, the first half may not have been pretty, especially the horrendous play with 8 seconds left before the end of the first half, but in the end the Seahawks got the job done and that was all that mattered.

While the offense may not have put on a clinic by any stretch of the imagination, the defense certainly did. With 6 sacks on the day, it's pretty safe to say that Colin Kaepernick is glad he doesn't have to visit his personal house of horrors for at least a few months. Us Seahawks fans will miss the game, as he is still yet to help lead the Niners to victory in Seattle. He wasn't awful, not by his normal standard of play at the CLink, but he certainly wasn't good, under any stretch of the imagination. With every key stop on defense, the crowd loses it's collective mind even more. This is a moment that Seahawks were going to savor. It seemed like the Seahawks/49ers rivalry, the best rivalry in the game just a season prior, might already be banned from the shelves for being past it's sell date.

You know the rest. No need to pore over every single detail. Things got kind of hazy and the Seahawks took care of business and posted a 17-7 on the back of second half touchdowns from Marshawn and Paul Richardson aka PRich, who's touchdown was the first of his career! The defense continued it's amazing level of play, and the 12th Man in attendance got to go home happy. The feeling of celebration was in the air, along with other things, as we head to the exits. Before heading out, I see Leif, who also happened to be sitting in the South End Zone with his buddy, Kilt Man. It's back to Temple after the game, before heading to the airport for my flight home. 

Only a funny thing happened for the first time on this entire journey. I couldn't get my flight home! I'd have to wait another day, with Bart hooking it up with an amazing act of selflessness and generosity. Yet again, when things were looking bad, a good friend came through for me in the end. Unfortunately, I had left my iPad behind in Seattle as well, a gift from my lady, so my spirits were pretty low. Still, as I waited for flight home, which was now delayed, I couldn't help but think of all the positives from the weekend and yesterday especially. Just when I had come to acceptance with my lot in life, a familiar figure appeared in the Sea-Tac waiting area near my gate. 

Once I saw him, I immediately knew who it was. His face is one that I could pick out of a lineup, anywhere. I'm talking about Beast Mode, of course, Marshawn Lynch! He's wearing a blue hoodie, complete with blue sweat pants and a slick looking pair of silver headphones. Having met John Turturro earlier in the week and having not been starstruck, I must admit that this feeling was quite different. I tried to muster up something to say to the living legend, while still reminding myself not to blow up his spot because he's a private man who doesn't necessarily want the added attention. 

I approached him from his right, and worried for fear that he might think of me as an oncoming defender and stiff-arm like he did Tarell Brown just a day earlier. Luckily, he realizes my slight of frame in comparison to an NFL defender's, and doesn't take the opportunity to light me up like a pinata. 

"Marshawn, you're a living legend", is what I decide to go with as my intro to this chance encounter. "Thanks", is his simple reply. "I've been going to every game since last season, and I just know that you guys are going to win it all again!" He replies this time with a short "I hope so", as he continues forward behind his entourage of friends. Finally, I end it with "thank you for everything that you do", to which he replies "your welcome" and gives me a dap.

I decide that I don't want to bother him any more, and walk away in the other direction. I had mentioned earlier in the weekend to Todd that I one day wanted to have enough credibility to write a book about Marshawn, or Russell, and that I took encounters like my one with Russell Wilson on Huffington Post Live earlier in the season as a sign that I was on the right track. They may have been small, brief meetings, but they happened for a reason. Despite the missed flight and delays, this was most definitely the silver lining. I took this as a definite sign from the universe that I had to keep going on my mission, no matter how bleak things got. 

Through the struggles of this season, I had never let it break me down, and I had never let it make me quit. I wasn't about to start now. I was still here, still standing, perhaps not tall or proudly, but I was still standing like Spider Rico in the early rounds of a match that no one saw or cared about against Rocky Balboa. The more I thought about it, my story had a lot in common with Balboa's, except that the hero's, in this case the Seahawks, win it all the first time around.

I finally made it home, a day late and a bit downtrodden, despite the banner win. My lady saw me in the state I was in, and couldn't stand to see me so down, so she had an idea! She had remembered that after the Kansas City game, I had met a German man named Andre. Andre was doing some travelling of his own and it was clear to see that he was a wise man by way of life experiences. As we sat in a rundown Greyhound station in Cleveland, I told him of my travels around the country in chase of a Seahawks repete, and eventual threepete. As I told him how things stood, at 6-4 after a tough loss in Kansas City where I had traveled 66 hours by way of the bus just to watch the team lose, he told me not to give up and that the Seahawks sounded a lot like the 1995 Houston Rockets. The Rockets were expected to dominate on their way to a repeat of their 1994 championship over the Knicks, but they had failed to accomplish that all season long. However, they got hot late, made it to the playoffs as a 6 seed, and proceeded to steamroll Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals for their second consecutive NBA championship.

Not only did Andre leave me with hope as I left that beat up bus stop in the middle of Ohio, but he left me with a message. He handed me a note that a woman from Germany had written for him to read when he was at his absolute lowest point. He didn't want the message, so she told him to pass it along to someone who looked like they might one day need it. He chose me, and I carried that note home proudly back to New York City, all the while wondering what it could possibly say.

Now, standing on the A train on our way to work, Laura had remembered placing the note in my jacket pocket after I told her of it's origins. She told me to open it, so I removed the hair tie that was keeping it in tact and read what it said. 

'Du schaffst das schon!'
(You will make it!)

I look at Laura and smile. We share a natural laugh that emanates from our spirits. It's the type of laugh you have when you can't comprehend something, but simply know that whatever it is, it's pretty amazing. We continued on our way to work and I stopped worrying about the future and stopped worrying about the past. Like it said in 'Umi Says', "I ain't no perfect man, I'm just trying to do the best that I can, with what it is I have." What truly mattered was that the Seahawks were 10-4 and looked like the team we had all seen in MetLife Stadium 10 months earlier. Something special was brewing in Seattle, and it felt a little bit like deja vu.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Streets of Philadelphia

It's another typical day at 'the office, which in my case is the 'Horman's Best Pickles' stand on the corner of Carmine Street and 6th Avenue. Protestors march through the streets, while my partner and I sit huddled next to an old, rusty propane heater to keep warm through the sub-freezing temperatures. It's a far cry from the dreams of a perfect season ('til next year!), or even last year's magical ride, but it was reality. That reality stung like the bitter cold attacking my partner's face as if it were a thousand doctor's needles, his salt and peppered beard the only thing offering him protection in this world. That, and a van parked on the corner, which he calls home.

Homeless, but never downtrodden, this man is no bum. He's a good hearted man with good intentions, a gentle soul from Aruba who's fallen on tough times who still manages to hold a job and be a functioning member of society. There isn't a harsh bone in his body, and I gladly pass the time at work with him, huddled around that heater sharing the stories that have forged us into the people we are today.

As the protestors continue to march by, my mind shifts back to that with which it is comfortable with, the Seahawks. As I looked around, discouraged at the state the world is in, where getting lucky and striking it big on reality TV was considered success and where hard work and honesty had little to no place, I received a text message from my father. It's in reference to Earl Thomas and the love that he professes. My father thinks Earl is a little intense, but I assure him that #29 is only doing what comes naturally to him. That he's being himself, truly, 100%, and that that's all we can ask of one another in this life.

ET's evolution as player, leader, and person are one of the amazing things that we've all gotten to witness over the past few years. Once quiet, laid back, and reserved, the man was now on an all-or-nothing mission to show the world the power of love and how it relates not only to football, but to life. It's no secret that at this point in the season, having seemingly turned things around against Arizona and at Santa Clara, that Thomas credited that to the love and camaraderie that had returned to the Seahawks sideline after an intense team meeting where Thomas admittedly showed his teammates some tough love.

Conversely, the most fascinating subject on the offensive side of the ball for Seattle, was enigmatic running back Marshawn Lynch. Much like Thomas, Lynch leaves it all on the field, playing with a fire and passion that burns so deep, they might both one day burst into flames and make history as the first pair of teammates to ever spontaneously combust during an NFL game. That's at least the basis for an excellent touchdown dance.

Unlike Thomas, however, Lynch's personality had done a complete 180 since being in the NFL. Once an outgoing, seemingly happy individual unafraid of the media, Applebee's, or a microphone, years of poor treatment from the press had meant that Marshawn had receded into his shell like a cautious, scared turtle. His shell was a safe place where no one could butcher his words or make a joke of him. Still, the love for his teammates never died. In fact, it was always on display and seemingly grew stronger in the face of more intense media scrutiny.

After a visit to my mother and sister's house later in the week, I found myself feeling less and less like Earl, and more and more like Marshawn. I could feel exactly where Marshawn was coming from. Growing up, I was outgoing and wanted to be able to reach the masses at some point in my life. That was apparent from the age of 5, as my mother attempted to embarrass me like mother's often do, by showing my girlfriend and little sister pictures that I had drawn as a little boy. Some of the things that I had written as a child, made me realize that I was destined to be a writer, and no longer destined for the stardom that I sought after when I was a child.

Sitting in that living room with three of the most important people in my life, I realized that stardom and recognition now meant absolutely nothing to me. Like Marshawn, it was all about family and friends first. I mention my friends in the same breathe as my family because we've been so tight throughout life, and they've always been there for me, so they are my extended family.

