Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Beautiful Struggle II: The NFC Championship

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths." - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I don't know exactly when I started romanticizing the struggle in life. As far back as I can remember though, that's just always been what I did. It came naturally to me. It might have started when I was in the seventh grade and found out that my parents had been living with and would always live with life-threatening illnesses. That, or the fact that my humble, lower-middle class upbringing meant that I didn't have everything that all the cool kids in school had. Still, I had all of the necessities, and even from a young age, I always treasured the job that my parents and my family did to raise me the right way. 

Taking on this kind of "hopeless romantic's" view of struggling through life, it became a part of who I was. I became defined by my resiliency, my ability to remain positive when everything around me was going to hell in a hand basket, it was a huge part of who I was. Maybe it was passed down from my mother, the fantastic artist from Spain who's still waiting for her big break despite being one of the most talented artists I've ever seen in my 27 years on this planet. Or maybe it was passed down from my father, the standout guitar player with the ability to take over a room, who decided to devote his life to the greater good as a substance abuse counselor, rather than try and make it in life with his God-given talents with the guitar.

Growing up as the son of two recovering addicts had a huge impact on my life. Not only is that where I probably learned to consider the struggle in life as beautiful, but it's where I learned every trait that I have in this ole' bag of tricks. Compassion, understanding, patience, never giving up... these are all just a few of the life lesson's that I learned because of the way I grew up. Having been in meetings with my parents and having heard the struggles of my fellow man, I knew that I was a compassionate person from a young age. It hurt me to see someone, anyone, in any form of pain, especially emotional.

There's something in my DNA that makes me glorify the struggle. For good or bad, the perseverance of the human spirit has always been one of the key's to existence in my mind. In this life, when the going get's tough, we either get up and keep going in miraculous fashion, or we give up and admit defeat. This thing that sits inside of us and tells us to keep going has always been one of my favorite things to feel as a human being. It's the reason why 'Requiem for a Dream' is my favorite movie of all-time. While some might consider it extremely depressing, and I don't blame them, I consider it to be a beautifully, sad tale about the power of addiction and it's ability to conquer the human spirit, if we're not careful.

Somewhere along the way, these forces that exist inside of me and inside of everyone, pulled me in a unique direction. I had always loved sports, both playing and watching, and for some reason, I decided to pick the most pathetic sports teams ever to be my favorite's. The LA Clippers were the worst of the bunch, but the Seattle Seahawks weren't too far behind. At least the Toronto Blue Jays had won repeat championships in the early 90's, otherwise, none of my favorite teams growing up would have had any sort of winning culture, or winning period, in their "history."

Still, I decided to stick with my team's, and while I don't watch much of any basketball at all nowadays, I still pull for the Clippers if they're playing a game that I happen to be watching on television. Rooting for these teams taught me a valuable lesson as I went from childhood on to adulthood. While my friends, most of whom were Yankees fans, watched their team win title after title, creating false ideals about how easy life is in the process, I watched my team's be a mortifying embarrassment most of the time, and mediocre the rest of it. From an early age, I had taught myself that usually things don't work out your way in life, and that the true mark of a champion wasn't measured in championships, but in how they responded to adversity. I could deal with gut-wrenching loss after gut-wrenching loss because that's how the real world was.

Throughout my childhood and my teenage years, the losses piled up. Still, I remained eternally optimistic. I knew real pain, struggle, and misfortune in this life, so my sports teams were the one thing that I could always be positive about, no matter how terrible they truly were. Unlike in real life, there was always next year in sports, and every year I thought could be one of my team's years. Those years came and went, and my team's still remained in the tank with no hope in sight. Still, I watched, and hoped.

Then, a funny thing happened one day. The Seattle Seahawks, my favorite of all of my teams growing up, had hired Pete Carroll to be the team's new Head Coach and Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Things started to change. As I started my journey through adulthood, my favorite team started to show signs of not just being a champion, but potentially being one of the greatest sports teams of all-time. However, I was now the "boy who cried wolf" and my friends had grown tired of hearing me rant and rave about how great the Seahawks were going to be. They had heard this before from me, so when I proclaimed that the Seahawks would win the Super Bowl immediately following the devastating playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, everyone shrugged it off as just "Dave being Dave."

I decided to take things one step further. Not only did I know that the Seahawks were going to win the Super Bowl, but I wanted to be a part of history. I wanted to witness every single game along the way, and be there in New Jersey when they finally hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after 38 grueling, mostly torturous seasons. Some said I was crazy, in fact, that's what most said. However, I had the support of the people who truly mattered to me in life, and that's all that mattered. The 2013-2014 season ended up being a dream one, not just for myself, but for all Seahawks fans around the globe. While it was filled with injury struggles, some really tough, close games, and so forth, it still had the feel of a storybook season that was destined to unfold right from the beginning.

