Friday, September 26, 2014

It's the size of the fight in the dog

"But I'm not one to complain. Sometimes, as a man, you get your ass whupped, you get up and fight again." - The great Kam Chancellor

After the events of last week, I could feel where Kam Chancellor was coming from.  Well, not really, as I'll never know what it's like to try and play a game of football against other highly skilled professionals with bone spurs in my ankle.  Still, life had beaten me down in it's own way.  We've all been there.  Like the modern day warrior quoted above though, I'm not one to complain either.  It was time to pick ourselves up and continue the fight as if it were the only way, because it is.

The week crawled by as it usually does after a loss.  Luckily, since this journey began last season, there hasn't been a whole lot of losing.  Fellow road warrior Greg and I joked on our way back from San Diego that I can't complain, since beginning this quest last year, the Seahawks had gone 17-4 with a Lombardi Trophy already in the bag.  Complaining about this loss would make me no better than the entitled, spoiled Yankees fans I grew up hating for those very reasons!

So after a week spent dropping off resumes and waiting for calls that never materialized, it was time to put that all in the rearview mirror and focus on this week's challengers, the Denver Broncos.  A Super Bowl rematch that fans and media pundits alike had hyped up beyond mythical proportions by Week 3's usual standards.  Still, the feeling in my stomach was different for this one.  With the bye week looming and a Monday nighter at Washington in the distance, a loss here would mean that we'd have to go two football Sunday's hearing about the Seahawks demise.  It wasn't a must-win game by any stretch of the imagination, but we really needed a W here.

Luckily for the Seahawks, I believed that I had found what had gone wrong a week earlier.  While cleaning out one of my dressers due to it's horrendous condition, I stumbled upon a random San Diego Chargers mini-helmet.  Surely, some form of black magic or voodoo was in play here and it was to blame for the events at Qualcomm Stadium.  I had to rid myself of the mini-helmet in order for balance to be restored to the universe and the Seahawks to return to their winning ways.  The only question was where?

The answer came easily, as my Saturday flight reservations called for me to fly from LaGuardia to Denver, and then to Seattle.  Amazingly, despite all of the traveling that last season entailed, there were no connecting flights in Denver.  In fact, I had never been to Denver International Airport before.  Just another bizarre coincidence in this series of unexplainable occurrences that dates back to the beginning of last season.  I decided to look at it as a sign that the universe was still in my corner.

The plane lands in Denver and I walk through the airport with a Seahawks beanie and scarf on display for all to see.  The looks that I am getting are absolutely priceless.  No one says a word to me, but mostly all are staring at me as if I were personally responsible for their unhappiness since that night in February.  I had never experienced this feeling before, as usually I was the one looking miserable in this life as a Seahawks fan.  This was different and something I wasn't used to, but it beats being miserable.

Just before my flight leaves for Seattle, I unveiled the San Diego Chargers mini-helmet.  2 minutes later, a man headed to Hawaii wearing a Junior Seau shirt passes by.   I had planned on dooming the Broncos and leaving the mini-helmet somewhere in the Denver airport.  However, after Aldon Smith's run-in at LAX earlier this year, I decided that probably wouldn't be such a good idea, so I gave the man in the Seau shirt the helmet instead.  I explained the story behind it and we shared a laugh, and I told him that his team played a hell of a game and thoroughly deserved that win.  He thanks me and heads to his gate, while shouting that he'll see me in Arizona at the Super Bowl!

I allowed my mind to drift and think about the possibilities of such an occurrence on the short trip from Denver to Sea-Tac.  Despite the display the Chargers had put on a week earlier, I convince myself that on a different day, on a neutral field, the Seahawks could extract a bit of revenge.  The plane lands and yet again, it's absolutely perfect in Seattle.  Mount Rainier looms in the distance, majestic and beautiful for all to see.  There's hardly a cloud in the sky and the sun is beaming, a proper sendoff from summer in it's final days.

By now, I'm starving, as I usually am when I land in a new city.  I'm not the greatest at self preservation, and it shows when I travel.  I always forget to eat a decent meal before I fly and then I'm usually stuck paying $7 for a pack of peppered beef jerky.  Hey I can't complain, it gets the job done.  Must be all the protein.  Such is the life of a traveler, however, and by now I'm resigned to my fate.  I still needed some real food in me, beef jerky aside, so I headed to Ping's Dumpling House in Chinatown.  With some absolutely delicious soup dumplings now in my belly, it was time to start the weekend.

My first order of business was to go to the FedEx Kinko's on 3rd Avenue to finish up last week's writeup.  Then, I decided that the best thing to do with my Saturday was to just watch as much sports as possible.  I started with the Sounders/Red Bulls match at Temple Billiards, before watching the Astros seemingly dash the Mariners fading playoff hopes.  Unfortunately, the Sounders weren't any better, as they were routed in New Jersey.  Ironically, a few of the staff from Temple are off from work and at the game, having made the same trek that I make during the football season, only in reverse.  I feel bad for them as Rolando, the bar's owner, tells me about their travels, for I know how much it stings when you travel far and wide just to watch your team lose.

Afterwards, I head to Columbia City on the LightRail to meet up with my host for the weekend, Eli.  Eli played a large role in last season's improbable run, having hooked it up with a ticket 4 rows from the Seahawks tunnel to the Rams game, as well as selling his extra ticket to the Super Bowl to my buddy Greg without asking for a king's ransom in return.  Not only that, but when I was stranded outside of the CLink before the parade finally reached the stadium with no ticket or hope in sight, it was Eli who appeared out of basically nowhere with an extra ticket in his hand.  When we bumped into each other in that same exact spot randomly before the Packers game in Week 1, we knew that it was a good omen and the universe working it's magic yet again.

Eli and I head to his place to catch my alma mater Washington State mix it up with the Oregon Ducks out on the Palouse.  A neon Seahawks sign lights the room and the walls are graced by posters of legends like Jimi Hendrix and Slayer.  There's even a Seahawks luchador mask from Mexico.  It rests right beside a Sports Illustrated magazine with Russell Wilson on the cover.  I'm in shock as we turn on Eli's TV to see that it's 7-0 Cougars.  As I've been conditioned to believe as a Cougars fans, surely this can't and won't last.  Surely the heavily favored Ducks will score 3 touchdown's in the span of 5 minutes and the route will be on.  After awful losses to Rutgers and Nevada, there was just no way that the Cougs would be able to hang with the #2.

There goes life flipping the script again just when you think you finally know something.  To Eli and my delight, this is actually a pretty damn good football. We sit and talk 'Hawks as Connor Halliday and the Wazzu Air Raid attack continue to carve up Oregon's suspect secondary in the background.  We reminisce about Seahawks new and old, as names like Floyd Wedderburn and Sean Dawkins get thrown about.  To this day, talking Seahawks football is one of my absolute passions in life and it's something that gives me a sort of a natural high.  Finding people in life to help quench this rare thirst has never been easy, but when it does happen it makes it that much sweeter.

Unfortunately, the Cougars bid for an upset goes the way that most Cougars games go, with a disappointing loss and a huge sense of what could have been.  Thanks to some horrendous officiating from the home of horrendous officiating, the Pac-12, Oregon walked out of Martin Stadium.  Still, I couldn't help but feeling like this was a huge day for Mike Leach and company.  They made me look like a fool, but looking like a fool never felt so good.  Even though they didn't get the win, they showed that they could hang with one of the nation's elite programs.  Losing stinks, especially when the loss drops you to 1-3 and especially when you don't get even get a chance to make a comeback thanks to spotty officiating, but they can keep their heads held high and continue to work toward the future.  With the taste of defeat in my mouth, Eli and I call it a night in an effort to preserve our bodies for the big day that lay ahead of us.

As usual, I didn't get much sleep.  I've never been able to get much sleep the night before gameday, and it's only been magnified by all of the traveling.  Luckily, my body runs on adrenaline when the Seahawks are playing, and that natural rush of blue and green energy keeps me going even when my mind thinks I might be done.  Despite all the adrenaline, my body still needs food, and Eli's landlord, Jason, came through in the clutch for us with some breakfast from Jack in the Box.  Jason's another huge Seahawks fan, and you can tell that his love for the team is real, as he speaks with unrivaled passion and knowledge about all things Seahawks.  He and his wife Amy would be sitting with us to help cheer on the home team to victory.

We had all had a good time talking Seahawks and life the night before, whether it be talking about reality or hypothetical scenario's in which the Seahawks take over the entire NFL.  As the four of us boarded the LightRail towards the stadium, we knew that the time for chilling and shooting the breeze was over.  Despite still being unemployed, there was still a job to be done that day, and that job was to give the Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos hell all day long!  Much like the week before in San Diego, it was unseasonably warm for a day in mid September.  However, field temperatures wouldn't be approaching temperatures of 120 degrees, so thankfully it wouldn't be a factor in the outcome of the game.