I thought back for a minute to around the Super Bowl not even 12 months earlier, and realized how much I disliked doing interviews, disliked being on TV, and disliked being championed around as a human-interest story. Having never been down that road before, I respectfully obliged and took the whole process in stride. After turning down a couple of offers to appear on radio or television live at the Super Bowl because I simply wanted to be with my friends and fellow Seahawks fans who had lived last season's entire journey with me, I was an afterthought. The Super Bowl had come and gone, and the media was done with me because I wouldn't play by their rules. I was okay with this. I just wanted things to go back to normal. I just wanted to be myself again.

I simply didn't care though, and never will. The Seahawks were Super Bowl champions and that was what it was all about. That was one of the two things that truly mattered last season. Not the constant hyping of the '12th Man' by some of the '12th Man' themselves (some fans thinking they were larger than life figures so large that they were even bigger than the team), or cashing in on the Seahawks success like many fans were attempting to do in the process. What mattered was winning the Super Bowl and that's what will always be remembered throughout time.

The other thing that truly mattered last season that won't go down in the history books, was the love that it took to make it all possible. I've met some beautiful Seahawks fans along this journey, a lot of whom I call friend and always will for as long as I live. While the bandwagon continued to gain strength in numbers, or maybe just the numbers part, I had found remarkable luck in being able to connect with so many outstanding people. True leaders in this life, who were generous and had compassion for their fellow man and Seahawks fans. These were the people I would always remember through it all, as I attempted to block out the increasingly noisier bandwagon.

My apologies go out to those who might read this, for I've never been one for keeping my mind on track or going back and looking things over. When something feels right, it feels right, and that's the approach I've had over the past year and change. How I write, is how I speak. A series of stories broken up by tangents that often never get back on track to the intended story. I wish I was Rod Serling, speaking with clarity, succinctness, and a beautiful monologue, but I am what I am, and that is what I am. In my mind, I'm the Chris Gray of writers. Not the best, but always there. They say 80 percent of life is just showing up, if that's the case (I hope not, I hope there's more to life than that) than I'm Chris Gray and I'm okay with that.

I'm far from a perfect man. I should probably write things down more, and maybe I wouldn't forget all of the stories that make up my day to day life. However, that's not what life is all about. Life is to be experienced and felt. Lived. Not captured in a series of pictures or words, posted on the internet. I thought about quitting my writing prior to the season, but friends, family, and Seahawks fans alike encouraged me to keep on keepin' on. This same type of support might have been offered to Marshawn by his teammates, who didn't want to see the man retire after 2013's glory run, as he allegedly told teammates close to him that he would.

I thought back to a time where an old friend, Ryan, who was more like an older brother to me, played me a song by Mos Def. 'Umi Says' always left a lasting impression with me, as Ryan told me that it was one of the few songs that had ever made him cry. The song's uplifting message, with the artist's grandmother (Umi) imploring her talented grandson to "shine your light on the rest of the world, shine your light for the world to see", was enough to make one of the toughest men I'd ever met, cry. His candidness about it all made the song stick even more. That song, it's message, and the message from my friends, family, and supporters gave me enough juice to do it all again this season.

Flash-forward to the present, as I sit in Newark airport, waiting on a flight to Ft. Worth. I could have gotten a window seat, but I've always loved Marcus Trufant, so I go with an aisle seat in row 23 instead, naturally. My mind drifts to that word again, love. As the networks pushed their agenda's, the airport complies, three television's that surround me all blasting the same message. Images of protesters and unrest infiltrating everyone's core. Where was the love? I wondered long and hard about that.

As things stood, ours was a nation in turmoil. The good vibrations and feel-good nature of Thanksgiving quickly snuffed out by deaths in shopping malls on Black Friday, and ultimately erased from the people's subconscious by images on the ole' television of riots and protests. During such times, some might look at the Seattle Seahawks and their 2014 season as an afterthought, a mere distraction in the grand scheme of things. Funny enough, since I was a 13 year old boy, the opposite had always been the case for yours truly. The Seattle Seahawks were always one of the few things that I CAN focus on in this life. Call it a case of misplaced priorities, if you'd like.

Yet, the only way I could truly ignore the noise, whether it be Reverend Al Sharpton trotting out for one of his patented press conferences (always making sure that all of the attention is on him of course) or another "friend" (high school acquaintance, former co-worker, you know the type) on 'The Facebook' posting "articles" (this stuff is hardly journalism anymore, journalistic integrity died long ago) supporting his or her case for or against the police, was by escaping to the mythical realm of Seahawk. Only, that realm wasn't so "mythical" anymore. "Reality" was slowly becoming more and more like the land of make-believe portrayed on TV, while the Seahawks were holding true to their highly-set precedent of being one of the greatest, most truest things on this planet.

As I escaped to my Seahawks realm, with the trumpets from 'Spottieottiedopaliscious' ringing victoriously through only my left ear, (sorry babe, I ruined another pair of headphones again, the right earphone is officially finished) I took a page out of Happy Gilmore's book and went to my happy place.

Luckily, I didn't have to think too far back. Like a random internet user posting "throwback" pictures from one month prior, I slipped away to the weekend prior. The work week was finally done, and it was time for another Seattle Seahawks football game. After spanking the crumbling 49ers in their old building on Thanksgiving, it had been over a week since the Seahawks suited up. Momentum was on their side, and now their fatigued bodies had an opportunity to get some rest. Not that they really needed it.

Something amazing was in the midst of happening. The negativity of internet posters everywhere, demanding replacements for Luke Willson, Jordan Hill, and the lot after just 10 games, had been replaced by an amazing upswing in positivity. Suddenly, everyone was a believer again and Pete Carroll and company could do no wrong. Gone were the fabricated and manufactured tales of Marshawn Lynch's unhappiness and unruliness, Russell Wilson's inability to be the type of black man that teammates allegedly wanted, needed, and demanded, and also gone were the whispers among Seahawks fans who believed that Pete Carroll and John Schneider had lost their magic touch after an awful string of draft classes that failed to produce as the quality depth the team needed to step up.

With idiots weaseling their way off of the bandwagon in droves, only the truest of fans remained by the Seahawks side. As Marshawn would say, we found out really quick who's really ready to ride. Luckily, with freezing alive at work now in the rear-view mirror, there were a few brave souls that were ready to ride to Philadelphia. The city of Brotherly Love, which must be an ironic nickname, was next up on the radar.

Making the trip to the land of the cheese steak with me would be Michelle, who had made the trek to DC for the Redskins game earlier in the season, her boyfriend Brian, who's last name is Baldwin, which practically ensured a huge day from Douglas Freshington, and Jeff, who was making his first game of the season. Jeff had wanted to fly out to Seattle for the Giants game earlier in the year, but with his wedding looming in the future, it turned out that flying cross-country WASN'T a good idea. Fate had dictated that his first Seahawks game would be at Lincoln Financial instead of the CLink.

Also making the trip to Rocky Balboa's hometown, was Greg, a 2013 mainstay. Greg made the trip up to Philly to visit a friend over the weekend, and would be meeting us at the game. Like Leif and others, circumstances beyond anyone's control meant that Greg didn't get to check out as many games as he had the year prior. In mapping out the 2014 run at a repete, Kansas City, St. Louis, DC, Carolina, and this Philly game all looked like viable possibilities for Greg to be in attendance. As we all know, things weren't following the script as so often is the case in football and in life. To date, we had only gone to the Chargers game together in San Diego back in week 2. While we had a great time for sure, we both had hoped that things would have turned out differently.

This was the way the cookie was crumbling though, and there was nothing we could do about it except enjoy this week's game (1-0 every week! That championship mindset!) at hand, as well as hoping for more appearances by Greg in the future. We had seen great wins like the NFC Championship together, while also witnessing gut-wrenching losses like the aforementioned Chargers game, as well as the Colts game in Indy last year together. Win or lose, it was always a great time and a great experience when Greg was around. Not only that, but you could count on having some excellent local cuisine, too.

The week's roster was nearly completely, but it was missing a rather large piece. The secret weapon that I had mentioned last week after the Niners game was none other than, Jazz. Jazz and I, along with Greg, grew up rolling with the same circle of friends back in Jackson Heights, Queens. As we grew older, our friendship continued to grow. While we mostly had the same friends at first and hung out through association, through time we realized that we had more in common than mostly anyone else we knew. I wouldn't hesitate to call Jazz my best friend, although I have a catalog of friends whom I all consider excellent friends and people that I will cherish for as long as I live.

What made Jazz the secret weapon was the fact that he had been to four Seahawks games in his life, including the season opener against Green Bay back in September, and he was yet to witness a single loss. During last year's run, people I'd met started to call me the good luck charm. I knew that I wasn't that, and that that cheapened the value of what the players and coaches were doing out there on the field. It also cheapened the value of Jazz. The man was a perfect 4-0 in his lifetime at Seahawks games, and it wasn't just the record that was impressive, although that spoke for itself. No, what was most impressive about Jazz's undefeated streak was the nature of how the Seahawks won those games.