Maybe that's why I still felt, to this day of writing, that 2013/2014 wasn't even real. When I look back at all the memories, I feel like I'm in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Were all of those people real? There's no way that things could have unfolded as magically as they did. It just doesn't happen that way in reality. After romanticizing the glory of the struggle all of my life, as some form of a coping mechanism to deal with the pain of reality, I didn't know how to feel. I didn't know how to act when everything went the way that I had hoped they would. I was used to there always being a point where things fell apart. That never happened last season. The dream just kept getting better and better, until it ended with the perfect ending. For most people, last season could never be topped, and I don't blame them for that at all. In fact, I respect that about most people.

However, I am not like most people. In fact, I'm far, far different. Although outgoing and extroverted, I was still a bit of an oddball in my youth. I was obsessed with the desire to be different and unique, and I always felt the need to question group-think when it came to certain subjects, especially sports. Most people would have been content with the season that was 2013, and would have left "on top" and rode off into the sunset. In fact, more than a few people advised me that that was the right call. Why do it again when you just had the perfect season? You could only go downhill from here.

However, I wasn't just a Seahawks fan who watched the games at Carlow East every week, loved the players both present and past, and would get bent out of shape for a week after a loss, no, I was more than that. In my mind, I embodied the Seahawks under Pete Carroll. I was what they'd call, for lack of a better term or imagination, a lazy bum before Pete Carroll took over in Seattle. Then, I started seeing some of his mantras and beliefs, like "earn everything", and it made me realize that that's how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to truly earn everything. Sayings like, "do things better than they've ever been done before", started to take actual meaning in my life and Pete Carroll's "Win 4Ever" philosophy became a staple philosophy of my life.

It was with all of this in mind that I decided to try and follow the Seahawks on their quest for a RePete. How could I demand that the players try and win countless championships, all while maintaining the mental edge of being the best of all-time, when I wasn't asking for the same from myself? Whereas they were trying to attain greatness on the field, I was simply trying to witness it from my place in the stands. Where I wanted to be great was when it came to writing down ideas, experiences, and feelings. I wanted to push myself to my limits to see how great of a writer I could become, not for the outside world, but as a challenge to myself. It was the Seahawks way.

"They" always say, "the sequel's never better than the original", but before this season started I knew that they would be wrong. Initially, I thought that there was a chance for an undefeated season. After the Week 1 drubbing of the Green Bay Packers, I flew back home to NYC with my buddies Jazz and Juan, and wondered about the prospects of such an undefeated season. I figured that Percy Harvin was going to be a huge "addition" to the team, now that he was finally healthy, and that the team would continue to grow after their illustrious season the year prior. Oh, how wrong I was. However, years of real-life training meant that I was perfectly equipped for a season soon-to-be-filled with struggles.

"They" also say that everything happens for a reason. If you believe in that line of thinking, then my life had set me up perfectly to deal with the twists and turns that 2014 had in store for the Seahawks, and myself. When I drunkenly stumbled through Kansas City, having just traveled 33 hours on a MegaBus to watch the Seahawks lose in the bitter cold, on a quest to find my bus back home with only a few minutes to spare, I didn't panic. Instead, I remembered that things had been far worse before, far more painful, and that this was nothing and I had to keep going. I made it there on time, barely, and made it back home with just enough money in my pocket to take the train to the pickle stand immediately following another 33 hour bus ride home.

What had happened in 2013 and 2014 was much larger than "everything happening for a reason." To go over every occurrence that seemed preordained by the universe would have me sounding like a crazy old man with a tinfoil hat on, yearning for the extraterrestrials above to finally take him away. Every step of the way, it seemed that I wasn't just on this qwest to witness a great football's legacy be forged, but to learn something greater about life in the process. Even in losses, there were worthwhile lessons to be learned, and even in victories, there were small defeats that had to be stored in the memory banks so as to never make the same mistakes twice, even in victory.

In the words of David Bowie, somebody up there likes me, because I had experienced a lifetime's worth of valuable lessons, met a lifetime's worth of beautiful people, and still had my health and people to share it with. I had experienced the human soul connecting with other souls, funnily enough, over football. True, real human connection on a raw level. Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky in this life. I never wanted to lose sight of this, and tried to remain humble and grateful all throughout.

If everything happens for a reason, then my entire life was everything happen, and the NFC Championship Game on January 18th, 2015 was the reason. Prior to this day, I never had a game that I could point to that I would have said embodied my life to date. In an interview last season, Marshawn Lynch went into detail about how the Beast Quake run against the Saints in 2010 was a microcosm of his life. Instead of tossing aside Tracy Porter, he was tossing aside all of the problems that had plagued him in his life to that point. I remembered watching this and thinking to myself, "wow, that must be cool to experience a moment that will define you like that." After the experience that was the NFC Championship Game, I now knew how Marshawn feels.

 The Seahawks were coming into the game as favorites, and rightfully so as the #1 seed hosting the #2 seeded Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field. That last bit of information, CenturyLink Field, was reason enough for Seahawks fans to feel that a return trip to the Super Bowl was imminent. Historically, the Seahawks being favored over the Packers in a playoff game was a pretty big deal. Despite all of their recent success, it was still a sort of new feeling to see the Seahawks be expected to win by most of the national media and general public. I guess you could say that I'm still not quite used to it. I'll never forget Jazz and I joking around, and Jazz stating that, "there are going to be generations of children who grow up as Seahawks fans not knowing that they were terrible for most of their existence." That always stuck with me. It fascinated me.