As per my pregame ritual, we dropped in at Temple Billiards and had a drink with Todd, Dom, Matt, Jordan and some of the usual faces that have become a staple of my life.  After exchanging pleasantries, we quickly got down to business.  Our attention turned toward today's game and whether or not the Seahawks could pull this one off.  After last week's disappointing performance, many didn't know.  And some even thought that the Broncos just couldn't lose this game if they had any shred of self-respect.  Even yours truly felt that the Broncos might steal this one and that I wouldn't be worried with the 'Hawks sitting at 1-2 heading into the bye week because I knew that they are capable of going on a major winning streak at any time.  We finished our drinks, said our goodbyes, and started what has become my favorite of all-time.

The walk down Occidental towards the stadium, that's when I really start getting hyped up.  There are street performers all around, Seahawks fans swarming from all angles with a few traveling fans sprinkled about, and music of all kinds being played by local talents just trying to earn an honest buck.  Eli and I and the rest of our gameday crew head through security and around the stadium to our seats in the South End Zone.  We get there just in time, as the Seahawks defense is being introduced as we make our way down to our seats.

Sitting in the South End Zone is quite the experience.  It feels almost like you're at a party and there just so happens to be a football game being played for your entertainment.  There's an intense and positive feeling in the air, and it's a vibe that you hope will last for eternity.  Once in our seats, we see Charles.  Charles sits behind Eli's seats and is another cool Seahawks fan whom I met at the Rams game in Week 17 last season.

As player introductions ended, and as Nate Robinson hoisted the 12th Man Flag to get things underway, I couldn't help but think of how lucky I was and how I had to cherish this moment because not everyone could be so fortunate.  In particular, I thought of my buddy Leif.  In my mind, he's the biggest Seahawks fan I know and he exemplifies what every Seahawks fan should be and should strive to be.  Two years ago, it was he that asked allowed if anyone had planned to go to every game.  At the time, something in me told to spring into action and answer his call.  The rest of history, but let it be known that none of this might have ever happened if not for my buddy Leif.
Unfortunately, Leif was assaulted and seriously injured a few weeks prior.  Originally, Eli had planned for Leif and I to sit with him in section 124.  Life had other plans and the original Seahawks road warrior would not be able to join us.  Although he was recovering slowly, odds are it wouldn't be a great idea to watch a game at the CLink in such physical condition.  It was a devastating blow, as I knew how much being at this game would mean to him.  As the Broncos got ready to open the game with a kickoff to Percy Harvin, my thoughts were elsewhere as I thought of my friend and how I hoped the Seahawks pulled this one out for him.

As the ball flew through the air and into the waiting arms of Percy Harvin for a touchback, my mind quickly jumped back into focus.  The Super Bowl rematch that everyone was talking about was finally here.  A feeling of deja vu quickly sweeps over the record crowd on hand as Montee Ball turns over the ball on a fumble.  Once again, disaster had struck on the Broncos opening play from scrimmage.  As the first half continued, a similar story began to play out as the one that had in New Jersey in February.  Although the Broncos were definitely a much tougher side defensively than the one the Seahawks dispatched of in the Super Bowl, offensively they still couldn't seem to figure out the enigma that was the Seattle Seahawks defense.

Eli and I joke that Terrelle Pryor should have learned how to catch and he could have been the one catching passes from Jermaine Kearse.  We absolutely loved the pass to Wilson and it reminded me of the pass he caught for a touchdown at Wisconsin, only down the sideline.  It wasn't a great throw from Kearse but it got the job done and got the crowd going.  An even better play from the first half was when Russell Wilson found Ricardo Lockette streaking past Aqib Talib down the sideline for a 39 yard touchdown pass.  The play developed right in front of us in the South End Zone and words can't express the joy I was filled with when he came down with the ball just a few feet away.  I'll try though, it was athleticism personified.  It took going to a Seahawks game to a whole new level.  Getting to watch Beast Mode line up at receiver and catch a touchdown pass was pretty damn awesome too.

It's halftime now, and the scoreboard reads 17-3, Seahawks.  After a week of wondering whether the Seahawks would be able to answer the bell, it appeared that our concerns had been alleviated.  As they say, winning is the magic elixir, and that appeared to be the case on this day as well.  Then, inexplicably, the Seahawks did everything they could to give the Broncos the game.
No, I'm not talking about on the field.  At the half the Seahawks revealed a new version of their mascot Blitz and even a new sidekick for Blitz that goes by the name of Boom.  It was obvious that this messed with the Seahawks, as they came back from the halftime interval and slowly began letting the Broncos back into it.  Numerous stalled drives, a safety, and an untimely interception deep in their own territory among other things, meant that we had a ballgame on our hands again.  Things were looking bleak and it was time for a hero to stand up and save the day.

With time waning in the fourth quarter and Seahawks fans everywhere at the edge of their collective seats, that hero appeared in the form of a 6'3" 235 pound "deathbacker", as Eli has awesomely coined.  Kam Chancellor leaps into the air and robs Manning's pass intended for Wes Welker.  For his troubles, Welker is absolutely leveled by Earl Thomas, as Kam Chancellor zips down the sideline to set up the Seahawks with excellent field position.  The man who's face graced the ticket for the day's game had just proven to be a man of his word.  Kam said earlier in the week that when life gives you a whooping, you just get up and keep fighting.  Well, that's exactly what Kam did on this day.

We absolutely lose our minds in jubilation, and for a second the pain in my head is killing me.  Must be the combination of yelling and constant, deafening crowd noise.  With the score at 17-12, Steven Hauschka adds another field goal to his tally and puts the 'Hawks up 20-12 with just about a minute left in the game.  The ending seems a foregone conclusion at this point.  With no timeouts left, 59 seconds to work with, and 80 yards to march, the Broncos hopes seemed dashed.

However, there's a reason why Peyton Manning's going to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio once his playing days are over.  I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but there it was.  In 41 seconds the Broncos managed to march down the field, and after a 26 yard strike from Peyton to Jacob Tamme of all people, the game was now only a 2 point game!  The crowd rose to it's feet for what we hoped would be one last stand.  The Broncos needed this 2 point conversion in order to send the game into overtime, an outcome that seemed highly unlikely just minutes earlier.  My head begins to throb again as CenturyLink live's up to it's billing as the loudest stadium in the country.

Still, despite the amazing wave of noise, it isn't enough.  Demaryius Thomas makes an amazing grab while also managing to get his two feet in bounds to tie the game.  The crowd falls silent, stunned by what we had just witnessed.  As the Seahawks offense takes the field to take the customary kneel-down to end regulation, I can't help but notice how unflappable Russell Wilson appears to be in this moment.  He claps his hands after the final knee, and hands the ball to the official, seemingly poised for an opportunity to win the game in overtime.
The man would get his chance, as Peyton Manning clearly subscribes to the "tails never fails" theory.  Only it did on this day in the Pacific Northwest.

The Seahawks won the toss and their brave leader embraced the opportunity.  Aided by some excellent playcalling from Darrell Bevell, and some timely, tough running by the man they call 'Beast Mode', Russell Wilson marched the Seahawks down the field.  Most impressive was Russell's ability to scramble and pick up key first down's to keep the drive in tact.  After some nice plays that resulted in big gains to Percy Harvin and birthday boy, Doug Baldwin, The Seahawks were in position to win this seesaw affair.  As Marshawn Lynch leaped through the air and landed in the endzone, the referee signaled touchdown and the crowd went wild!  Despite giving away the lead, the resilient Seahawks had bounced back and won it in overtime, 26-20.

We watched the players run towards the tunnel, some with the look of relief on their faces and others jubilant after a tough, hard-fought victory.  In the stands, we felt a bit of the same.  Sure, the Seahawks probably should never have been in such a situation, but at the end of the day they earned the W the hard way, and that's all that really matters in the NFL.  These type of character building wins will all be appreciated in January.  My thoughts shift to my buddy Leif one last time, as we head for the exit's.  I'm just glad they pulled this one out for him.

Unfortunately for me, a redeye to Newark meant that any postgame celebrating would have to be kept to a minimum.  Eli, Jason, Amy, and I grab a drink at the Hawk's Nest before I meet up with Jordan at Temple for one more.  Everyone is pleased with the win and hopeful that the bye week is coming at exactly the right time, despite being earlier in the season than most would usually prefer.  When all was said and done, I headed for the LightRail to catch my flight at Sea-Tac.

As I waited for my flight to take off, I couldn't help but think of how proud I was of this team.  Despite the negativity all week, with their backs up against the wall, and despite the poor performance in San Diego, they were able to answer the bell and not only did they just answer the bell, they came back fighting just like champions do.  I vowed to never underestimate how important heart is, ever again.