Ironically, it all began in the very same building that we would be standing in a few short hours. Lincoln Financial Field was the scene, some 9 years and 2 days earlier to be exact, and the night ended with an amazing thrashing of the Eagles on their home turf, 42-0! More on that later, but Jazz's streak continued last season as we witnessed the Seahawks demolish the Giants at MetLife, 23-0. Through two games, both dreaded east coast road games, Jazz was 2-0 with a point differential of +65. 65 points scored, 0 allowed, an amazing ratio! Absolutely unheard of, to be quite honest.

Having never witnessed the Seahawks allow a single point, his shutout streak came to an end in September, with the Seahawks allowing 16 points to our buddy Juan's beloved Green Bay Packers. However, the Seahawks still scored more points on the day and kept his undefeated streak alive. 4-0 was a mere formality, as Jazz, Michelle, Cole, and I made the short trip to DC to watch the 'Hawks dispatch the Redskins. Again, the Seahawks had allowed a few points, but still, Jazz was 4-0 with 128 points scored and 33 points allowed. With this type of record in tact, and with a massive tilt with the 9-3, division leading Philadelphia Eagles looming, it was imperative that Jazz be in attendance on this day.

Our crew for this game definitely was a motley one, and it appeared to be a lucky one as well. Jeff, Michelle, and Brian arrived at my place early Sunday morning, and the first order of business was getting tickets. While they were much pricier earlier in the week, starting at $185 just to get in to the joint, I assured everyone that things would look better closer to the game. Gradually, prices dropped to a more reasonable $150, but it wasn't until gameday that they fell off a cliff to $120. We had worried about finding 6 tickets together at an affordable rate, but we thought quickly and decided to split up the group into a group of 4 and a group of 2. As I stood at the Chase bank near my apartment ready to make a deposit, then head home to make the purchase, Greg messaged me from Philly that there was an unbeatable deal on Stubhub. He pulled the trigger and saved everyone a good amount of cash in the process. Greg has a way of coming through in the clutch like that.

With tickets in hand, I insist on snagging a parking pass without doing any research. It comes back to haunt me, as the parking pass is essentially a ripoff. I had been scammed two weeks in a row now, although this week's con had nothing on last week's. Both were my fault, ultimately, although I couldn't be too hard on myself after last week, as my heart was in the right place. I could never fault myself for wanting to trust in humanity, although some might say that I never should have trusted a Niner's fan to begin with. Lesson learned, fo sho.

We were on the road now, a proper Seahawks road trip underway. The trip through Jersey and into Philadelphia is pretty nondescript, quick, and harmless. As we steadily approach Philly, I regale the group with the tale of Jazzy and I's maiden voyage to the city of Brotherly Love from 9 years earlier. It goes something like this.

That night still remains one of the greatest sports nights of my life. Scratch that, one of the best nights of my life, period.

The Seahawks thrashed Philly, my friends and I got harassed and verbally abused by Eagles fans all throughout the buildup to the game in the parking lot and in the 1st quarter and then, everyone went home by halftime. It started snowing like crazy and at the half, they inducted Reggie White into the Eagles Hall of Fame. One of the drunk guys sitting next to our group said, while falling down the stairs as his friend tried helping him walk, "I'm sorry you had to see this Reggie." He pointed to the sky. After that, the 'Hawks rolled, Lofa and Dyson scored TD's, and the few Seahawks fans that used to travel to road games back then gathered to watch the 'Hawks abuse Philly.

I'm not kidding, literally the entire upper deck had cleared out. It's what a football game would feel like during Resident Evil or a zombie apocalypse. At one point, we weren't even watching the action on the field, we were just watching the snow fall all over the stadium, that's how trash the Eagles were on the field on that night. Mike McMahon and Ty Detmer at QB. Unbelievable how much can change in 9 years.

After the game, a woman sitting across from us notices the white T shirts made to look like Seahawks road jersey's that Jazzy had handmade. For some reason, Jazz loved Grant Wistrom, so that's who's name he had on the back. The woman revealed herself to be the mother of Seahawks practice squad running back Marquis Weeks' mother. She and her 2 other sons, Marquis' brothers, chatted us up on the train ride back to catch our Greyhound bus back home to New York City. She loved the shirts so much that she asked if Jazz could make one for Marquis. Our stop was up but I didn't want to leave the conversation, so I told my friends that we'd get off at the next stop. She was telling us about how nice Isaiah Kacyvenski's father was, and other random things. Then, we come to find out that there is no next stop, the train is just booking it to the last stop on the line and calling it quits for the night.

Keep in mind it's a blizzard outside by this point and now we're in the middle of the hood in Philly. One of Weeks' brothers tells us to watch out for a few of the guys on the train, they had a knife, and proceeded to show us his estimate of the size of the knife using his hands. Weeks' mother tried calling Greyhound and having them hold the bus for us, but they made no promises. We never got her that T shirt jersey in honor of her son, a regret that still sticks with me to this day.

Weeks' family had to head home, so now it was just my buddy Jazz, Norbert, and myself, along with a couple that were also somehow stranded. He saw my Seahawks jersey and started asking me a battery of questions ranging from who that woman was, who was the running back before Shaun Alexander, and a host of other questions that I can't remember over 9 years later. It turns out this man was the Seahawks Director of Marketing at the time, Bill Chapin. Bill was a very nice man, even calling two cabs and allowing my friends and I to get in the first one in order to try and catch our bus. Despite the blizzard and frigid conditions, our cab driver drove with the windows down, chain-smoking cigarettes as if his very life depended on it.

We didn't catch that bus, and actually we ended up having to sleep in a Greyhound bus station for the very first time in our lives. Still, I felt it was worth it, and it was the ultimate exclamation point to an epic night.

Flash forward 9 years and while the supporting cast had changed, Jazz and I still remained to brave the rough and tough Philadelphia crowd. We pull into the parking lot across the street from Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies and immediately take ourselves and our tailgating goods to lot K2, where we would be meeting an old friend. Two old friends, in fact.

First, we meet up with Bob aka PredatorHawk, who flew in to Newark International Airport earlier in the morning and made the quick drive over to Philly. Bob said that he absolutely knew he had to come to this one after watching the Seahawks lay a whooping on the Niners on Thanksgiving with his family. "They need me!", he says, to his understanding family. They know not to question matters of the heart when it comes to Bob and the Seahawks. If the man says the team needs me, then you bet they need him and you bet he'll be there supporting them loud and proud. His patented face paint still looks fantastic, despite having just applied it to his face a few minutes earlier at a local area McDonald's. Jeff is especially in awe of PredatorHawk, having seen and heard about him through tales of my travels, but never having gotten a chance to meet him in the flesh.

Our group of seven shares stories and swigs of Jameson, while pounding brews, Green Flash Road Warrior IPA being the brew of the day. Green Flash because of the lime green that's so prevalent in the Seahawks uniform, and Road Warrior because it summed up how we were feeling about the whole experience. I thought of it as perfectly fitting, and it was a no-brainer of a purchase as our road trip's unofficial official beer of choice.

With the clock ticking down towards game time, Greg finally made his much anticipated appearance, showing up within a moment's notice. Greg is wearing his Russell Wilson away jersey, complete with Super Bowl patch, that he was gifted by Bart after the NFC Championship game in January. Bart literally handed him a wad of cash, and told Greg to go get himself a real nice jersey. Greg didn't disappoint, and neither does his pristine jersey, a far cry from the t shirt's we wore to Lincoln Financial years earlier. Who knew, 9 years earlier, that the Seahawks would return to Philadelphia, this time as defending Super Bowl champions. Amazing what a little bit of time can do.

With our group now complete, we make our way in to the stadium, not before being heckled and cursed out by eager Eagles fans first, of course. For those who have never been to an Eagles game in Philadelphia, just imagine everything that you've heard about Philadelphia and Oakland as being true, and then some. To give you an indication of the type of vile smack talk that is on display in the resting place of the Liberty Bell, I dare not even utter some of the insults being lobbed in our direction. I can tell that some of the neophytes on this journey are taken a back, while it's standard for the course for rough and tumble New Yorkers like Jazz, Greg, and myself.

Finally, we make it through security. I normally don't talk about trips to the restrooms along this journey, but they bare repeating when there's literally a line for the urinals, as well as a line to urinate in the garbage can that's inside the men's room. A true display of Philadelphia and the persona that it embraces. As sick as it was, I have to admit that it was one of the funniest moments I've ever had on any of these trips. With that behind us, and after being called a bunch of hipsters, we finally make our way to our seats.

The only problem was, Jazz didn't make it to his seat by kickoff. In fact, Greg, Jeff, and I barely made it to our seats in time to catch the game's opening drive. Michelle was rooting for the Eagles, and at that point so was Brian by association, so they were seated elsewhere. Meanwhile, Bob was in his own single seat, surrounded by the enemy. As we waited for Jazz, nothing eventful happened to start the game. The Seahawks would have the ball first, and ultimately couldn't do anything with their possession.

The team's appeared to be sparring in an attempt to feel each other out, as Jon Ryan and Donnie Jones traded punts, while Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly looked to be feeling each other out. The Eagles, with their much talked about up-tempo offense, attempted to disrupt the Seahawks defense's substitutions and overall defensive rhythm. With the Seahawks defense playing at such a high level, maybe that wasn't such a bad idea.