Confidence in the Seahawks was at an all-time high now, and it couldn't have been helped by the fact that the Seahawks looked dominant at times against Carolina the week before, although the game was much closer than the final score made it appear. To really send Seattle fans' confidence in their team through the roof, was the fact that Aaron Rodgers was heading into Seattle as a sitting duck. Greg, Eli, Cam, and I all agreed that neither of the teams we could have faced in the Championship round scared us. In between delicious pulled pork tacos and a lifetime's worth of great laughs, we watched as Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers limped up and down both sides of the football field. We laughed about how these two were making the media's job extremely easy, as the stories were already finished, only the QB's name and team name needing editing. "_________ leads ___________ to NFC Championship Game after heroic performance despite injury." The story practically wrote itself. 

As fate would have it, the Packers were ultimately victorious. This called into reality one of the first prophecies of the season. Upon exiting CenturyLink field with Jazz and Juan on this season's maiden day, a Thursday in early September, I thus decreed that the Packers would be returning to the CLink for the NFC Championship Game in January. Juan might have thought I was just trying to be a good friend and console him after a tough loss, but I care not about consoling him after tough losses, for his Green Bay Packers had scared me in the playoffs enough.

I was a broken, fragile teenager the seconds following Al Harris' interception return for a touchdown at Lambeau Field back in the 2003 season. "We want the ball, and we're gonna score" had so much promise! I genuinely believed! If only Alex Bannister had believed enough to run the right route! To make matters worse, I thought the Seahawks were going to do the unthinkable, and win a playoff game at Lambeau back in 2007, but Ryan Grant buried those dreams and quickly turned them into a nightmare. A 14-0 lead had me flying high on cloud nine, but watching Brett Favre stumble through the snow, underhand pitching the ball to his teammates left me feeling like I had a bad case of vertigo, instead.

So to say that I had given up feeling bad for my friends when the Seahawks laid waste to them was a bit of an understatement. In fact, I now reveled in the fact that years later, it was my team's turn to eliminate the cockroaches of the league. I took great joy in it. It was just a game, right? 

Still, I love Juan, and I have a genuine respect for the Packers. On that Thursday in September, I truly meant what I had said. No matter who the overachievers and underachievers ended up being in the NFC, we had just watched the two best teams in the conference go at it. Sure, injuries and plain old bad luck could shoot one of these two teams down before they could realize their glory, but I wasn't counting on it. In Aaron Rodgers, the Packers had an all-time great at the position who gave them a chance in every game they played in, no matter the venue. In the Legion of Boom and the rest of their standout defense, the Seahawks had an all-time great unit, who gave them a chance in every game they played in, no matter the venue. The two sides were always destined to meet again.

Throughout this journey, I've tried to minimize the number of things that I regret along the way. Just how Pete Carroll hates the turnover, despises it in fact, I feel the same way toward regret. I might have made some mistakes along the way, the downfall of being human, but I could leave those in the rear-view mirror. Regret, now that can stay with you forever. I didn't want that. However, it's a part of life just like everything else on this odyssey, and it was bound to happen. 

One of my one true regrets is that Jazz and Juan weren't able to make the trip with me. They had helped me out so much throughout the season, put me in a position to witness my dreams become reality, and in doing so they would not be able to attend. We had hoped of getting a chance to watch the rematch together, but in the end, it didn't come to fruition. Much like missing the Seahawks playing on the Blue Jays' field back in 2012, this was a Seahawks-related regret that I would no doubt take with me to the grave.

In fact, I barely made it out to Seattle for the experience as well. Inclement weather meant frozen pickles, which meant no way of even getting to Seattle in the first place. It was a bad time for the weather to start being stubborn, as I couldn't miss this game for the world. Luckily, my partner in crime for the weekend, Greg, didn't have such poor fortune.

In fact, Greg had gotten the "John Idzik rate", as we began calling it, in honor of recently fired Jets GM, John Idzik, who was always noted for his adept ability as a "numbers guy", but never as a guy who had to pick the players. $290 round trip from NYC to Seattle is damn near unbeatable, but Greg's faith in the Seahawks had been rewarded, as he had purchased the airfare before the Seahawks were even a lock to be in the NFC Championship.

I was forced to suffer all week, fretting over the daily weather report, but in the end the sun shone through and Greg and I were on our way. I wouldn't have much cash to spend, but that hardly even registered within me, all I needed was a Seahawks return trip to the Super Bowl. I would gladly eat $5 dumplings in the International District all week, or Dick's Burgers in Queen Anne for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if it meant that I'd be able to witness a second straight victory in the NFC Championship. Things like eating and living would ultimately work themselves out, the fate of the Seahawks was what lay in the balance.

However backwards that may appear, such is my love for the Seattle Seahawks. I've learned not to fight it anymore, and luckily, I think that my loved ones in life have as well. Distance was no obstacle, and neither was anything else, in my pursuit of witnessing the greatest football team of all-time in their pursuit of history. 