We took off and despite the uncertainty and unemployment, I was still here.  I had just witnessed an amazing game where the Seahawks showed the world what makes them so great.  Now, the future seemed bright again.  With a conveniently placed bye week coming up, I now knew that everything would be alright.  I had been through the lowest lows and more good times lay ahead.  Just stick with the plan.  I drifted off into sleep, the nightmare of last week behind me, replaced by sweeter dreams of Kam Chancellor interceptions and Marshawn Lynch touchdowns.  Balance had been restored to the universe.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A giant slice of humble pie

Life has a way of bringing you back down to reality in the most humbling of ways.  One week you're on top of the world, thinking about how nice life is at the moment and even about the possibilities of witnessing an undefeated season.  The next, you're unemployed and watching those chances quite literally wilt away in the heat and crumble like the decaying stadium around you.  C'est la vie!  Especially life in the NFL.  And while life might sometimes give us a whoopin' like the Chargers gave the Seahawks on Sunday, we must answer the bell. 

Fresh off of losing my job earlier in the week, and with my heart heavy as my buddy Leif was on the mend after a random assault, things were not looking too great heading into the trip to San Diego.  The separation IS in the preparation though, at least this time, as fellow road warrior Greg and I had planned this trip months in advance.  At the time, we saw this as a sort of reward after an amazing 2013 season.  Now, as father time crept up on us as he saw often does, it felt like we were heading to paradise.  A chance to get away, clear my head, reflect, plan ahead, and enjoy life in it's simplicity and all it has to offer.

Life hardly ever seems to follow the script though.  Even in instances like last season where dreams come true and the improbable happens, life has a way of putting it's own signature on it just to let us know that we don't know as much as we think we do.  Many predicted the Seahawks to win it all last season but could anyone have guessed that they'd do it in the fashion that they did?  43-8 against Peyton Manning and the greatest offense of all-time was equal parts improbable and amazing.  Similarly, when it rains it often pours, and sometimes life just wants to see what you're made of.

Greg and I flew out from JFK on Friday night.  It's a six hour flight, just like flying to Seattle, so we took solace in that.  Our body's were used to that trek by now.  We were seasoned, grizzled vets like Chris Gray and Robbie Tobeck.  With a little luck, we got in to San Diego earlier than expected.  After checking in at the Kings Inn Hotel, we hit up our first order of business.  Finding the closest In-N-Out Burger.  After devouring some animal style double-double's we met our friend Giuseppe at his friend's house near Qualcomm Stadium.

As fate would have it, Giuseppe also made the trek out west from back home, only on a different flight a few hours later.  As expected, he is in his orange Von Miller jersey.  He's always been a diehard Broncos fan, even since childhood back in New York City, which in reality was the only tough part about the Super Bowl for me this past February.  Giuseppe was in attendance at MetLife as well and it was tough knowing that a good friend of mine was having to endure that kind of trauma.  The matchup we dreamed of as children had turned into a personal nightmare for him.  The young man has always had high spirits though, so he handled the defeat gracefully, even offering me his seat after the Super Bowl ended so that I could watch the trophy presentation from a better seat.

We spent the night reminiscing and talking about the matchup in Week 3 that loomed.  Afterwards, Greg and I called it a night and headed back to our hotel after a clutch ride from one of Giuseppe's friends.  We retired for the night, interested to find out what this seemingly beautiful city looked like while it was illuminated.

We awoke from our slumber as the sun rose, our bodies still in tuned with the timezone back home.  After our attempts to stream the Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona match failed miserably, we decided to hit the town.  First order of business though, of course, was securing some fish tacos.  We went to Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill, and although they were out of the shark for the day, the food was absolutely fantastic and worth the wait.  The seared ahi tuna tacos were amazing!  Greg pulled his best Marshawn Lynch imitation, going full beast mode and devouring six tacos!

Afterwards, we hit the beaches of San Diego for the first time.  A ferry takes us over to Coronado Island, as the blistering heat of the sun intensifies.  After a decent trek from where the ferry drops you off to the actual beaches, our reward was getting a chance to lay down in the sand and just relax.  It was exactly what the doctor ordered for two weary travelers.  The sight of the sun setting in the distance as we headed back to the ferry is now etched in my mind forever.  It was rare beauty and I could see why people would want to call this place home.

After the ferry brought us back downtown, we decided to link up with some other 12's to get the festivities for the weekend started.  After all, the scenery and food was great so far, but we were here to watch the Seahawks go to 2-0 on the season with a win over the Chargers.  Or so we thought.  

The Whiskey Girl sounded like the place to be on Saturday night, and on our walk there the streets were polluted with blue and lime green.  Seahawks fans were everywhere you looked, and they were making their presence felt and heard.  Before making it to the Whiskey Girl our buddy and Seahawks.Net creator, Todd, told us that there was another Seahawks party going down at Thrusters.  As fate would have it, Todd and his friends were also staying at the Kings Inn.  Amazingly, Todd's room was just two doors away from ours!  It seemed that the football God's were lining up another amazing weekend for us.

Unfortunately, morale was pretty low.  Earlier in the day, the Seahawks.Net community had learned of the passing of Les "The Radish" Norton.  Radish, as he was affectionately known, was well-liked and respected in the community and was a man who always wanted to make sure that newcomers and regulars alike felt welcome.  His loss is a big one for everybody, especially for Todd who had known Les personally for many years.  Football took a backseat for a moment, as real life took the wheel for a minute.

After collecting ourselves, it was here where Greg and I first met our eventual tailgating buddies for the weekend.  Todd's friend, Ross, had made the trip from Tokyo for this one.  He stands wearing his finest Jim Zorn jersey.  He is flanked by his two friends, Jesse and Micki, the pregame and tailgate crew now set.  After getting acquainted, we headed over to Thrusters to check out the party.  

Of course, rolling six deep in an SUV that's only got five seats meant that yours truly would affectionately be known as "trunk guy" for the rest of the trip.  Upon arrival, we saw that this place was legitimately packed with Seahawks fans.  Once there, we meet another 12, Den.  A true gentleman, Den buys our entire group a round as we head towards the back and away from the utter chaos towards the head of the bar.  Todd is in shock that there are so many Seahawks fans at a bar in San Diego.  We talk about how probably five or so years ago, this bar would probably be empty.  Not tonight.  Not anymore.  The Seahawks are winner's now, and when you're a winner, everyone wants a part of you.  

We sit and watch the Seahawks 2013 DVD and relive all of the high's and low's from last year.  As my Guinness nears completion, out of nowhere Den swoops in with another one!  As someone who's spent a lot of time in the service industry, I was definitely impressed with the Russell Wilson-like awareness.  After polishing off our drinks, we made our way back to the Kings Inn.  It was the night before gameday, and we didn't want to go too crazy and regret it in the morning.

Finally, Sunday Bloody Sunday.  Greg and I woke up and did a little last-minute shopping for our game tickets.  The decision to wait it out paid off for us as we were able to find tickets for less than $100, which is what we were hoping for.  Without a job, and with resources dwindling, every dollar counts at this point.  Despite the potential crisis that looms, it mattered not at the moment, as it was time to get down to business.

After Todd and the gang finished up with breakfast, we hit the highway and head down towards Qualcomm Stadium.  Not before a stop for some supplies at Costco of course!  Once again, I was trunk guy.  In an attempt to channel our "inner Dale" from our trip to Indianapolis for the Colts game last season, we went with a bottle of Maker's Mark as our weapon of choice.  Dale is a friend of ours who was also in Indy last year.  Greg and I had arrived at the tailgate just a few minutes before gametime, but Dale was ready and handed us a bottle of Maker's to catch up with the rest of the crowd.  This was our attempt to honor Dale.

As our group tried to coordinate our last minute shopping as if we were the Seahawks in the two minute drill, we bumped into DeShawn Shead's family!  DeShawn's uncle excitingly exclaims, "that's my nephew!"  Our groups share a "GO Hawks!" and then we head our separate ways.  Once we arrive at the Qualcomm parking lot, we can see that the crowd is split about 60/40 in favor of Chargers fans.  Still a pretty impressive showing from the traveling 12th Man.

Time wasn't on our side on this day.  After walking with two coolers halfway around the stadium, we finally set up shop next to a massive Seahawks tailgate in P2 and set out find some of our other friends who had made the trip up for the game as well.  Unfortunately, time didn't allow us to find our buddy Bart, who was no doubt wreaking havoc somewhere around that lot.  After some rapid fire consumption, we stashed our beverages with some friendly Seahawks fans and headed towards the entrance.

It was flashbacks of the Houston game from last season, as security couldn't seem to get a proper handle on the sea of humanity entering the stadium.  The line to get in was moving at a snail's pace but finally we got in, not before missing the Seahawks opening drive.  Well, most of it.  We got to our seats just in time to watch Russell Wilson get sacked by a swarm of San Diego defenders.  Seahawks punt.

I'll be honest, I wasn't prepared for the heat.  You hear all these things about San Diego having the perfect weather all year round, as a first timer, I didn't even check the weather for any of the days we were supposed to be in town.  Just like Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, taking the heat lightly was my first mistake.  I don't know if it was the heat, or the Maker's Mark (or both!), or what but I was not my usual optimistic self.