Pete Carroll, on the other hand, was rather content with controlling the clock in an effort to keep the ball out of the Philadelphia offenses hands. Through the first few possessions, neither team was able to execute at the level they most definitely wanted to. Still, the Seahawks offense was wearing Philadelphia down, while the home team was stuck relying on Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Perhaps things would have been different with Nick Foles at the helm of the Eagles up-tempo offense, but unfortunately for them his fractured collarbone hadn't healed yet.

With Sanchez at QB, the Seahawks appeared to be daring him to beat them. He was getting nowhere in that earnest effort, until Jon Ryan fumbled a snap on a punt from deep inside Seahawks territory. With Jazz still missing from his seat, the Eagles punch it in for 6 and the extra point on a 1 yard bubble screen from Sanchez to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. With a 7-0 lead "against the run of play", Eagles fans in our section celebrate by taking out their lives frustrations out on the group of Seahawks fans seated around them. Us.

We take the abuse and realize that we had just gifted them 7 easy points. Luckily for us though, Jassmir came walking up the steps and eventually to his seat. The legend of Jazz, had arrived!

To be fair, I wasn't backing down from the Eagles fans in our section. Aside from one Eagles fan who was a pretty decent dude who knew his stuff, the rest were relentless in their verbal assaults towards my friends and I. Most of the hate was directed towards me, as I was sick and tired of being verbally abused by opposing fans. Hell, even Niners fans treated us better than this!

The beautiful thing about the Seahawks is that we knew the game was nowhere even close to being over at 7-0. Seahawks teams of yesteryear may have crumbled when faced with a similar situation, but not this one. Not this superbly group of men coached by a superb man.

As the first quarter draws to a close, I make my way to the restroom. Jazz comes with me as my bodyguard, as the Eagles fans behind us make sure to heckle this fact, calling Jazz my daddy and being in charge of my well-being. As we proceed to the bathroom, the game is turned on it's head. Jazz and I stop and watch a TV at concessions, as Hustle Wilson takes it in for 6 points from 26 yards out. it's a perfectly executed Read Option, and it's got Jazz and I screaming for joy from the concessions on our way to el bano. The score was now 7-7, and the Seahawks appeared to be accumulating some momentum.

As the Eagles got the ball back, one thing was clearly evident. They were having an absolutely miserable time trying to move the ball on the Seahawks defense. The Eagles fans on the other hand, continued to take out their frustrations on us. A man in a Trent Cole jersey three rows in front of us made sure to give us hell after every good play by the Seahawks defense. The man immediately to Jeff's right also made sure to tell us to "sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up" multiple times. We refused, myself especially, and we started begging Mark Sanchez to do something, anything, that resembled good quarterback play.

Unfortunately for Eagles fans, and the man behind us who told us to never stand because we were in Philadelphia, their offense was stuck in neutral. McCoy found it impossible to gain any sort of momentum against a ferocious Seattle front seven that was swarming to the ball all game long. After the team's traded empty possessions, the Seahawks made the most of their last possession before halftime, as Steven Hauschka drills a field goal from 44 yards out to give the Seahawks a 10-7 lead at the half. It wasn't the prettiest half of Seahawks football, but it didn't need to be, as the team still somehow led despite spotting the Eagles the game's first seven points.

We hit the restrooms as a team once again, to ensure our safety, and as the second half starts up we're once again out of our seats and navigating our way around Lincoln Financial. We look up at the TV's in the concession stands, as fans continue to buy beer and hot dogs in droves, and "Shady" McCoy puts the ball on the turf for a fumble! The Seahawks recover and once again Jazzy and I celebrate on our way back to our seats. Apparently, Jazz' good luck extended to the concessions area, as great things continued to happen for the Seahawks once we left our seats. A touchdown and a fumble recovery on both of our bathroom breaks had us thinking that maybe we should just watch the game from the corridor instead.

We decide against it and head back to our seats in time to witness a beautifully executed play by Seattle, that ends up in 6 points for the away side. With the ball at the Eagles 15 yard line, Hustle Wilson drops back out of Shotgun formation and slowly drifts towards the right side of the field. His eyes continue to stay down field, as the Eagles begin to swarm towards him. Meanwhile, Beast Mode slips out of the backfield on a wheel route and is absolutely unguarded in the flat on the left side of the field. Russell lobs the ball across his body, a perfect rainbow the lands in the waiting hands of #24. The rest is history, as Lynch breezes into the end zone, but not before giving a vicious stare down back at an Eagles defender who weakly attempts to take him down at the 1 yard line. It's a tough blow for the Eagles, as the 'Hawks seize a 17-7 lead with 14:12 to go in the third quarter.

Our group goes as wild as you can in Philadelphia, before the Eagles fans in our area make sure to let us know where we are and that any sort of Seahawksy behavior is strictly prohibited. The threats are now turning more violent in nature, and Jeff implores me to stop being so aggressive, because he wants to make it home in one piece. I ensure him that Eagles fans are all talk, no bite, and that we'll make it out alive in one piece because they'll be streaming for the exits early just like they had 9 years and 2 days earlier. Just like the fans in Santa Clara did just 10 days earlier.

However, it wasn't over just yet. The Eagles put together their best drive of the day, as Mark Sanchez and company actually look like they dangerous, quick-play-big-play offense that they were cracked up to be. I'm ragging on Sanchez especially hard, when all of a sudden he hits Zach Ertz in the left flat for 35 yards and a touchdown. It's a very nice play from Ertz, who hauls in the ball over the long arms of K.J. Wright, rumbling in for 6 despite Wright's efforts to prevent him. Just like that, it was 17-14 Seahawks with 12:16 to go in the third.

I feel bad for a second, because the Eagles fans absolutely torture us after the score. I had been running my mouth in an effort not to back down from the scum, and it had cost us, as they were relentless in their abuse after Ertz' score. I remained confident, however, and assured everyone that the Seahawks had this one in the bag. Luckily, our boys in college navy, action green, and wolf grey made me look like a genius on the ensuing possession.

Hustle continued to make big play after big play when the Seahawks needed him, and he caps off another solid drive with a beautiful throw to Doug Baldwin for 6 points from 23 yards out. Russell sees the blitz coming, stands in as tall as a 5'10" signal-caller can, and releases the ball in perfect stride, finding Douglas Freshington, who beats his man in one-on-one coverage and races under the beautiful throw. Just like that, the air was let out of the Eagles' sails. The Seahawks were becoming very good at answering opponent's scores, whenever opponent's did manage to score, which wasn't much in the past three weeks. Even in Kansas City, they made sure to answer the Chiefs score for score, except for when it mattered most, unfortunately.

Somewhere, Brian Baldwin must have been happy, because it was his first NFL game and the man with the same surname as him scored a pivotal touchdown for the Seattle offense. I had told him that Doug was going to have a good game with him in attendance, and Baldwin's 5 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown meant that he had followed through on my prognostication. Meanwhile, Jeff was delighted that the Seahawks were up 10, this being his first NFL game since a Jets/Giants preseason game at the Meadowlands years prior.

Greg must have loved the rest of the game, because with a 10 point lead and 9 minutes and change to go, the Seahawks dared Mark Sanchez to beat them. The Eagles needed points, so they were forced to run the ball a little less than Chip Kelly would prefer, and that meant bad news for the ex-Jets starting quarterback. Sanchez continued to drop back, only to be absolutely harassed by the Seattle defense. At one point, the "Seafense" punishes Sanchez with consecutive sacks, one of them coming from cornerback Marcus Burley, who blitzes off the edge and drills Sanchez before he can even see the pass rush formulating.

Sanchez' tough day, in which he was limited to 96 yards passing, continues to get worse after a rare fumble from Marshawn that gives the Eagles a bit of life in the 4th quarter. Despite the fumble, I turn to my buddies and ensure them that a Mark Sanchez backbreaking pick was on the way. Something that Greg had become accustomed to during Sanchez' reign of terror with the Jets. I end up looking like Nostradamus, as on the very next play, Sanchez drops back and heaves the ball down the middle of the field for Riley Cooper. It's a wounded duck, though, and Tharold Simon plays the ball better than Cooper does, comes back to it, and leaps to make a fabulous interception to basically seal the game.

We hoot and holler, and mostly laugh at Sanchez' predictable futility. Much like I had predicted, Eagles fans stream for the exits in an effort to not get caught in traffic due to the scheduled "die-in" that was to take place in the parking lot immediately following the game. A reminder that, while this game was taking place and it may have offered a temporary escape, the country was still a mess with nothing but negative energy, turmoil, and divided factions.

That great divide, angst, and insanity, with people forgetting how to act like proper human beings, was what made the Seahawks success not only in this game, but in the 5 years under Pete Carroll, so beautiful to witness. The very elements that had made Seattle the NFL's greatest force, were all the things that this country was solely lacking. Love, camaraderie, perseverance, hard work, passion, commitment, and even more hard work, were what this downtrodden country and it's citizens were so sorely lacking. Players of different races, not letting society influence how they should feel about one another and instead working together as the ultimate team. Sure, it's just a game, and the Seahawks are just one of 32 teams that play said game, but a lot could be learned from the way the Seahawks have gone about becoming the greatest and with the way they've handled the success. Even when things looked bleak after the Kansas City game, and even as erroneous report after erroneous report continued to rip the team apart, they stayed united and saw it through their darkest time in years. That's what I love about the Seahawks, they've earned everything, every step of the way. They were the ultimate positive role model in not just sports, but life in general.