Greg and I arrive in Seattle at roughly the same time. Our paths to the Pacific Northwest are vastly different, but they all equate to the same thing, in the end. Greg overcomes an outage on the E train line, taking a shuttle bus to JFK Airport, barely making it to his flight on time after some heads up thinking and breezing through the priority lane after explaining his situation to the TSA. His fight is direct. Meanwhile, my trip begins with a quick trek to Jersey via the NJ Transit, followed by stops at Newark International Airport, DFW in Dallas, before finally reaching my destination, Sea-Tac.

However convoluted the routes, what mattered is that we were there. We had made plans to spend the night with JR, at his hotel, however, we first decided to take the edge off with a few cider's at the Elephant & Castle, which was conveniently located directly below the hotel. It was here where Greg and I meet Patrick and Michele, from Cottage Grove, Oregon. They are seated to our left, and engage us in conversation about the following afternoon's game. They're originally from Washington State, and have been Seahawks fans since the team came into existence. Michele says that she'll be wearing her original season Jim Zorn jersey proudly, and that their love for the Seahawks is one of the things that brought her and her husband, Patrick, together.

They live in Oregon now, but their love for one another, and the Seahawks, remains strong. They've made the drive up from Cottage Grove, purchased tickets, and even buy Greg and I a round. People like Patrick and Michele are what's been so excellent about the travels of the past two seasons. If not for the Seahawks, odds are that Greg and I don't even get to introduce ourselves, and we all go on with our lives as if nothing happened. Instead, this shared passion brings us together and allows us to share tales, life stories, and unique perspective's on life.

After Patrick and Michele head out, we think to do the same. After chatting with a local who happens to be an Eagles fan, as well as two dude's from New Jersey, we make our way back to the Motif, for there is a long, important day ahead of us. JR, or Jonathan, has left a key in the lobby under my name. We grab the key, make our way to the seventh floor, and enter the room. It's almost 2 am, yet Jonathan is still awake. He greets us, unexpectedly, and the three of us begin to catch up.

It had been 349 days since Greg and I had seen JR last. The last time, of course, was outside of MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014, after the Seahawks had just finished thrashing the Denver Broncos to finally win their first Super Bowl in team history. JR was a lifelong Seahawks fan, from New Jersey, and we had met at Carlow East a few years prior. From the very first moment that I met him, I knew that he was a class act and that we'd remain friends for life. Not only did we share the Tri-State Area Seahawks connection, but he was an old soul, like me, and a naturally good-hearted person.

In fact, JR was one of the first people to encourage me to try going to every game last season. Most others shrugged my idea off as lunacy, while he looked at as an excellent opportunity to do something, and to be a part of something, great. Not only did he offer the emotional support of a true friend, but Jonathan also offered support in the form of a ticket last season, as well. A former season ticket holder despite living in Jersey, he was able to contact his old season ticket rep and acquire two tickets for face value to the Saints game on Monday Night Football. Although I had the money in hand when I met him prior to the game at Temple Billiards, he refused to take the cash and instead gifted me the ticket. We watched, with loud-mouthed Saints fans running their mouths around us, as the Seahawks absolutely ravaged the Saints that night. The entire game seemed like a celebration, rather than a game, a testament to the Seahawks increased dominance, as well as a testament to the 12th Man. We set the Guinness Record for loudest crowd roar that night, and while the Chiefs may technically hold the record now, JR and I can always say that we sat next to each other during a part of history.

I was especially happy for him in the wake of Super Bowl XLIII. I knew that, as a long-suffering fan from New Jersey, getting to watch the Seahawks win it in his backyard must have been truly amazing. It was, for all of us, but his journey in life had to make that moment feel extra special. He deserved it, through and through.

As much as we wanted to believe that there was no time to sleep, our bodies required some, so we called it a night. Our efforts are futile, as roughly 3 hours later, we are all wide awake. The alarm was set for 6 am, but we beat it's persistent beep by a half hour. Despite it only being 5:30, the three of us are ready for what the fates have in store. In between listening to Perry Como's "Seattle", listening to rants by Mike Francesca, and listening to the talking heads give their take on the day's upcoming action, we share the common excitement that we can't believe this is all happening again. Just a year prior, Greg and I crashed at JR's room at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Seattle. We were actually, quite literally, reliving one of the best days of our lives. To do it once, was a blessing, to attempt to do it twice, some might consider that tempting the Gods, or the Football Gods, in this case.

It had rained the night before, and more rain was expected in the forecast for Sunday. However, upon rising from our slumber, we could not ignore the howl of the roaring winds around us. One look out the window and you could see the 12 flags as they whipped around helplessly. The rain was falling, but it didn't appear to be as big of a potential problem as Mother Nature's gusty winds.

Just like last season, Jordan meets us downstairs by the hotel entrance. Also like last season, Jordan has been kind enough to sell his ticket to our buddy JR for face value. It's just another example of the amazing kindness, generosity, and family-type-feel that has been evident all throughout during these past 2 years. It's witnessing these types of things transpire, especially when it doesn't include myself, that has made this journey the greatest one of my life.