This was not a fun one to watch from the stands if you were a Seahawks fan.  Despite signs of life and a rapid fire offense that wasn't struggling to score points against the Chargers defense, the Seahawks just couldn't get the Chargers offense off the field.  This would ultimately prove to be their demise.  A combination of the heat, flawless execution from Philip Rivers and company, and the renaissance of Antonio Gates would ultimately be their undoing.  Along with some horrendous penalties to go along with it.  If last week was a banner day for the Seahawks, then this week's game was more like report card day in elementary school, and the Seahawks had just flunked everything.

As we sat and watched the Seahawks defense just get absolutely shredded, as players shuttled in and out of the locker sporadically for IV's, I struggled to keep it together.  I started thinking of all the people who told me I was making a mistake coming to these games, all the people who told me that the 'Hawks didn't stand a chance this year, and I started to think "what if they're right?"  What if it's not meant to be this year?  I was newly unemployed for the first time in years, bills and pressure were mounting back home, and this year's quest was looking bleaker by the second.  The seeds of doubt had crept in and now I wasn't acting like myself.

Still, I tried to hold it together and turn my attitude around for crunch time.  The Seahawks, despite their misery on the day, still had a chance.  Although I was finally able to turn my negativity around, it was too little too late.  Greg and I were sure of the fact that Russell would march us down the field and win us the game as time expired.  I was sure that the quest to go undefeated would continue.  It was only Week 2 for crying out loud!  This wasn't the way it was supposed to go down!

I was wrong on both fronts.  The Seahawks final two drives on offense were absolutely abysmal, and just like they had done all game, the Chargers executed their gameplan to perfection.  Just like that, as the clock struck zero, it was all over.  The hopes of an undefeated season, the Seahawks streak of not losing by more than 7 points, it was all gone.  Credit to San Diego though, they came to play.  Their crowd was louder than anticipated, they dealt with the heat better, and they executed near-flawlessly against the defending Super Bowl champions.  Sometimes you've just got to tip your cap to the opposition.  Sometimes it's just not your day.

I say that now but I wasn't having any of that after the game.  I was defeated.  I wasn't a broken man, but I was definitely defeated much like the Seahawks were on this day.  Luckily for me though, as I've known all of my life, I have the greatest support system of all-time.  Greg and Todd were both there to let me know that these things happen and that we, and the Seahawks, will live to see another day.  It sounds silly, but I needed to hear it.  Todd stressed that even though the game hadn't turned out anything like we had imagined, we still had to have a good time and not let it break us.

So we headed to the Whiskey Girl to watch the Bears take on the 49ers.  After witnessing what we had witnessed just minutes earlier, I was convinced that it wasn't meant to be our day and that the 49ers would roll over the Bears.  And at first, it was looking like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Kaepernick was looking sharp, Frank Gore appeared to have found the same fountain of youth that Antonio Gates bathed in earlier, and the 49ers appeared to be rolling to a 2-0 start, and first place in the division.

Still, Todd remained optimistic through it all.  He told us that Good Jay Culter would show up.  He told us that Kaepernick would crap the bed and that the Bears would do the Seahawks a solid and take care of business.  And as unlikely as it had seemed hours earlier, it started to happen!  Soon, the 49ers and their beleaguered quarterback were in full-on choke mode!  Brandon Marshall was catching everything thrown his way, Kyle Fuller was masquerading as the 49ers best receiver on the field, and Michael Crabtree was predictably being mediocre.  Before we knew it, Cutler found Marshall for a 3rd time and the turnaround was totally complete!  The Bears had pulled off what seemed impossible earlier in the day.

We took this as our silver lining.  Todd had urged us to soldier and to continue to have a good time, we did, and the universe decided to throw us a bone in the form of a devastating 'Niners loss to open up their new stadium.  You couldn't have scripted it any better.  Afterwards, Greg and I were exhausted from the last few day's so we called it quits for the night.  Todd, Ross, Jesse, and Micki met up with Bart back at Thrusters and kept the good times rolling.

The next day, we ventured back to the beaches, only this time we hit up Mission Beach instead.  After a long, interesting weekend this was the perfect remedy.  Just laying on the beach and relaxing.  What was in the past was in the past, and only the future lie ahead, and it was still bright.  After some beers at a local watering hole and some time to reflect on it all with "Dolphins" by Fred Neil playing in the background, Greg and I grabbed a cab and made a break for the airport.  As we waited for our flight, we realized that things could have been worse.  We could be the 49ers or the Colts, and we could have just endured absolutely miserable defeats at home.  And just like that, we were in the air and on our way back home.

It wasn't until a few days later that I was actually able to cope with this all.  I even re-watched the game on NFL Rewind as part of the healing process, and tried looking for positives instead of all the negatives.  Life had taught me a valuable lesson once again.  Stick with the plan and what got us to where we were, but take this defeat and life's defeats as a sign that not everything is sound within the plan and that certain details need to be ironed out.

A few minutes after the game rewind was complete, I realized what had doomed us in San Diego.  As I was cleaning out one of my drawers at home, I found a random San Diego Chargers mini-helmet laying about.  I don't even know how it ever got there, but there it was, sticking out like a sore thumb.  I snatched it and tried thinking of a proper end for it.  Burn it?  Nah, its plastic, that wouldn't end well.  Throw it in the trash and be gone with it?  Nah, not good enough.  I had something better in mind.  Looks like the Chargers mini-helmet was making the next trip out west with me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A banner day, in so many ways

"They'll never repeat, kid!  You're out of your damn mind!  You're dreamin!"

"Why don't you just go out on top?  You had the storybook season last year?!"

"I feel like you're Icarus right now, and you're about to fly too close to the sun."

These are just a few of the things I've heard upon telling people (people who I trust and love no less!) that the Seattle Seahawks are going to RePete as Super Bowl Champions and that I am going to be there to witness it.  The response (of course the response from Seahawks fans has been tremendous, but would you expect anything else?) has been lukewarm at best, and that's trying to be overly optimistic as I have no choice but to be after experiencing last season.  

And I'll admit, for a brief moment or two in the weeks after Super Bowl 48, that I thought about returning to my spot among the masses at Carlow East.  How could you top last season?  Why even bother when last season was so perfect?  Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the NFL teams that have to play the Seahawks this season, that's not what Pete Carroll has ingrained in this team and it's legion of rabid fans.  Sure, seeing the Seahawks finally win the Super Bowl was amazing.  Last season was one of, if not, the greatest experience of my life!  However, like a good friend just told me not too long ago, don't sell yourself short!

I thought back to February 2nd, 2014 and I tried to remember how I felt as I walked out of MetLife Stadium and back into the world.  A world where the Seahawks were now at the center of the NFL universe.  People had assured me that this would never happen, that pigs would fly and the world would end if it did.  What I remember feeling most following the Seahawks legendary 43-8 win over the Broncos, was that this team was only getting started.  We could be about to witness something truly great and I wanted to stick along for the ride.  With that feeling fresh in my mind, I booked a flight to Training Camp for practice on August 12th.  I was fully committed to witnessing history.

The Training Camp trip gave me a sort of peace of mind that I needed with the new season looming.  The whole time I was trying to strike a balance between recognizing what worked the first time and duplicating it, and how to even improve upon things and do things better than I had done them last season.  It wasn't until the trip had ended and I had returned home that I realized to trust myself and my instincts, not forget where I came from, and never to forget who helped get me to where I was.  In essence, just go with the flow and the right things will happen.

A few weeks after Camp, I read an article by Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times examining the Seahawks and the main trait that Pete Carroll looks for in his players, grit.  This article spoke to me and my journey, and I thought of this as proof from the universe that I needed to continue on the path I was headed down.  Once I saw these quotes from Earl Thomas, I knew that it simply had to be...

Thomas long ago set his sights on being the best free safety ever, and he understands the cost of that pursuit.

“This is a lonely road,” he said. “I already made peace with it. I already took that challenge. Ain’t no turning back now.”

Fast forward to the night of Wednesday, September 3rd.  Luckily, the road wasn't going to be so lonely this time.  Jazz and Juan, two of my best friends from childhood, were set to join me on my trip to watch the banner go up for the first time.  This was their maiden voyage to the Pacific Northwest, and for Juan and I this was even more special.  Juan's a Green Bay Packers fan and for years we've dreamed of the day where we'd be in the stands at a Packers/Seahawks game.  The day had finally come for us, but I had an ace up my sleeve.

That ace was our buddy Jazz.  While his allegiances on the exterior were neutral in support of his friends, his track record told a completely different story.  Twice Jazz had ventured with me to Seahawks games, once in 2005 when the 'Hawks took on the Eagles in Philly on Monday Night Football.  The final score?  42-0, Seahawks.  The other time?  Last season, Seahawks at Giants, the final score of that game you might ask?  23-0, Seahawks.  Somehow, my friend Jazz had managed to go to two Seahawks games in his life, road games no less, and the combined tally from those two games was 65-0.  I have to be honest, I liked our chances.