Finally, the clocks hit zero and yet again, the Seahawks were victorious in Philadelphia. This time, the final score read 24-14. It was an absolutely massive win, and by the time we head for the parking lot, hardly anyone remains. All of the threats, all of the abuse, it actually made the victory that much sweeter! It's always great to win in hostile, enemy territory. It's especially great to do so when the game could have potential playoff-seeding implications weeks down the road. The Seahawks had just bruised and battered one of the league's finest units, and in the process had made the Eagles look like paper champions. We make our way to the parking lot and wait for Bob at his rental car so that Greg can retrieve his bag, which he had stored prior to the game.

Thirty minutes pass by and we start to wonder, where the hell is Bob? I mention that he probably got caught up with some player's family and that he'd get there, eventually. The cold is too much for Jeff, Michelle, and Brian to bare, so they head for my Lady's (who let us borrow her car, thanks babe!) vehicle instead. I can't blame them, as 15 minutes pass by until finally Bob emerges from the Lincoln Financial Field exits. He's got someone with him, however, and as they get closer and more into focus, I can make out who the man with him is.

It's Earl Lockette, Ricardo's uncle, whom Bob had met during the Super Bowl week earlier this year. Bob and Earl had developed a really cool friendship since then, often bumping into each other along the way. I remembered Earl from earlier in the season in Charlotte, when Melissa and Steve offered him a beer at the tailgate and he accepted, despite already having another full beer in his other hand. He was an extremely nice man, well-mannered and reserved with a smile about as big as Ricardo's. Bob informs him that this was my 32nd straight Seahawks game, and Earl shakes my hand and commends me for my fandom. It's a really nice moment that puts the perfect exclamation mark on a great day. I shake Earl's hand and say goodbye, and I let him know that Ricardo's contributions to the team are greatly appreciated, and never overlooked. Bob ensures Earl that we'll all get the word out that we need to vote for Ricardo as the NFC's Special Teams player for the Pro Bowl.

We all have a brew after the game, before parting ways until next time. It was an excellent team effort, from the Seahawks, and from all of us who risked our lives to cheer them from the stands. The trip back to Brooklyn is a quick one, as I fall asleep in the trunk, the limited mobility meaning absolutely nothing to me in my slumbering state. Special thanks are in order for Michelle, Brian, Jeff, Jazz, and Greg for a wonderful night that we'll all be sure to never forget. Super special thanks to Greg, who spotted me a ticket, because he knew the intense financial strain that I was under from all of the traveling in an attempt to chase my dream. Not only that, but he wanted me to be able to buy Christmas gifts for my family. That's what true friendship, love, and teamwork are all about.

The Seahawks were now standing tall at 9-4, and Jazz' Seahawks winning streak now reached 5-0 with 152 points scored and just 47 allowed. A plus 105 point differential, absolutely unheard of! Having just dispatched the Niners in Santa Clara, then pounding Mark Sanchez and the Eagles into the turf. Their early season woes now behind them, it was time to look ahead to their next opponent, those same hapless 49ers who had just finished up losing to the Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum in the Bay. At 7-6, their playoff hopes hinged on getting a victory in Seattle, which seemed highly improbable given their woes and the turmoil that they faced.

It was time to break out the caskets, because this might be the unofficial, official funeral of the 49ers season. A loss in Seattle would mean the ultimate implosion, with Jim Harbaugh likely getting canned at season's end, and the future of Colin Kaepernick then looking very uncertain. All because of a little tip back in January. This truly was, the greatest time to be a Seattle Seahawks fan in the history of life! It was time to ignore all the noise in life, and keep the focus on what it's always been, bringing home a second straight Super Bowl championship to the VMac in Renton.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

If You're Going To San Francisco

My heart was heavy from being away from home, but I was also very grateful to have the opportunity to be on a bus ride down the west coast. It's something I had always imagined, but now, it was reality. Our first stop was Portland and that's where I met "Rafael." I'm sure that's probably not his name, but that's the alias he gave me. He's the guy who told me he was also going to the game, and that the Niners were going to "beat the ass!" I laughed it off and tried to remember that it was the season, no it's always the season, to be good to one another.

Despite his obvious declaration of love for the Seahawks chief rival, I wanted to see if I could end up befriending someone clad in Red & Gold on this trip. Was it possible? I didn't say much to Rafael until we were deep in Oregon. I spent most of the time talking to the woman next to me, Ariel. We talked about the state of the world and uncertainty of the future. Social media's hold over people, human beings turned zombies by the addition of a phone to their arsenal. What was happening around us? Meanwhile, Rafael was passed out in the two seats across from us.

Rafael was an interesting character. He looked like Mike Iupati but said he was of Nicaraguan descent. He said he was a line cook at a restaurant in Seattle, and that explained his injuries on his arms. He was making the trip back home to San Francisco to spend time with his family for Thanksgiving, as well as check out the game at Levi's that night. He almost left his phone charging as he boarded the bus out of Portland. A woman told me about it, thinking it was mine, but when I got there I saw that it was his. In retrospect, would anything that ending up happening have happened if he didn't have his phone? How different would life be right now if I hadn't have given him that phone?

Not only that, but he took an extended bathroom break during the bus' layover in Eugene, and almost got left behind, if not for me telling him to hurry up and alerting the driver to him still being in the bathroom. Should I have just left him there? It didn't seem right at all at the moment, and that's what I went with. That feeling in my gut. I knew something was off about him, but I wanted to believe in the ability of the human spirit to exceed my expectations, no matter the appearance from the outset.

If my mom were reading this, she'd tell me that life's a lot easier when you don't have any expectations of people. In fact, she just told me that again just the other night. It's not the first time she's made sure to tell me that either. And she's right. Sometimes in life, no, all the time in life, you've got to learn for yourself. I am no different from the rest of civilization in this regard. However, in this case, expectations are what led to me being disappointed.

The rest of the trip went pretty smoothly, for the most part. The drive through Oregon was perhaps one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. It's exactly how I had imagined it would be. The most amazing color sky during sunset, a color that I'm not sure if I've ever seen before. All I could think about though, was that I should have been witnessing this breathtaking beauty with my one true beauty, Laura. It was a bittersweet moment, but one that I'll always cherish no matter how it made me feel inside.

When we arrived at a rest stop in Circle Point, Oregon, Rafael informs me that his cousin has two extra tickets to the game on Thursday. I had told him about my quest earlier in the trip in passing, and as luck would have it, he and his family are big time believers in paying it forward. "That's pretty cool", I thought to myself, while still being leery as a New Yorker would be in the face of a possible con. He tells me that his cousin is going to India, so she won't be able to use the tickets. $100 was his asking price for the two tickets.

I could hardly believe my luck, nor should I have. Even Laura was skeptical once I told her the news. She knew that I wanted to see the good in people, but she warned me to be aware of what was going on. I'd follow my instinct I told her, and myself, and I was confident in myself in making a proper decision. Besides, I had had incredible fortune on all of my travels in the past, there was no reason not to believe that that would change.

Now, not only would I have my own ticket to the game at Levi's Stadium, but I'd have an extra one as a bonus. I was excited at the opportunity to give my ticket away to a fellow Seahawks fan who otherwise wouldn't have gone. It was perfect for Thanksgiving and exactly what I had hoped would happen on this trip. All I would need to do at that point was tailgate with some Niners fans before the game and my mission for the day would be complete. Couple that with a Seahawks win to cap off the night, and I could head back to the east coast a very happy and content man, despite having been alone for the holidays.

Rafael even felt bad for me. A Niners fan, who wanted me to tailgate with his family, as well as bring me a plate of food from his mother's house on Thanksgiving since I was so far away from home. I couldn't believe my luck. What are the odds that I would be sitting next to this guy on a Greyhound bus?

The rest of the trip was not without struggle. The lowlights were an impromptu layover in Redding, California because our driver for the final part of our trip's cab was late in picking him up. We waited an hour for this guy, and when he finally came, he made sure to make up for lost time by speeding every mile of the way.

There was also a horrendous 4 hour layover in Sacramento where I was stuck watching 8 consecutive replays of an NBA highlights show. The fine folks at Greyhound wouldn't change the channel, so I was subjected to watching Isaiah Thomas obsess over Steph Curry again and again. The one interesting thing that came of that was that I couldn't get over how weird it was to be watching Sacramento Kings highlights in Sacramento. That's something I'd never thought I'd do with my life that's now been accomplished. How is this supposed to make me feel?

I wake up Rafael as our bus to San Francisco is set to depart. In retrospect, a third opportunity to save myself from impending doom. However, I woke him up and made sure he boarded the bus. It's a quick but spectacular ride from Sacto to San Fran. Valleys, mountains, water, bridges, boats, you name it and you'll see it on this awesome drive. I'm listening to Robert Plant sing about Going to San Francisco and meeting gentle people there, and everything seems alright. As I watched that sun rise, I thought about all of the trials and tribulations that had already marked the 2014 season. Despite it all, everything was still going to be alright.