The four of us make our way to Pike Place Market, just like last season, where Jonathan and Jordan scarf down a quick breakfast. Greg and I aren't hungry yet, as we figure that we'll eat at the tailgate or somewhere along the way. Afterwards, we make our way down to 8th and Massachusetts for some tailgating rituals. We had made this same trip prior to the NFC Championship Game last year, and in an effort to retrace our steps, this was our first stop in our pre-funking tour. Once we get there, we see some familiar faces from last season. Matt and Doug are in attendance, as is the Seahawks fire truck, and the dudes that work for Nintendo that set up in the area to tailgate as well.

Unfortunately, Lon was unable to join us this time around. Neither was skull duggery, a makeshift beer funnel that the Nintendo crew had engineered last season. Lon lives in Texas and has a giant heart, only matched by the size of his ten gallon hat. Skull duggery was exactly what it sounds like, a beer funnel made with a voodoo skull. Jonathan, Jordan, Lon, and I watched in amazement last year, as Greg funneled a hellacious combination of Rainier and Jager. It was just another anecdote in a day full of them, a day that we would never soon forget. Not that any of us would try.

However, four of us who were there last season remained, and we soon made our way from 8th and Mass. towards Temple Billiards. On our way, we try and duplicate last season by taking a picture in front of Leif's mural on the side of the stadium. However, the area is restricted by police, and we are told that we can't go down that street. Disappointed as we were, we continued on past Touchdown City, and ultimately, the CLink. Not before stopping at Joe's for a Dog, of course!

The Wilson Dog gets the call, Seattle Style (w/cream cheese), as I've got to go with our fearless leader and this great city in such a big moment. Greg, a man with one of the world's most highly-developed pallets and a genuine love and passion for food, goes with the Wilson as well, only with onions, and no cream cheese. He probably goes with the Wilson because he's wearing his Russell Wilson Super Bowl XLIII jersey. Whatever the reasoning behind the decision, we annihilate the dogs and continue on to Temple.

The college-football-like atmosphere that the 12:05 start time creates is an interesting contrast from the usual Sunday ritual. All state blue laws are basically thrown out the window as well, as the bar is in full-swing as our crew makes our way passed the doorman and to the staircase beside the arcade games.

We make our way down the stairs and soon, we're in familiar confines. I can hardly believe my eyes, almost everyone from last season's NFC Championship Game is standing around me. Brandon, Dom, Drew, the whole crew, even Walt is there! Seahawks.Net was extremely well-represented. We were holding it down, but I had one .Netter in particular to be extremely thankful for.

The Godfather, Todd, and his lovely wife, Cindy, were kind enough to sell me Cindy's ticket for face. If not for their amazing gesture, I would have been watching back at home. Back at Carlow East. Although I missed Pat, Dale, and the rest of the Carlow Crew, it would have been a tough pill to swallow having come so far, to fall short so close. 

This wasn't the first time on this journey that Todd had gone out of his way to show me some love. In fact, last season, prior to the NFC Championship Game, he gave me an amazing Seahawks.Net banner that was signed by a slew of Seattle Seahawk luminaries. We might see each other only ten times a year or so, but Todd and I's bond goes deeper than that. In him, I see someone like me. Someone who eats, breaths, and sleeps Seattle Seahawks football and someone who truly lives and dies with the team. We had spent a lot of time suffering and struggling watching the Seahawks through the years, but with the Seahawks now on top of the league, we were truly living. It wasn't just the wins that were intoxicating and exciting, it was the the experiences that we were forging in the process. The two went hand in hand.

And when the Seahawks won, it was always memorable. Seahawks playoff games were ripe with big plays, the Carolina game a week earlier no different. Players were making names for themselves, as well as propelling the Seahawks to glory in the process. Kam Chancellor was now an internet-legend, long after he was an actual legend of the game of course. After his performance against the Panthers merited him some much-deserved national acclaim, Juan sent me a message saying that "he doesn't want to have to face Kam." Complete with a sad-face. And you knew he meant it.

What new memories would be created on this day? Greg and I step outside for a moment with Drew, when we realize that there is actually a monsoon occurring in Seattle! Greg and I had joked with Eli and Cam just last week that there would be a monsoon for this game and thus, the Football God's had obliged. Be careful what you wish for, they said, as Hustle Wilson's performances in the rain in Seattle this season had left a little to be desired. He had struggled against the Raiders and the Giants in heavy-rain conditions, and he had struggled in similar weather in the Divisional Round last season against New Orleans. Whether it was coincidence, selective memory, actual effect of the weather on the game, or a little of all of the above, the statistics backed up the notion that Russell was struggling in the rain. Fitting for a quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.

Still, struggle as he may have, the end result was the same as it usually has been for Hustle during his short career with the Seattle Seahawks. Wins. Despite playing below his normal high-standards, he still kept his team in the game and made enough plays in crunch time to overcome an otherwise poor day at the office. 