I couldn't sleep much during the flight.  It could be because I was replaying all the great memories forged with such great people last year, or it could be because I was the dude with the window seat who was getting crushed by his friend in the middle.  Either way, I had time to do a lot of thinking and I couldn't help but feel that this is why I do it and this is how I know I'm alive. 

Don't get me wrong, the offseason was great.  First ever as a Super Bowl Champion, got to spend a lot of time with my little sister and my mother, along with my lady and my friends.  I almost didn't want it to end.  Then, there's that feeling like you know you have to move on and step into the future because possibly even greater things await you.  You just have to make that power move and step out of your comfort zone.  

When we finally touched down in Seattle, we laid our eyes on the gorgeous September day.  It rained during my stay in Training Camp which was fitting for the "grind it out" type of mindset I like to get in for Training Camp, but this was truly incredible.  I've never seen Mt. Rainier so clearly before!  Juan and Jazz note how clean and crisp the air smells.  We were no longer suffocating from New York City smog.  

"It should be illegal to have this many trees.", Jazz says.  For three childhood friends from Queens, New York...  Seattle, Washington is a world's away and a different world almost entirely.  This marked a banner day in our friendship.  

As we head towards SODO station on the Light Rail, the stadium and downtown come into view.  Juan is particularly amazed by the sight of CenturyLink.  Deep down inside, I get that same comfortable feeling that I always get, the same feeling as when I see the house I grew up in in Queens.

We were hungry now, so we make our way to Temple Billiards for some grub.  The scene near CenturyLink is one of pandemonium.  Security and police officers are lining the streets.  I had forgotten that there would be pregame festivities as well!  Don't get me wrong, I respect Soundgarden, but the only thing on my mind was watching the Seahawks take the field and watching that banner go up and watching the Packers go down. 

We hadn't planned on staying very long, but the universe had another plan for us.  Before I knew it, the place was loaded with some very dear friends of mine.  People who helped make last season possible.  People who helped me live a dream that seemed almost impossible.  I couldn't have scripted it any better.  Steve, Jordan, Bart and his family, Todd, John, Dom, Jen, Lon, Rhonda, Vijay, Drew and the whole gang from last year.  Well, most of it.  Sadly, Leif wasn't able to make it out and he was definitely missed, but he was there in spirit as he always is.  Those of us that were, reminisced over last year, while discussing the preseason and the future of the team.  Beers were flowing, people were chanting "Seahawks!", and 3 boyhood friends from New York City were about to watch the season opener in Seattle!

We left Temple at around 4 and started the walk over to the stadium.  The atmosphere around the stadium was incredible.  There's a good energy in the air or is that something else?  Packers fans and Seahawks fans alike appear to be getting along.  There's Rodgers jersey's and cheeseheads scattered about but for the most part the crowd is a sea of blue and lime green.  You can tell that everyone is ready to watch the banner go up, as people are streaming to their seats already, a full hour and a half before kickoff.  On the walk, we bump into an old friend, Eli!  Eli hooked it up repeatedly down the stretch last year, so it was a good omen to bump into him in the same exact spot that we had bumped into each other randomly before the Champions parade in February.  After the chance encounter, the three of us head through Touchdown City and up to our seats.

Finally, the culmination of every Seahawks fans wildest dream turned reality.  The players finish their warmups and it was now time for the raising of the championship banner.  One of my favorite songs from when I was a child started to play, 'The Lombardi Trophy (Reprise)' by David Robidoux.  Chills ran up my spine and my skin had turned to goosebumps all over just as when it had played months earlier at MetLife Stadium.  

From our view in Section 302, Row U, which ended up being the wrong seats, it was amazing.  I stood there screaming my head off, along with 68,000 or so other lunatics.  With the sun beaming upon us, this truly was our day in the sun.  A true banner day at CenturyLink Field for not only the Seahawks, but the entire city of Seattle.  My home away from home had waited so long for this kind of day and deserved every minute of it.

Then, the Seahawks organization went for the kill shot.  As if this day couldn't get any better, Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy, and Walter Jones all come out to raise the 12th Man Flag!  The Seahawks absolutely nailed it with this selection and soon everybody was riding the incredible wave of emotion.  The noise was deafening.  The 12th Man flag went up, and after the wind delayed Steven Hauschka for just a second by knocking the ball off the tee, the opening kickoff was sent into the air and the NFL season was underway!

Much like the Super Bowl a few months earlier, the Seahawks rode the wave of momentum straight through the opening kickoff and through the entire game.  What followed was an assortment of standout plays from the guys we've come to expect greatness from.

On defense, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner were in particularly impressive form.  When Kam Chancellor gets his hands on you, you go down, and usually pretty hard.  Bobby Wagner wasn't missing many tackles either.  In fact, as a whole, you can tell that the Seahawks are head and shoulders above the rest of the league in the tackling department.  I was able to watch most of the rest of the game's in the NFL this week and I've gotta say, no one misses less tackles and no one swarms faster to the football than the Seattle Seahawks.

On offense, first and foremost, kudos go out to Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable for their outstanding work in Week 1.  The Seahawks approach appeared more balanced, and more dynamic, although the Packers defense doesn't appear to be one of the stronger units around the league.  Still, Bevell received a ton of heat last season so I think he deserves some credit for a sound gameplan that kept the Packers off-balance throughout.  Cable deserves some love because the Offensive Line has been much maligned by Seahawks fans, and rightfully so, as it's been a poor unit since Russell Wilson has been under center and even beyond.  If Week 1 is any indication, things have changed and the line has improved significantly.

Speaking of #3, Russell was his usual Wilsonian self.  Smart, safe, and a leader all the way.  It wasn't his best game, but he delivered exactly what the Seahawks needed from him.  Zach Miller was his usual reliable self, while making an outstanding one-handed grab that was one of the highlights of the game.  He also did solid work against Clay Matthews when called upon.  How about James Carpenter and JR Sweezy turning in very nice performances as well?

Then, there's Percy Harvin.  I think, if Jimi Hendrix were alive to today, he'd a huge fan of the Seattle Seahawks, and on offense, Percy Harvin would probably be his favorite player.  So much raw talent, so unorthodox, but so damn good!  The main thing that stuck with me and my buddies at practice a month earlier was the explosiveness of #11.  The speed he maintains in and out of his breaks is breathtaking, and that was on display for all to see this past Thursday.  In fact, I think Percy's still getting used to his wheels post hip surgery, as he seemed to keep stumbling over himself when turning it up into top gear.  If he keeps up his play from his past 2 games in blue and green, I suspect we'll be the ones falling head over heels for #11.

What about Marshawn?  He was definitely the star of the show for me.  This was a prototypical Marshawn Lynch performance.  With acres of running room, Beast made the Packers pay repeatedly.  He appears to be in prime shape and ready to have yet another fantastic season, in what could be his last for the 'Hawks, but let's not worry about that!  Growing up in New York, I've watched a ton of Derek Jeter in my life.  I'm not a Yankees fan, but you can't help but respect the guy and the way he goes about things on game day and I'm sure Yankees fans can't imagine life without him.  I feel that way about Marshawn and I feel that fans across the league do as well.  You can't not respect 'Shawn.  It was great to see him start the season so strong after the tumultuous offseason he just endured.  And thanks to some new glasses this season, I can actually see everything that's going on!  Funny how that works.

As the Seahawks salted this one away in the fourth quarter, the destruction was complete.  Before them lay another future Hall of Fame quarterback, defeated without mercy.  I couldn't help but feel bad for my buddy Juan as we walked out of the stadium, the scoreboard reading 36-16 in favor of the home team.  Even he understood that it was a tall order to have to try and beat the Seahawks, in Seattle, on the day of their first ever Super Bowl Champions banner being unveiled.  Truth to be told, some unfortunate injuries probably didn't help the Packers in their quest to knock off the World Champs, but that hardly stood a chance anyway.  Still, I felt confident that this isn't the last time we'll be seeing cheeseheads in some of the seats at CenturyLink.

After the game we returned to Temple to celebrate and reflect upon what we'd just witnessed and what we felt the future held.  It felt just like last season, with us all giddy and in awe of our boys in Blue.  Jazz was a bit disappointed that his personal Seahawks shutout streak had ended, but we deduced that they still dominated and that maybe they save the shutouts for the road hwen he's in attendance?  The combined score of the 3 Seahawks games he's attended is now 101-16.  Unbelievable!  Maybe Jazz needs to take my place at all of these games?

After a few drinks, everyone had decided to call it quits and head their separate ways.  The Queens trio joined up with Jordan for a trip to Dick's for some burger and fries and a nightcap because no trip to Seattle is complete without a trip to Dick's.  While we were there, we bumped into Tony Drovetto, the Seahawks Digital Content Coordinator!  Drovetto had shared a link to my story from the Daily News last season on Seahawks.Com, so it was great to meet him and get to thank him for the recognition.