We finally reached 1st and Mission, 25 hours of Greyhound in the books. As always, it had it's typical Greyhound moments. The type of moments that make you question your sanity and make me appreciative of my ability to walk between worlds. The first thing I noticed once I stepped off of that bus was that the weather was a lot different. When I left Seattle, it was raining and probably 35 to 40 degrees, at most. Now, in California, it was hot enough to wear the first thing I did was take my jacket off and tie my Seahawks hoodie around my waist.

As we walk off the bus, something comes over me and tells me to speak up. "This isn't all just a Trojan Horse, is it?" "You're not just going to give me a fake ticket or rip me off, right?" He seems taken aback that I would even suggest such a thing were possible. He plays it off well and mentions that he just loves football, and that he wants to help out a true fan, no matter how much he hates the Seahawks or their fans. We continue onward, but I just had to ask. Obviously, if he were going to do such a thing, he'd never tell me, but I just had to let him know that I was thinking of the possibility. In hindsight, this is where I went wrong. I should have trusted my gut, like I almost always do.

People are looking at me sideways, and Rafael tells me that he doesn't want to be seen walking with me. I'm wearing my Marshawn Lynch jersey that Bart and his sister gave me last year, my Super Bowl Champions beanie, and a hoodie with the original colors and logo on it. Unlike last year though, everyone stayed quiet. There were no reckless or rude remarks, no. It was just a bunch of people who were upset but knew that they couldn't do anything about it because the NFC Championship Game burned a hole in their soul forever. They were not in a position to talk trash after the way their season had ended in January, at the hands of their rival.

And as awful as that memory is for them, it's just as great for me, and for the rest of the Seahawks fans populating this earth. I'll never forget that feeling, walking out of CenturyLink on that night. I was so happy and so proud at the same time. It was magical. I have no anger towards the 49ers or their fans any longer, because they were a part of one of my greatest sports memories, ever. I could only laugh to myself about the ownage and how it had all shaken out over the years. The days of Pete Carroll being unable to beat Jim Harbaugh were long forgotten, the new reality leaving people wondering if Jim Harbaugh would ever beat Pete Carroll the head coach of the 49ers again.

The Niners looked to be on the verge of a meltdown, while the Seahawks were suddenly trending upward. That'll happen when you beat the 9-1, division leaders soundly at home, limiting them to only 3 points. That'll happen when guys like Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor come back from injury, finally healthy as the stretch run looms in the distance. That'll happen when you've got a man like Earl Thomas, a true warrior and leader and the man with probably the biggest heart in the game, making sure that his team regains it's love for the game.

As we walk through downtown to get to his cousin's place to get the tickets and give her the cash, I reiterate to Rafael that the 49ers don't scare me. Despite having had a decent run of success in the past few weeks, their level of play was actually quite poor and their offense in particular was looking suspect. He doesn't seem to care, as he continues forward through the heart of downtown San Francisco. We finally reach our destination, and he tells me that he needs the cash. I hand him the $100 without hesitation, and proceed to wait across the street for him.

He reappears a few moments later, and assures me that the email confirmation is being sent by his cousin as we speak. I'm grateful for his help, so I offer to take him out for breakfast as a thank you. We stop at a Taqueria and grab a burrito and a quesadilla, respectively, and it doesn't take long to realize that the food is absolutely delicious and authentic. It was on par with anything I've had back in New York City, including the cart that used to be on 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Words can't do this chorizo and swiss quesadilla justice, and I must stop before my mouth starts to water and my brain gets distracted.

With some absolutely heavenly Mexican food in our bellies, we set our sights towards exploring the city. First, we make a quick stop at the Westfield Mall. I tell Rafael that I haven't gotten my confirmation email yet. He makes a quick phone call and assures me that, after speaking with his cousin, things were straight and that I'd be getting the email soon. He then rushes off and tells me that he'll be back in 30 minutes, he was meeting his aunt at the mall and he'd be right back. Now, I began to worry.

In my heart of heart's, I knew right away that I had been had. As the hours passed by, and the phone calls went unanswered, I knew that I wouldn't be getting those tickets and that I wouldn't be getting my money back either. Luckily, despite now being short on cash, I wasn't hard on luck. I still had a place to stay for the night, and luckily, it wasn't in San Francisco. I hopped on the BART and made my way to the hometown of one of the Seahawks finest, Marshawn Lynch. 19th Street in Oakland was my destination, and a few minutes after getting off the train, I was greeted by my girlfriend's best friend, Bryn.

Bryn was feeling like a champion after passing the BAR, so I joined her and her roommate Paul, on a journey to a bar near Berkeley. Free House is the name and it's honestly got one of the more unique setup's that I've ever seen. We join some of Bryn and Paul's friends and I thoroughly enjoy being able to witness their happiness after passing the BAR. I knew that feeling, I had felt it just this past February, and I was searching for it yet again.

On the way back home, we call Rafael from Paul's phone and he picks up! It appears we caught him off guard, and he scrambles for answers when I ask about the whereabouts of not only the tickets, but his whereabouts as well. He says that his cousin will be getting off of work any minute now, and that she'd send it to me immediately once she gets home. He says to call him in the morning if not. I hang up, and although Bryn remains optimistic, Paul and I both know that that wasn't good and that I'm never seeing the tickets or my money again. Now it's a fact.

We make it back to their place and although I'm down, I am not broken. I remain optimistic, despite then realizing that I had also lost a bag of my chargers in San Francisco. That was the least of my worries at the moment. I had gone 2 months without a phone last season, a few days would be nothing and I actually enjoyed the liberation of not having a phone. Bryn also had some chargers just in case. The focus remained on the ticket and making it to the game the next day.

I was telling Juan, my Packers fan friend who came to Seattle for the season opener, about the entire incident and he immediately sprung into action. Without even asking, Juan had sent me some cash to make sure that I got to the game the next day. I wouldn't have to worry at night, or have a sleepless night worrying about my fate or my impending doom. Juan had my back. So did Bryn and Paul.

This affirmed my belief that I am a very lucky man, surrounded by the greatest, most genuine and cool people on the earth. I know everyone probably says that, but I might have irrefutable evidence. I had a place to stay, friends to hang out with, and friends back home looking out for me as well. I couldn't ask for much more, other than being with my lady. Even then, I knew that she was having a great time with her family, probably enjoying the first snow of the year. Thanksgiving started to take on a new meaning, and I started to focus on what it was all about, rather than tickets, getting scammed, and all that other stuff. That's what it had become, but I wasn't going to allow it to stay that way.

I woke up on Game Day/Thanksgiving and found a ticket in a Standing Room Only section for $95. I pulled the trigger immediately knowing that I likely wasn't going to get a better deal, and that I needed to think wisely in terms of the ticket I selected. As long as I was in the stadium, I didn't care where I was.

There was salmon for breakfast to honor the Pacific Northwest and the Seahawks, then farewell to Bryn and Paul and their entourage, who were headed to Sacramento. I got back on the BART at 19th St headed to Fremont. I said goodbye to Marshawn's hometown, but not before passing by the Black Hole. The Coliseum is decaying and looks run down from the outside, but it is still a classic stadium. It was pretty cool to see it right outside the train window after having seen it on television for all of these years.

I'm thinking it's a good omen when the driver of the bus I transfer to tells me he's a Seahawks fan. He looks around suspiciously and speaks in a humble voice when telling me, as if not wanting anyone in Niners country to find out. Oh they'd be appalled and horrified if they found out that a city employee was actually a Seahawks fan. "GO Hawks!" is our rallying cry as we part ways. I head for my train, the final step of my journey from Oakland to Santa Clara.

It's on the platform that I meet Rey. It's Rey's first day of work at Levi's Stadium and he had to take a Thanksgiving shift because it was the only one available. He's determined to do whatever it takes to provide for himself and his family, even if that means working on Thanksgiving. It really put what I was there for in perspective.

Rey is actually a New York Giants fan, and can't stand the 49ers. He tells me that he hopes the Seahawks pound them! We talk old school Giants football for a bit on the brief ride to Levi's, and my conversation with Rey helped me realize that sometimes there's just a bad apple in a group and that's life. Rafael wasn't picking up his phone, and no ticket came by way of e-mail. I had gotten conned. However, it was important that I didn't lose faith in humanity.

It seems that the universe was intent on helping me not lose faith. After scarfing down my Thanksgiving meal, an overpriced burger from Carl's Jr., I set my sights to the parking lots around the stadium to find my fellow Seahawks fans. After all that had gone down in such a short period of time, it was nice to finally be able to focus on football and the game at hand.

It didn't take too long to find pockets of blue and green amongst the sea of red humanity. They were scarce, but there definitely was a presence. One group in particular stands out to me, so I head in their direction. It's the Northern California Seahawkers, and they're having a joint tailgate with a group of Niners fans! This was exactly what I had envisioned when I was on the bus. There were people talking trash to one another, but it was all friendly and fun. I couldn't believe my eyes, Seahawks fans and 49ers fans celebrating as one.