Our crew takes a group-photo before we all head onward towards our cathedral, CenturyLink. Hail Mary's take new meaning in this place, and instead of prayer's being answered by the omnipresent, our prayers are to the Football God's all knowing. To the sane man, there was no logic to the type of torment we were going to put our lungs through. On our walk to CLink, one thing that Greg, Todd, Brandon, and I realize is how few Packers fans there are. Normally, the Packers "traveled well", as well as there being Packers fans all across the country, so you could expect to see your share of green and yellow. However, today was different. Everywhere you looked, it was a sea of college navy and action green, with a dash of wolf grey.

The buzz around the stadium is electrifying. Pure adrenaline is about the only way that I can explain it. It takes a few minutes for us to get through the beefed up security, but eventually we're inside the CLink! We've made it inside with enough time to comfortably get to our seats, watch the player introductions, AND see the flyover up above! Todd, Brandon, and I head to section 127, as Brandon is coincidentally sitting in the same section as us. It's a long way from his home in Kentucky, and it's a long way from my place back in Brooklyn, but fate had brought us all together to experience what was to come from the same vantage point.

Greg, on the other hand, is heading back to his seat from a week ago. He was going to be sitting directly above us in Section 327, after Bob aka PredatorHawk had come through in the clutch yet again! Unfortunately Bob couldn't make it out to the game due to some circumstances with work back at home, but that didn't stop him from "Hawking it Forward" and hooking Greg up with one of his tickets for face. That's just the kind of guy that Bob is, a common theme with the people that I've met along the way on this incredible journey.

Greg and I knew that we were two of the luckiest people in the state of Washington, and it's because of this fact that we were cool with sitting apart from one another for such a big game. We had experienced the NFC Championship Game together, but we had sat apart for the Super Bowl. Either way, both were great experiences, so we were open to the prospect of having to sit apart for the greater good.

After a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, one which Todd and I agreed was the best of the season at the CLink, the moment was now finally upon us. The Seahawks win the opening coin toss and elect to defer to the roar of the approving crowd. Todd and I share a smile and a look that suggests that a greater force might be in play, and that things were going exactly the way that we had scripted them to unfold in our minds countless times over in the buildup to the tilt. As had become ritual in these parts, Paul Allen hoists the 12th Man Flag, lathering the already-raucous crowd into a frenzy! The Seahawks were 2-0 in NFC Championship Games where Mr. Allen had raised the flag, and you could feel the universal belief that it was about to become 3-0.

The rain is falling, and the wind is continuing to howl, making things extremely uncomfortable for the 68,000 plus in attendance, as well as the combatants set to do battle on the field. From the onset, The Packers are methodical in their approach, and appear hellbent on not letting the crowd noise fluster them. Aaron Rodgers looks calm, cool, and collected, as he sits back and scans the field without any real pressure from the Seahawks front four. Eddie Lacy keeps his legs churning and converts on a 3rd down, setting the Packers opening drive in full motion. The Lacy run is set up by a pivotal offsides call on Michael Bennett, who is intent on using the crowd noise to help in his efforts to make life impossible for Mr. Rodgers.

Another flag flies just a few plays later, this time, Rodgers has coyly caught the Seahawks in the middle of a substitution. Bruce Irvin attempts to hurry off the field, but Rodgers sees him chugging to the sidelines and calls for the snap before Irvin can make it to the safety of the sideline's white paint. As great quarterbacks do, he takes a deep shot with the free play in hand, however, Jordy Nelson is unable to get any sort of separation from Byron Maxwell and the ball falls harmlessly, incomplete. After the penalty, passes to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb set up the Packers well-inside of Seattle territory with a first down. Passes on first and second down go nowhere, and the Packers are faced with 3rd down and 10 from the Seahawks 29 yard line, with 11:23 to play in the first quarter. It would be the first big play of the game, and a false indicator of how the day was set to unfold.

Aaron Rodgers opens up with trips to his left, a single receiver to his right, and with Randall Cobb in the backfield offset to his right. Todd and I are still in full voice, yelling, urging our Seahawks on to make a key stop. The rest of the crowd is following suit, creating a cacophony sent directly in #12 in green and yellow's direction. He had the deck stacked against him on this one, because the Seahawks are able to move the pocket, in the form of a strong rush off the edge from ends Bruce Irvin and Cliff Avril. Rodgers steps up, despite the injured calf, and evades the rush, moving to his left before looking downfield to his right and deciding to fire the ball to Davante Adams before getting crunched by Avril, who was coming in hard.

It's a harsh wake up call for Rodgers, and a tough pill to swallow for the Packers offense, because Adams is being blanketed by Richard Sherman, who gains picture-perfect positioning on the play and leaps into the air in front of Adams for the pick. Sherm's receiver instincts kick in, and he makes sure to tap his toes in the back of the endzone for the officials to see, just to accentuate the play. Todd and I, along with the rest of the crazies in the CLink, lose their minds. I wonder aloud to Todd, what Rodgers thought was going to happen on such a throw? We couldn't quite understand, but we weren't going to complain. The Seahawks had just struck the game's first major blow, and hopefully, had damaged Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' psyche in the process. That's what we hoped, at least. In life though, you get what you need, not what you want, most of the time.