Unfortunately, work and circumstance conspired to make our trip a short one.  After crashing at Jordan's, we woke up and tried to take in as much of Seattle as we possibly could before our 3:30 PM flight back home.  We hit up Paseo for some Cuban sandwiches and quickly devoured them at Golden Gardens with an outstanding and tranquil view.  Without a doubt, the best cuban sandwich I've ever had in my life!  It was nice to get a chance to chill out after a 24 hour span that included 6 hours of flying and a season opener, with 6 more hours of flying still left ahead of us.  In the words of Marshawn though, we were just about that action, boss.

After a brief stop at Pike Place Market, we hit the Light Rail and headed to the airport for our voyage home.  The three of us had just concluded an amazing journey that we'll never forget as long as we live.  So many great memories, with so many great people.  Some might even say it was perfect.

I mentioned earlier that there had to be a way to do things better than they've ever been done before.  Well, what about perfection?  With the memory of the Seahawks beating the Packers by twenty points without even really playing their "best game" fresh in mind, my mind started to drift.  Could this be the year?  Is this what called me back to the quest?  A quest for perfection perhaps?  Only time will tell.  I know one thing for sure, this team is the team to reckon with in the NFL.  As we touched down back in Newark, we took the train to Manhattan before finally heading our separate ways and returning to our "real lives."  After all, all good things must come to an end, even Super Bowl Champion offseason's.  This should be no different.

The story doesn't end there though, no.  Remember that story I mentioned about grit?  Life continues and always has a way of challenging you to see if you're ready for battle.  See, I should've known things would get tough, "they" always say that repeating isn't easy.  A few months earlier, I had left my old job as a manager at a place called 'El Ay Si'.  El Ay Si was great, it offered me a flexible schedule, I worked for, with, and met some outstanding people that I still call friends to this day, and of course it offered me a chance to go to every game last season.  I'll always be grateful for El Ay Si.

Still, things come and go in life, and new owners were set to not only take over, but change everything that the place had stood for.  Meanwhile, an old regular told me to quit my job and come work for him at a place he was reopening, Brooklyn Public House.  After watching El Ay Si begin to crumble, people I respect be disrespected, and a mutiny ensue, I decided to take the regular up on his offer and go work for him.  He knew of my Seahawks odyssey the season prior, said that he loved it, and would try and accommodate me in my quest to witness the RePete.

Well, it's only about 2 months later and he and his business partner had a change of heart.  Much like Earl Thomas on punt returns, Brooklyn Public House pulled the plug on it's experiment with me.  No word yet on whether or not there is a server's version of Bryan Walters waiting in the wings to replace me.  "That's business", as they say.

There's another saying though, one that you'll all know, "the separation is in the preparation."  Thankfully, I've already had my trips to San Diego and Seattle for the Denver game booked, with a bye week looming after that, followed by a short trip from NYC to DC for the game against Washington on Monday Night.  It's time to show the true grit of a champion, and like Earl must do, it's time to bounce back from the punches life throws at us.  

Pete Carroll and company love to say, "what's next?"  Hell, it's even inscribed on their Super Bowl ring.  After this whirlwind of a week, I'm really left wondering, what's next?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Destiny fulfilled, Dynasty awaits

I've tried to think of the right words to say for days now.  The haze that was the last three weeks (make that six months) hasn't even begun to wear off, and I'm okay with that.  In fact, I want things to stay like this forever.  It all just feels like a giant dream sequence, and I know for a fact that I'm not the only person who feels this way.  Maybe that's just what happens when the universe steps in to help create something amazing.  When people believe in something to their core and never stop believing.  Make no mistake, this past 2013-2014 season was one of those magical, fairy tale stories in sports that we've always heard about as Seahawks fans; but never gotten to experience for ourselves.  A year where everything seemed to break just right.  Even the dreaded high ankle sprains of the past that ended many a season didn't seem to take as long to heal from.  This year was all about fulfilling our destiny.

Coaches, players, and fans alike knew that this year was destined to be special.  You could feel it in the Renton air during Training Camp on August 4th.  Expectations were high and practices were efficient and precise.  The scheduled team-autograph session turned out to be a dud for the legion of parents who brought their children to camp for a chance to snag some autographs.  Instead of the likes of Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch greeting the fans, it was instead Darren Fells, Benson Mayowa, and Ryan Seymour who stole the show.  Nothing against any of those guys, but many a child (and parent.  More so the parents, actually now that I think of it...) went home disappointed that day.  Aside from Doug Baldwin making a cameo, the rest of the team was too busy hitting the weights.  This was a team on a mission.  It certainly paid off big time.

Even my bus driver from Seattle to Renton was telling me about the electricity in the air in the city with regards to the Seahawks.  It's as if it just took over the entire state.  A clan of blue and green zombies who believed to the very bottom of their souls that the Seahawks were going to win the Super Bowl in 2013.  That feeling that was in the air helped lay the foundation to a Championship season.  It can not be overstated.  Neither can the legendary work ethic and relentless preparation of the staff and players.  The two, in unison, have proven to be an absolutely beautiful dynamic.  What viewers from afar might consider a cheesy slogan like "we all we got, we all need", just the typical stuff you'd expect from a Pete Carroll coached team, has transformed a community.  We actually believe these things.  It's not just rhetoric or mumbo jumbo.  That's what makes us special and unique as a fanbase.  

Fast forward 6 calendar months and 18 games later and the Seahawks, much like I had a week earlier, were flying to New Jersey.  My lady thought it would be cool if we went to Jersey City to the Westin where the team was staying to help greet them as they arrived.  As we headed out there, the reality started to sink in that this was really happening.  The Seahawks were going to be playing in New Jersey, in the Super Bowl!  This is a moment that I had imagined when Matt Bryant's field goal split the uprights in Atlanta last January.  What started as a simple idea, a thought, had now manifested itself into one of the greatest season's in team history and the chance for it not only to happen, but for me to witness it all unfold up close and in person.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

I can hardly believe my eyes.  There's a hotel, in New Jersey, covered in all things Seahawks.  Talk about surreal.  The thought of me ever seeing a Seahawks team hotel in Jersey never crossed my mind ever before.  Now, here it was.  That wasn't the only unbelievable sight though.  Perhaps even more incredible was the crowd of Seahawks fans that seemed to form in a mere matter of minutes just around the hotel's front driveway.  I've known all season that I live a charmed existence and that the god's of good fortune have smiled favorably upon me, but this was further proof.  Immediately to the side of my girlfriend and I were old friends from Carlow East that I hadn't seen all season long.  Despite the fact that we hadn't seen each other in months, there were hugs and high-fives all around as we all were overwhelmed by the most amazing happiness we'd probably ever felt in our entire lives.

You hardly realized you were standing in the cold when the buses pulled up and the team started to empty out.  I looked around as everyone was losing their minds, amazed by what I saw.  The 12th Man was being heard in Jersey City, and this was just for the team arriving at the hotel!  Mostly everyone who was flying in for the Super Bowl hadn't made the trip out East yet.  Still, the team felt the 12th Man once again as they made their way straight for the hotel lobby.  Fans screamed and called out players' names, but this team remained laser-focused like they have been since the clock's struck zero on January 13th, 2013, in Atlanta.  They went straight for the hotel doors and just like that, they were gone.  I didn't have the greatest view in the world, so I didn't couldn't quite make out all the players coming off the bus, but it was cool.  Just being there was enough.  Hearing one kid walk away saying, "that was a life-changing experience, I was this close to Earl Thomas just now" was enough for me to know that this meant a lot to a lot of different people.

After a drink with friends, both old and new, we turn the page to Media Day.  A lifelong friend of mine, Joe, bought the tickets weeks in advance.  Prior to that, I never thought I'd have any interest in attending Media Day.  It's an absolute circus and demonstrates how far sports journalism has fallen, but I figured this was the only time I'd ever go in my life, so why not.  Predictably, it's about what you'd expect.  You're sitting in a seat at the Prudential Center, watching these guys answer tons of questions, while you yourself are wearing headsets and cycling between the channels to catch different interviews.  I feel bad for my friend as we arrive slightly late and he only gets to see a few minutes of Bronco interviews.  It was a sign of things to come for him.  After Marshawn let's the world know that he's just 'bout that action boss, we head for the Turnpike to start the trip home.

It's Friday before the game now and this is where things start to feel surreal again.  I wake at around 6am and head for the subway to eventually get on the PATH train to New Jersey.  I'm meeting with Mike Flood, the Seahawks VP of Community Outreach, and he's selling me a ticket for face value.  $1,000 for one seat.  Where?  Section 340, Row 7, Seat 18.  Just as amazing was the fact that my co-workers took up a collection for me at work.  I was committed to earning my trip to the Super Bowl, to keep the same "earn everything" mindset that I had kept all season as to not do anything differently than I had been.  