Last year, at the tailgate outside of Candlestick, I saw a few acts of human decency and even a Seahawks fan sharing cookies with some Niners fans, but nothing like this. I don't know whether it was the Thanksgiving spirit or if these were the nicest Niners fans on the planet, but whatever it was, it was a way better vibe than the game last year. I meet the President of the Nor Cal Seahawkers, Tod. He goes by the nickname of 'PhotoHawk', and true to his name, he's got his camera around his neck. You can tell he's dedicated to his craft, as he waits for the wind to pick up just so that he can get a shot of a 12th Man Flag waving in the distance.

It was an excellent group of people that gathered in Blue lot A that day. One woman tells me the story of how her mother had passed away before the NFC Championship Game last January. The healing that the game provided for this woman and her loved ones was something that she'll never forget, and now I'll never forget, for the rest of our lives.

Fittingly enough, after my Thanksgiving meal at Carl's Jr., I meet a man named Carl and his father-in-law. They left the family behind in Washington state for the day, a friend's offer of two tickets in section 111 along with a free hotel stay as well was too much for them to pass up. They flew in earlier that morning and were slated to head back home the next day. Some might say that these gentlemen don't have their priorities in life straight. I'd say, those people don't know how to live spontaneously or how to have fun.

The three of us chat for a few hours before the two men decide that they're going to head towards the stadium soon. Having seen Seahawks fans and Niners fans alike coexist, I was content with what I had seen at the tailgate. I decide to go with them, as they offer to let me leave my bag in their hotel lobby. I had an 11 pm flight immediately after the game, so I needed to be able to take off right after the game ended to grab my stuff real quick and hit the road.

After our quick pitstop at the Hyatt, the three of us head towards Levi's Stadium in unison. We make it through security, where we meet the nicest stadium security guy of all-time. He sees our Seahawks gear and asks to take a picture with all of us. We oblige and our newly formed motley crew poses for a pregame picture with our newfound acquaintance.

Good vibes, among other things, are in the air and as we enter the stadium, Carl and his father-in-law tell me to come sit with them in section 111. I agree with this notion, so I head with them towards their seats for pregame warmups. While the stadium usher is distracted by Carl and his father-in-law, I sneak behind them and down towards some empty seats in the section. Some of the players start jogging on to the field a short time after our arrival, and it's apparent to me that these will be the best seats I've ever sat in in my life. If I don't get kicked out of the section, of course.

The three of us sit and marvel at the location of their friend's seats. Right down on the ground, just off the 30 yard line, and on the Seahawks sideline too! I couldn't help but feel that this was karma's way of softening the blow of being scammed by Rafael. Rafael was the last thing on my mind at this point, as Russell Wilson and the rest of the offense take the field and start practicing their plays. The team looks sharp and determined, as they quickly give it one last walkthrough before an absolutely massive matchup with their biggest rivals.

Levi's Stadium is a fairly nice stadium. A foghorn sounds, alerting fans in nearby parking lots that it's one hour until kickoff and time for them to make their way to the game. Levi's won't blow you away, but it's a clean and crisp looking design with good sight lines and a definite "new" feel to it. After hearing about the lack of atmosphere in the building though, I decided that I'd wait until the game got going before I made any final judgments on the place. It was almost game time now, and the stadium was still almost half empty.

Finally, the moment we had all waited for was here. We were all maniacs for leaving our family's and loved ones behind to check out a football game on Thanksgiving, but it wasn't just any old football game, no. It was 'Hawks vs. Niners, with both teams walking in at 7-4 on the season and needing a win to keep playoff hopes alive. It was the first meeting between the two teams for the season, and the bad blood was sure to pick up where it had left off in Seattle last January.

The fans boo as the Seahawks are introduced on to the field. Between all of the booing, you can hear some sparse cheering from the Seahawks fans in attendance. It's a decent turn out from the 12th Man, considering that it was Thanksgiving and that we were deep in enemy territory. That did not seem to deter anybody. Not only were they present, but they were making noise as well, something that I didn't see in Candlestick last year. Mostly due to the fear of being shanked on the spot by some Niner fan/gangbanger.

The crowd is now in a frenzy after all of the pyro and theatrics from the 49ers player introductions. It was officially game time. After everything that had transpired during this trip, it was great to finally get to watch the game. Even better, the person who's seat I was sitting in in Section 111 hadn't shown up yet. I was good to watch the start of the game from close range. The Seahawks win the coin toss and elect to kick, shades of last season all over again.

Steven Hauschka's foot hits the pigskin and sends it flying into the air, and with that, the game was finally underway. It doesn't take long to realize that the Seahawks defense is still riding high from their performance against the Cardinals just 4 days earlier. Kam Chancellor pounds Michael Crabtree into the turf on the game's second play from scrimmage, and Crabtree is slow to get up. In fact, he can't get up and the trainers rush onto the field to assess his injury. You don't want to see anyone get hurt, but the tone had been set and the Seahawks were here to kick behind and take names later.

The Seahawks defense tightens and forces the 49ers to punt. This sets off a string of possessions where both teams offenses can't quite get things going. The team's trade punts on each of their first 2 offensive possessions, until the Niners are faced with 3rd and 8 from their own 30 yard line. Colin Kaepernick drops back and looks right and appears to lock on to Brandon Lloyd, the author of some amazing one-handed catches in his day. Kaepernick shows off his rifle for an arm, but finds the wrong man. Instead of finding Brandon Lloyd, his pass takes off on him and lands right in the thankful, waiting arms of Richard Sherman.

49ers fans groan in disgust, as public enemy #1 fires the first shot of the game. The Seahawks now had the ball in Niners territory to start their next possession, and they made Kaepernick and company pay for their mistake. After a key defensive holding call on 3rd and 7 kept things alive for the 'Hawks offense, Hustle Wilson finds Doug E. Fresh for a huge 24 yard gain. This sets up the Seahawks first touchdown of the day, and it would be their only one. Hustle hits Robert Turbin coming out of the backfield, and Bobby Turbo stumbles into the end zone for an early lead.

I can't help but think of a man who was wearing a Turbin authentic jersey in the parking lot before the game. I figured the man had to be a family member, as not many people go out and drop serious coin on #22 jerseys, yet. I'm thinking of how grateful he and his family probably are, having just gotten to see Robert score a rare touchdown up close and personal.

We celebrate in 111 until a late-arriving group of fans come to claim their seats. I had to move, but luckily there were some more opens seats in the row down below. My good luck for the evening was still in tact. The same can't be said for the Niners fan sitting next to me who absolutely hated me once he heard me cheering for the Seahawks. Normally, I'm reserved and well-behaved at Seahawks away games, but after everything that had happened to me in San Francisco the day earlier, I had to let loose. I was like a caged animal that had been released back in to the wi.d I was free at heart and didn't care what any Niners fan said around me. I was going to root for my team.

Luckily for Seahawks fans, there was a lot to cheer about. The defense continued to absolutely harass Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh looking clueless on the jumbotron as he looked for answers. You get the feeling that the Seahawks won more than a game last January. They had broken their rivals spirits. Sure, the Niners were still hanging in there at 7-4, but they lacked the spark that they had had over the past few seasons en route to being one of the league's best teams. True, the same could be said about the Seahawks for the most part in 2014, but it appeared that the Cardinals game days earlier had brought out the positive energy that the team was sorely lacking.

With the Seahawks up 7-0 and the defense thriving, it was the offense's turn to again try and hit pay dirt. They nearly do just that, as Hustle Wilson somehow finds Tony Moeaki open on the sideline as everything goes to hell around Russell. Somehow, he's able to get the throw off and even more mysteriously, Moeaki is able to rumble down the sideline for 64 yards and an apparent touchdown! The play happens right in front of us, and we were amazed that no one got a hand on the big tight end from Iowa. However, he's ruled down at the 1 although we were positive that he stretched and reached the ball across the goal line before his knee was down. The Seahawks don't challenge, and get stuffed at the 1 and are forced to kick a field goal. Points left on the board, sure, but we were loving the 10-0 lead and it was still just the second quarter.

Earl Thomas flies around, Richard Sherman revs the team up, and Kam Chancellor continues to lay the boom. The Seahawks defense is like a well-oiled machine at this point, absolutely slaughtering the squad who called Santa Clara home. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril continue to cause constant pressure, and Kaepernick never really has the protection needed to make the Seahawks pay. Once again, Vernon Davis is invisible. All of those hits dished out by Kam Chancellor over the years seem to have taken their toll on the gifted athlete from the University of Maryland. You just knew that whoever won the NFC Championship last season would "own" their rival and that things might go downhill for the other team a bit. It was just amazing to witness the fallout in person.

Hausch Money keeps adding chip shot field goals, and the Seahawks first half lead stretches to 13-0. What happened next was one of the coolest things I've ever seen happen on a football field during a Seattle Seahawks game. Jon Ryan comes on for a punt up 13, but drops the snap! Somehow, no one on the 49ers special teams unit notices, and the one guy who does can't get to Ryan before Ryan is able to recover and boot the ball downfield. It's a great punt considering the circumstances, and all the time it took for Ryan to recover and get the punt off allows for Ricardo Lockette and the Seahawks special teams unit to fly down the field.