It took only 3 plays until the first sign of what kind of day it was going to be appeared. Russell, after having handed off to Beast on 1st down and passed incomplete on a broken play on 2nd down, dropped back to pass. He finds a man, his playoff go-to-guy, "Big Play Jermaine" Kearse, and throws to the right side of the field, heaving a pass that forces Jermaine to go full-extension in an effort to haul the ball in. They needed 7 yards, and were probably short of that even if he does make the grab, but they ended up losing much more than that. The ball hits Kearse's hands and propels up in the air the way it so often happens in football. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the lucky recipient of his very own playoff interception, as it's more likely that good luck was the residue of good design on this one. Whatever the case may be, the Football God's approved of Clinton-Dix for the time being, and rewarded his continuous efforts with a huge splash play, setting up the Packers with excellent field position in the process.

The crowd groans with disappointment, the only partial relief coming by way of a taunting penalty that goes against Green Bay. The interception still hurts, however, the Seahawks defense gets a chance to show their true mettle. They do not disappoint, as they stand and deliver with their back's literally up against the wall. In fact, the Packers thought they were in when they ran that same play that they always do when they get inside of the 3 yard line. It had worked in the season opener, and John Kuhn had plunged into the end zone for six. It appeared that, once again, it had worked again and that Kuhn had put the Packers on top, 6-0. However, upon further review, Kuhn was down and the ball was short. The ruling on the field was reversed, and instead the Packers were faced with a crucial 3rd and Goal from the Seahawks 1 yard line. It was more like the half yard line, though, and with a backfield of Lacy and Kuhn, it was looking a tough proposition to stop the near-certain ensuing running play.

However, these were the Seattle Seahawks, and they thrived in tough situations. The Packers hand the rock to Lacy, who sees a hole and goes for it. However, the hole closes quickly, with Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, and Earl Thomas all filling the hole within seconds of it opening. Lacy is rocked upon entering the hole, and is stonewalled, falling straight down without so much as sniffing the end zone. The 12th Man approves, as the fans collectively lose their minds after a huge stop. The Packers played it by the book, and took the points. Crosby kicks a chip shot, and the Packers are off to a 3-0 start.

Despite the unexpected start, Todd and I are still extremely positive about the Seahawks prospects. All things considered, 3-0 wasn't that bad, and it definitely felt like danger was avoided in holding Green Bay to a field goal. Todd heads to the concession stands for a second, and while he's away, Doug Baldwin fields a kickoff at around the goal line. He decides to take it out, and heads to the left side of the field, before quickly cutting, and hitting the seam. However, he is hit from the side and loses control of the ball. Green Bay pounces on it, as I sit by myself, stunned. Still, it felt like a start that wasn't unfamiliar to the Seahawks. It was slower than expected, but surely, we'd get things turned around. Everything was under control.

Todd returns to his seat, and doesn't even realize that the Packers are back on offense. He asks me, "what the hell happened?" To which I have no answer. We hunker down and give our voice box another workout. Green Bay starts their drive with a heavy dosage of Lacy, who's able to churn out 16 yards and a first down on the drive's first two plays. However, the Seahawks defense is able to stand tall yet again, as Randall Cobb is taken down on 3rd down at the Seahawks 1 yard line! Twice now, the Packers had come within inches of jumping out to an early lead that might be insurmountable. Instead, they had to settle for two Mason Crosby field goals, and although the 'Pack must have been delighted with a 6-0 lead with 5:07 to go in the first, you got the feeling that they'd eventually rue their inability to punch the ball into the end zone.

Todd and I raise our glass and give a toast to the Seahawks. Things had not gotten off to the ideal start, but as Seahawks fans, we were used to that. The amazing thing about the Seahawks under Pete Carroll's stewardship was that there was actual hope. "It's not how you start, but how you finish" immediately comes to mind, as Todd and I are trying to convince ourselves that the impending Seahawks comeback is just around the corner. However, the ensuing Seahawks drive goes about as poorly as you could imagine.

A weird thing happened after the Seahawks defense was able to get the stop on 3rd and Goal. The sun started to poke it's head through the clouds and by the time the Seahawks had the rock, it was a night and day difference from when the game started. The rain had subsided to a soft drizzle, and the black clouds looming ominously were now replaced by dazzling rays of sunshine. "Only in Seattle", I thought to myself. However, despite the reversal of fortune with the weather, the quality of the Seahawks play on offense would not endure such a revival.

The 'Hawks go 3 and out, a Julius Peppers sack of Russell Wilson is sandwiched by a 3 yard run by the Beast, and an incomplete pass to Luke Willson on 3rd down. It's not inspiring, at all, and Todd and I begin to look at each other as if something greater isn't at play here. The Seahawks just don't appear to be there normal selves, and it couldn't have come at a worst time during the season. Micah Hyde muffs Jon Ryan's punt, but is able to land on top of it safely, securing the loose ball and keeping possession with the "Cheeseheads." Once again, Rodgers and the Packers offense take over on offense. Todd and I are beginning to worry that the Seahawks defense is starting to wear down, and the Packers ensuing drive does nothing to alleviate our worst fears. 15 yards here, 9 yards there, Rodgers and his receivers are doing a great job of keeping the chains moving. The end of the 1st quarter can't come fast enough, but little did we know that things were about to go from bad to worse.