However, my family, friends, and loved ones were equally as committed except they were committed to sending me to the Super Bowl.  And they did, as they raised over the $1,000 needed for the ticket.  All I could do was shake my head in disbelief and just think of the fact of how blessed I truly was all season long.  From Mike Flood looking out for me, to my loved ones hooking it up for me, I was almost sure of the fact that this was all really just one giant dream sequence.  I was bound to wake up back on that bus to Renton, with the bus driver waking me up and telling me that I had to leave.  I keep waiting for that to happen, but it still hasn't yet.  As torturous as that would be, I wouldn't even be mad.  I couldn't be.  This past year would make one hell of a dream!

To make the day even better, a few of my friends were making the trek out to New York City to help take in the festivities.  Jordan and Leif would be crashing at the "Seahawks Hotel" in Brooklyn, which was fitting because they did the same for the Seahawks/Giants game back in December.  The picture at the top is of all of us who went out for that game.  We were on our way back home, feeling all victorious and what not, when we saw the poster.  We all tried visualizing being back in February and finding that same poster and taking a picture in front of it after the Super Bowl as well.  In fact, a large part of the experience of the Giants game was conceptualizing the team using the game as a "dress rehearsal."  Much in the same, we wanted to learn from what we could have done differently, and perhaps better, back in December.  It's the type of mentality we figured the team would have, so why not us?  Why shouldn't we do the same?

With the stage set for the most memorable weekend of our lives, we hit the town on Friday night, first stop being Carlow East of course!  The place is an absolute madhouse, with everyone packing in like sardines to join the party.  It gets even more insane and even more crowded when Blue Thunder decides to crash the party!  Just like they do at Temple Billiards before every game, they rocked the roof off of the place!  My mind can't wrap around the fact that Blue Thunder are actually inside Carlow East, along with hundreds of other 12's.  You couldn't have scripted this any better in my mind.  After we somehow make our way out of Carlow, we hit up Old Prague in Astoria, Queens to wrap up the night and show New York how the 12th Man gets down and to show the 12th Man how Queens gets down!

The next day, we awake in Brooklyn with the phrase "do things better than you've ever done them before" fresh in our minds.  After the Giants game, our group had wanted to check out Di Fara Pizza, a legendary pizzeria in Midwood, Brooklyn.  I guess you could say the old man who still tends shop here is like the Chuck Knox of Pizza.  Just an old school dude with a fundamental approach and a time-honored way of doing things.  Sadly, Di Fara last time.  This time, we were going to make sure we had some of this pizza.  No doubt about it, it's worth the trek and it's worth the wait.  I simply refuse to believe that you can do pizza any better than Di Fara's in Brooklyn.  With our stomachs filled with goodness, we head to Broadway to finally check out the Super Bowl Boulevard.

Unfortunately, apparently so did everyone else in the city of New York.  When our group of 5 arrived at 34th and Broadway, we were engulfed in a sea of humanity.  Absolute pandemonium ensues as we attempt to navigate through the awful crowd.  Forget about getting to see the Lombardi Trophy, the line to get in was seemingly hours deep and impossible to tell where it began.  We finally bowed out, fed up with the fiasco and ready to get to more laid-back surroundings for a change of pace.  That came in the form of a few beers with Eli, another 12 who had made the trip from out west for the big game.  Eli was actually cool enough to gift me his extra ticket to the Rams game in Week 17.  Not only that, but he was selling his extra ticket to the Super Bowl to my friend Greg and not gouging him in the process.  As they'd say in the mob, he's a stand up guy.  

After a few brews we part ways and our group heads down to Gramercy to check out McSwiggans.  With Carlow East acting as "Hawks Nest East", McSwiggans was "Hawks Nest South."  We figured we wouldn't even be able to get in to Carlow the night before the game.  It was a good call as there was some room to maneuver at our new watering hole.  Drew, who I met at Temple Billiards before the 'Niners game in September, was also in attendance.  Old buddies Norbert, Ben, and Kevin would also come down to prefunk.  There were good vibrations all around and all anyone wanted was a good time   It was truly astonishing to see the number of people who put down everything to come to New York City and New Jersey to take this all in.

The night of partying would end at the Double Down Saloon after one too many shots.  After a pitstop at the legendary Katz Deli, we made the trip back to Brooklyn to somehow attempt to get some sleep the night before the Super Bowl.  We'd done an excellent job of distracting ourselves and keeping ourselves busy over the past 2 days, but now it was real.  The whole reason why we were all even brought together in the first place was just a few short hours away.  I felt an odd sense of calm, mixed with nerves that absolutely would not let me go to sleep.  As my friend, a Merchant Marine, heads back to port, I hand him a green and blue, Seahawks version of the flag of the United States of America.  One of his shipmates is also a huge Seahawks fan, so I know that the flag is going where it's supposed to.  He folds the flag up as small as possible, leaving only the 'Hawks eye symbolically visible.  It's an amazing coincidence, and one that fills us all with hope as he sets out on his journey.

I wake up and realize that I was actually able to get some quality sleep.  Not much of it, but it was pretty good in quality, especially for the eve of the Super Bowl.  Not everyone was so lucky, however, as Jordan was forced to sleep in our bathtub due to the incessant snoring and loud-breathing of some of his fellow 12th Man.  Judging by the result of the game, it appears Jordan's new Super Bowl eve tradition must be to sleep in the bathtub.  Sorry bud.  We can't mess with what works.  As the morning coffee brewed, there was no more avoiding the giant elephant in the room.  The day of reckoning was upon us and it was either going to be one of the greatest or one of the worst days of our lives.

Once we arrived at Penn Station, we started to see how crazy this crowd was going to be.  The lines to buy tickets for the NJ Transit were deep, and picking people out of a crowd was almost impossible unless you were of the taller persuasion.  Still, we made it to Secaucus-Junction in a breeze.  This is where things started to get a little crazy as there were thousands of people trying to make their way down one hallway, with two doors at the end of it.  To make matters worse, the trains to the Meadowlands were delayed.  Chants of "Jersey sucks" and "Christie sucks" rang through the corridor, with the crowd getting sweatier and angrier by the second.  One guys nearly gets his head beaten in when he decides to smoke his e-cig.  The people around him, thinking it was an actual cigarette, were ready to take care of business.  Finally, the trains arrived and the crowd started to move before things got too crazy, but it was definitely a botched job by the NFL and the state of New Jersey.  I could care less as all I cared about was watching the Seahawks beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl at MetLife.

Security was similar to airport security but it was actually a pretty quick process.  Once we breezed through, we made our way to the area behind where the NFL Network was stationed.  The giant XLVIII right nearby greets all as if to say "you're at the Super Bowl now!"  After some pictures and some more pregame predictions, the group heads separate ways.  Jonathan and Ryan, two life-long Seahawks fans from New Jersey, head off as they get set to witness history right in their own backyard.  The pregame vibe is confident, as we all feel that we've got more than a fighting chance against the "Greatest Offense of All-Time."  Everyone respects the Broncos, but none of us fear them.  One Broncos fan wearing a #18 tells me "I've got two words for ya, Peyton Manning", to which I responded with "He's just one man.  One man can be beaten.  The Seahawks are a team, and a damn good one at that!"  As we make our way to the escalators to head in to the stadium, we all realize that "damn, we're at the Super Bowl!"  Most of us hadn't known anyone that's ever been to one before.  I have a friend, Will, who has but that's about the only person I know of.  I never even really planned to ever attend one, to be quite honest.  It kind of just happened for all of us that night.

We walk around some until it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty.  Leif, Greg, Eli, and I part ways and I make my way to Section 340.  We agree to meet there at halftime.  Not to watch Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but instead to discuss the first half.  I don't even think the halftime show was on any of our minds.  We just wanted to witness something amazing for the Seahawks.  As I head to my seat, my eye trains on my seats from the game against the Giants in December.  On this day, I would be sitting right off the 50 yard line.  Thanks again, Seahawks, and especially you Mike.  I'm still oddly calm and holding it together at this point.  That is until the military flyover after the awesome rendition of the National Anthem by Renee Fleming.  That's when I started to think back about the entire season and how important this game truly was.  That's when the magnitude of the moment washed over me.

Section 340 is packed to the gills with 'Hawks fans.  As Steven Hauschka gets set to kick off the proceedings, I look around and can spot only 2 Broncos fans in our entire section.  They appear to be a couple and they seem to be nice people, but you can tell that they were regretting their seat selection for the evening.  Regardless though, they were there to witness one of the greatest beat downs in recorded history.  I stand in sheer amazement as the game's opening snap sails over Peyton's head and starts rolling towards and eventually into the end zone.  My mind can't process what's happening, but I think I'm happy when Knowshon Moreno dives on the ball and the referee signals safety.  Seahawks fans all across the world lose their collective minds as the game gets off to an absolute dream start.  At that moment in time, MetLife Stadium feels like CenturyLink East, as 12's make sure to be heard loud and clear.