Lockette absolutely drills Perrish Cox, who fumbles the ball immediately after the devastating hit. Luckily for Seattle, O'Brien Schofield jumps on the ball and the Seahawks somehow regain possession. It was a play that defied logic, a play that you'd have to see in order to believe. This wasn't an episode of the Twilight Zone though, this was real life. And in this life, the Seahawks were just abusing their rivals in their own stadium on Thanksgiving. Nothing comes of the Seahawks ensuing drive, and the 49ers manage to piss of their fans even more with a futile effort to end the half. It was halftime, the Seahawks leading Santa Clara by the score of 13-0.

There's a brutal halftime performance from some one-hit wonder going on in the background, but I'm too busy talking with Carl and his pops about what an amazing first half we just witnessed! We agree that the Seahawks shouldn't have any problem putting away the lifeless Niners, and that if things kept up like this, I'd be able to leave the game early without feeling like a bad fan in order to catch my flight. Thankfully, I had booked a flight out of San Jose airport, which was only 11 miles away from the stadium. I never leave games early, but if the Seahawks were rolling, I wasn't going about to miss the 11th annual Turkey Bowl that my friends and I were slated to play the next day in Flushing, Queens.

Darrell Bevell saw to it that I would be able to make it to my flight on time. He called a masterful game throughout, but the second half saw the Seahawks content to milk the clock away, while adding field goals to supplement their already strong lead. It's a bevy of runs and quick passes that Bevell dials up to keep the pressure on San Francisco, and the Seahawks march down the field easily on their opening drive. A lot of that probably had to do with the fact that half of the stadium was still empty from fans using the restrooms and concessions at the half. This lack of atmosphere was perfect for the Seahawks offense and Hustle Wilson. Hustle finds Paul Richardson on a 7 yard pass for his first career NFL touchdown, but the refs flag Robert Turbin for offensive pass interference. The touchdown comes off the board and I immediately start getting flashbacks from the Redskins game earlier in the season in DC. The refs didn't want this one getting out of hand on national television. At least not this early.

The Seahawks are forced to settle for another Steven Hausckha field goal as their lead jumps to 16-0 in the third quarter. You couldn't have dreamed up a better scenario if you were a Seahawks fan, except for maybe trading a few of those field goals for touchdowns, but such is life. The Seahawks defense was playing so lights out, that the missed opportunities hardly seemed to matter at all. Finally, however, on the 49ers next drive they are able to march the ball down the field to score some points. Unfortunately for the red and gold faithful, they're drive falls apart and they're forced to settle for their own field goal from veteran kicker Phil Dawson. Whenever I hear the name Phil Dawson, I immediately think of Red Bryant blocking 2 kicks against the Browns and the Seahawks still losing with Charlie Whitehurst at QB and Marshawn Lynch not playing due to back injuries.

Memories of a Leon Washington punt return called back on an awful call dance around in my head. Years ago, they would have tortured me, but with a Super Bowl trophy already in the display case just a few short years later, it wasn't so bad anymore. The same could not be said for 49ers fans, who were witnessing and living an all-too-real nightmare. Richard Sherman and the big bad Seahawks were in town, and they were ruining what was supposed to be a memorable Thanksgiving.

The Seahawks salt away some more clock on their next possession, as the game enters the 4th quarter with the Seahawks leading 16-3. The game is breezing by, which works for me with my postgame flight and all. Hustle Wilson continues to amaze, as even Niners fans around me can't help but gush over his ability and calmness on the field. The two gentlemen sitting behind me are class acts, and the three of us talk football both new and old-school as they admit that their team looks lifeless and pathetic under the bright lights.

Hauschka adds another field goal, and the place empties out. Fans head for the exits in attempt to beat the awful traffic that awaits them outside. This allows me to sit in front of Carl and his father-in-law again, and the three of us watch in glee as the Seahawks continue to make it look so easy. The highlight of our night, however, must have been the man sitting 2 rows behind us. I swear that I sat next to this man last season at Candlestick, I only remember because it was as if he was saying the same exact quotes from a year earlier.

He's in his 60's probably, and he sits with his young grandson, who is roughly 5 years old or so. After every play, he complains about the Seahawks, Pete Carroll, and what a bunch of dirty cheaters they are! "They're a disgusting team with a disgusting coach!" "They cheat on every play!" "He's mugging him, he deserves to be suspended!" Those are just some of the things that this man spewed. I found his antics to be absolutely hilarious, and I'd retort back "good example of being a graceful loser you're setting for your grandson. I'm sure he'll grow up to admit defeat, be humble, and accept responsibility for things in life."

Our hilarious back-and-forth continues before the Niners fans who haven't fled the stadium interject. Except, they aren't on his side, no. Instead, they tell the elder man to quit it with the whining and sore losing. After all, we were in Whiner country. Apparently, this was no country for whiny old men.

Even he was sent to the exists early, as Santa Clara's favorite person, Richard Sherman comes through with another interception of Kaepernick! If it wasn't over already, now it was! With the Seahawks up 19-3 with 7:04 to go in the game, I was confident that I could leave the stadium to try and make it to my flight on time. I knew that there'd be no late-game heroics, or an epic collapse from the Seahawks. They were playing absolutely lights out and that wasn't about to change in the final 7 minutes of the game with a 16 point lead. I bid farewell to my newfound friends, and make my way to the exits.

I sprint through the area around the stadium, and back to the Hyatt. I pick up my bag from the hotel lobby, tip the bell boy, and ask him where I can find a cab. He tells me to head back towards the Carl's Jr., and that that was my best bet. I follow his advice and sprint back in that direction, high-fiving and chatting with Seahawks fans along the way. There's some hateful comments being thrown at me from those draped in red and gold too, but that's to be expected after such a humiliating defeat at the hands of your biggest foe who now officially owns you, your stadium, your quarterback, and your coach. The worst part for Niners fans? They all knew it was true!

I'm waiting patiently on a cab line that looks like it'll never end, when I finally decide that enough is enough. No more mister nice guy! I run up the block to the corner, and cut off the cab line that had been waiting patiently. I didn't even care that I was being "that guy", I had to catch my flight. A cabbie pulls over and picks me up, as the crowd behind me begins to hurl obscenities and other pleasantries in our direction. The cabbie pulls a U-turn, almost getting sideswiped by a limo in the process, as the two drivers have words. Cooler heads prevail and we were on our way.

The cab driver was actually a really cool dude. We had a great conversation about life, society, and the Golden State Warriors. He tells me that he's glad the Seahawks whooped on the Niners. He's a Raiders fan and can't stand the frontrunner nature of many Niners fans who began crawling out of the woodwork once Jim Harbaugh revived their franchise after a decade of futility. It's an extremely quick ride to the San Jose airport from Levi's, and before I have time to realize, we've reached my destination. I thank the man, wish him a Happy Thanksgiving, and head in to the airport.

It's practically deserted and I'm one of three people going through security. A far cry from the insanity that I surely would have encountered had I flown out of SFO. Everything had worked out picture perfectly, except for getting scammed. Still, the Seahawks went 2-0 against their biggest division rivals and following a Cardinals loss to the Falcons a few days later, their destiny was back in their own hands. Just the way we like it to be!

Not only were things all well and good with the Seahawks, but I was returning home and I was going to make it in time for the Turkey Bowl! My flight ended up being delayed for an hour, but I could hardly muster up the energy to care like some people were, as I was content with a great night and a great week. There were trials and tribulations, bouts with loneliness, and excellent memories in between. I was thankful that I made it home in one piece and that nothing terrible had happened to me over the holiday's. Sure, I had gotten ripped off, but in retrospect that situation could have been much worse.

The redeye landed at JFK at 8 in the morning the following day and I went straight to Flushing Meadows Park. My friends and I played our annual game of tackle football, and it was one of our better games in recent memory. The game was so good in fact, that we might even be doing a Tundra Bowl around Christmas time. The redeye cost me an extra $100, but it was a small price to pay to see my friends and keep the tradition alive. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I finished the whirlwind of a day off with a night shift at work and I knew that the Seahawks would be proud. Just like they were, I was pushing myself to my limits and grinding things out daily in the hope that all of the hard work would eventually pay off. Like the Seahawks, I had survived the worst and now it was time to thrive. Things were looking grim after a loss in Kansas City, but it turns out that that loss may have been the best thing to happen to us this season. We learned a lot about ourselves, I sure as hell did after 66 hours of travel on the bus, and I know the team did and the results since then reflect that.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll made some risky moves to attempt to save this team's season and it appeared that with each masterstroke of genius, they had succeeded in getting their team back on track. Gone was all the turmoil that the media had reported. In it's place, the feeling of love and thankfulness for one another that Earl Thomas felt this team was missing.

Speaking of love, the next stop on this whirlwind tour was the city of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia. The Eagles would present a tough challenge for sure, and a Chip Kelly/Pete Carroll showdown in the NFL was going to be one for the ages, but having seen the Seahawks performances over the past two games only confidence ran through my veins. The "RePete" that I had envisioned and never lost sight of, despite trails and tribulations, looked like a very real possibility once again. Thriving in Philadelphia would go a long way in achieving that ultimate goal. The key to thriving in Philadelphia, of course, would be my very own secret weapon!