And thus marked the beginning of one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on a football field in my entire life.  It's apparent from the early going that nearly everyone suited up for the Seattle Seahawks is locked in and ready to perform on the game's grandest stage.  Kudos to Pete Carroll for being the model of consistency when it comes to preparation in the NFL.  His team took on his personality when it truly mattered most.  Pete does always say, "it's not how you start, but how you finish."  He must have felt like a proud father watching his team achieve greatness the way they did.

The defense, led by criminally underrated safety Kam Chancellor, was out for blood.  They are flying around the field at all-time high levels.  As they make play after play, it starts to become apparent that Peyton Manning might not have an answer for this tough riddle, at least not in a 60 minute contest.  Conversely, Russell Wilson has no trouble moving the ball on the Broncos defense, which admittedly did a great job of stopping Marshawn Lynch.  That was about it though.  The Seahawks not only seized the lead after only 12 seconds, but they seized the game's momentum early on and the Broncos were unable to recover.  To make matters worse for Denver, Russell Wilson is absolutely unconscious on third downs and the Broncos can't get the Seahawks offense off of the field.  Malcolm Smith's 69 yard interception return for a touchdown follows a Beast Mode 1 yard touchdown run and somehow, against all odds, the Seahawks lead the Greatest Offense of All-Time by a score of 22-0 in the Super Bowl.

After failing to convert on a crucial 4th down attempt, the Seahawks are content with walking to the locker rooms up 22.  I run to the concourse and soon the pregame crew is back together, trying to make sense of what we just witnessed.  Once we concluded that we weren't dreaming thanks to the loudest fireworks we've ever heard going off right near us, we tried to stay focused on the task at hand.  A Super Bowl championship was just 30 minutes away and it was well within reach.  This wasn't the time to gloat or to stop working.  No, this instead was the time to fulfill our destiny!  We confidently head back to our seats, knowing that nothing can stop us now.  Not even the Greek Gods themselves.

And that's exactly what happened.  Almost immediately upon returning to my seat, Percy Harvin brings everyone to their feet and grabs everyone's attention with an opening kickoff return for a touchdown to start the half!  Bedlam ensues as random strangers high-five and hug one another.  I am convinced at that moment that this is the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life.  Much like the Seahawks on the field though, we still did not lose our focus in the stands.  Even up 29-0 and then 36-0, everyone remained focused on the task at hand.  Which was making as much noise as we possibly could, every time the Broncos had the ball or when the Seahawks scored or had big plays, and watching the Seahawks hoist the Lombardi Trophy.  With every bone-jarring hit, the crowd grows more and more ravenous.  The couple standing a few rows behind me wearing Broncos gear head for the exits early, although truth be told they were good sports about everything.

As fate would have it, also in attendance on this fine evening were Dale and Frenchie.  Fittingly enough, they were also at the season opener in Charlotte.  So we got to open the season together and we got to end it together.  You couldn't ask for it any other way.  I couldn't have even scripted this better if I tried.

Soon, as the clock continues to haunt the Broncos, the realization sets in that the Seattle Seahawks are about to be crowned Super Bowl Champions.  And they deserved it and earned it.  There's an elderly gentleman a row in front of me wearing an old school Seahawks Starter jacket.  He tells me that he's been a fan since the team came into the league in 1976.  I congratulate him on finally getting to witness this moment.  He's giddy as a child and is the first person to give a high-five after any of the plethora of Seahawks big plays from this one.  With the game no longer in any doubt after a masterful performance from one of the greatest defenses of all-time, I meet up with Greg and Eli and we head down to the lower level to check out the postgame ceremony.  After some typical hassling from stadium security, who wouldn't even let Richard Sherman's father down on to the field at one point instead forcing him to go to Guest Services, we found a spot to watch the confetti rain and the Seahawks celebrate.  The energy is fantastic and I think back to when I was at MetLife Stadium for Wrestlemania not too long ago.  I thought of Russell Wilson being out on that field and hoisting the trophy as he looked to his father above in the heavens.  It felt right.  Now, here I was, witnessing it from only a few feet away.  

Afterwards, the entire pregame crew gathered outside by the same Super Bowl XLVIII sign.  Hysteria had definitely set in.  You've never seen a happier group of people.  The wait was finally over.  This is what winning a Super Bowl felt like.  I could get used to this, that's all I remember feeling.  This felt like the way it should feel.  As we rehashed every little minutia from the game the realization set in that this could never be taken away from us.  These memories were ours forever.  The Seahawks were champions.

Once again, the NJ Transit was a disaster heading back to the City.  No way it was going to dampen our spirits though.  A few hours later, we finally arrive at Carlow East to celebrate the biggest win of our lives.  The place looks like the lovechild of New Years Eve and St. Patrick's Day at an Irish Pub.  There isn't a care in the air, as beers flow all night to help commemorate the occasion.  It's 4am and time to head home but I'm convinced that I don't ever want to sleep again.   I guess that's something I have in common with Russell Wilson.  After watching the Seahawks win it all at MetLife, I'm sure of the fact that it's activated a part of my brain that I'd never used before.  Yeah, probably not, but it sure feels that way.

The next day, Leif and I rewatch the game with my roommates.  The replay confirms what we had already suspected.  The Broncos got absolutely dismantled.  It was an exhibition in it's purest form, a clinic on how to play defense in the game of American Football.  The tape of this game should be saved in a time capsule so that we can be sure to teach how to properly play NFL defense in the future.  Back in NYC, a snowstorm was about to hit so Leif made it out to Las Vegas just in time.  Now, I began to wonder if I would be able to make it out to Seattle for the parade.  I had always told everyone all season that the season doesn't end in Jersey on February 2nd.  It ends in Seattle at the parade!

It wasn't until Tuesday at 1PM that I decided to get on a 5PM plane headed first to San Francisco, and then to Portland.  I would then take a bus from Portland to Seattle at 6AM and arrive in Seattle at 9 for the 11:00 parade.  My flight, leaving out of Gate 12, was perfect but bus tickets had now sold out!  When I arrived in San Francisco, ironically enough at Gate 66 (Welcome to Hell!), I was able to secure a flight from San Francisco to Seattle instead, so danger was averted.  It meant spending the night in San Francisco dressed in all Seahawks gear, but nobody could take this moment from me.  When I woke up, I hopped on my flight and arrived in Seattle at around 9.  This, my 12th trip to Seattle on the season, would also be my last.  It was a sort of slightly bitter, mostly sweet symphony considering the circumstances.  I thought I'd breeze it downtown by way of the Light Rail but it turns out there was about a 2 hour line just to get from the Airport on to the Light Rail!  This parade was going to be insane!  Hell, it already was!

I wasn't about to fly out to Seattle for nothing though, so I jumped in a cab and paid the $45 to drive downtown instead.  I'm glad I did.  We got there quickly and I was right by CenturyLink.  I headed to Temple Billiards and met some awesome people before I was set to meet up with my old friend Steve to get in to the Stadium for the stadium celebration.  Unfortunately, due to all of the people, none of my calls or texts were going out or coming in, so I was in no man's land.  Content with the fact that I was still amongst the masses for the parade, I was resigned to the fact that I probably wasn't going to be able to get in.  Until I heard "David!" and turned around to see Eli standing a few feet away from me!  Not only that, but he had an extra ticket for the celebration as well.  Once again, Eli came through in the clutch phenomenally.

As we waited in the stadium for the players to arrive, we watched as Marshawn Lynch threw Skittles at fans and banged on a drum.  We saw unbelievable shots of downtown Seattle that looked more like something you would have seen at Woodstock instead.  This city was ready for a champion, this team delivered, and the city and the team's fans responded.  Truly inspiring to be able to witness and be a part of something so great.  After an amazing video that detailed every game on the season, the players began to enter on to the field for one last curtain call.  As Russell Wilson walked on to the field, carrying the Lombardi Trophy, being sprayed with champagne by Marshawn Lynch, the place lost it's mind.  What an awesome sight and I still had to rub my eyes to make sure this was still all really happening.  

Steve, Jordan, Dom, and I had some beers at Temple afterwards as the city continued to party.  We all spoke of how proud we were of the team, the coaches, Paul Allen, and the fans.  We also spoke of the future and how this doesn't have to be the only Super Bowl that this team wins in the near future.  If expectations were at an all-time high before this past season, what about next?  Sure there are some question marks as far as free agency is concerned, but the core of the team remains under team control.  The 2014/2015 season could end up being a bigger season than 2013/2014, if the team continues it's outstanding progression.  Undefeated anyone?  All I know is that if I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on a rePETE, that's for damn sure!

Finally though, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to call it a night and in affect, call it a season.  As I walked near King Street Station headed for the Light Rail, I caught one last peak at CenturyLink Field.  I had been pretty well kept together throughout the season, and especially after the Super Bowl, but it was here that I almost lost it.  All the memories, great friends, and amazing games and experiences started to rush back to me.  Rather than get down about it though, I dug deep, stayed strong, and kept going towards the airport and to my flight home.  I eagerly asked myself one key question before my final journey back home from my home away from home.

What's Next?!