There's 7 seconds on the clock, and the Packers are faced with 2nd and 5. Once again, Aaron Rodgers is able to draw Michael Bennett offsides, and Rodgers doesn't waste the free play. He's got time to maneuver in the pocket, too much time, and eventually Randall Cobb gets free and is wide open for an easy touchdown catch. Crosby chips in the extra point, and the CenturyLink crowd falls silent, stunned. In all our pregame bravado and proclamations of Seahawks glory, it appeared that we hadn't given the Green Bay Packers their proper due. I'll admit, I wasn't the least bit nervous of the Packers after watching their victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round a week earlier, however, a different team had shown up in Seattle on this day.

The 'Hawks keep shooting themselves in the foot, as James Carpenter starts the Seahawks next drive with a false start. Seattle can't climb it's way out of the 1st and 15 hole, and after two runs by Marshawn, a 3rd and 7 pass to Doug Baldwin falls incompletely. Ryan comes out for another punt, but the Seahawks offense just can't appear to get anything going. To make matters worse, the defense can't appear to bring the Packers offense to a halt either. It takes the Packers 8 plays, but play 9 of the drive is a Mason Crosby field goal, this time from 40 yards out. There's now 9:37 left on the clock in the second quarter, and things could not have gotten off to a worse start. You couldn't have imagined such a nightmare start.

Todd and I are trying to keep the faith. We still believe, but my head is now throbbing from all of the persistent yelling. With all of the turnovers, it feels like the Packers have had the ball for the entire first half. Perception is not far from reality in this case. All the positive thinking in the world couldn't put lipstick on this pig, though, and things take another insane turn for the worst. In an attempt to get things going, Russell forces a ball deep down the middle of the field, and yet again it's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with an interception. His return is equally impressive, but the run back is pulled back some due to Clay Matthews' attempt to put Russell Wilson into a vegetative state. Todd and I watch in horror, the fans around us groaning in unison. Dejected doesn't even begin to describe the mood at the CLink at this point. However, there was no time to get down or feel sorry for ourselves, we had to pick ourselves back up!

The crowd's intensity grows as they realize the severity of the situation. The Seahawks defense needed us, badly! Just 3 plays later, it was Byron Maxwell, literally picking himself up off of the turf after securing an interception on an errant pass from Green Bay's #12. The return only nets 5 yards, but the crowd roars in exultation, as if a giant weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Surely, we thought, this was the break we needed. This was one of the first positive plays for the Seahawks since the Richard Sherman interception on the game's opening drive. Despite floundering throughout much of the first half, it was still just 16-0 and 8:21 still remained on the clock. There was plenty of time for the 'Hawks to get back into this game. And it started with the interception by Maxi, or so we thought at least.

Seattle roars back with their best drive of the day. They collect 3 first downs along the way, the biggest coming on 3rd down in the form of a 14 yard reception from Ricardo Lockette! However, after only gaining 2 yards collectively on first and second down, the Seahawks were faced with another 3rd down. No amount of fingers or toes being crossed could save us now. After play restarts following the 2 minute warning, Russell drops back to throw, once again targeting Jermaine Kearse. Once again, however, the pass floats and gets intercepted. Todd and I can't believe what is happening. We just wanted to disappear completely. The half ends with no more points for either side, and soon both teams were jogging into the locker room. The Seattle partisan crowd tries it's hardest to cheer for it's fallen warriors as they trot on past, but their hearts are in their throats and they can't escape the scoreboard.

Just like last year, some of Seattle's local musical icons attempted to pump some life into the deflated crowd. Alice in Chains were actually pretty damn good, and they kept me feeling positive that like Macklemore before them, they're appearance would signal good things in the Seahawks immediate future. After an excellent performance of 'Man in the Box', Todd and I are ready to watch the Seahawks pull of a miracle comeback. We just know that they're going to come out swinging to start the 3rd quarter, and that their return to the driver's seat of the game was imminent. It was destiny. It could not be avoided.

Life had a different script. There was to be more struggle. There was to be more misery. Things start off exactly as they had ended, as Seattle starts off the 2nd half stuck in neutral with a 3 and out. As always seems to be the case, the Seahawks defense appear to have made the necessary halftime adjustments. The Packers punt the ball away on their maiden possession of the second half as well, and Todd and I summon up our most positive thoughts as the Seahawks trail 16-0 with 10:53 to go in the third quarter. I look around at hundreds of nervous, pensive faces. I don't know if some of these people can take much more of this. Luckily, we received one of the first signs that something special was on the horizon.

It's a decent drive for Seattle, especially when you compare it to their other drives on the day, and any drive featuring a Wil Tukuafu reception is a great one in my book. It also appears that Marshawn is kicking it into high gear, as he's breaking through tackles and ripping off huge chunks of yardage at a time. The Seahawks overcome a catastrophic 3rd and 19, as Doug Baldwin finds a hole in the defense and Russell Wilson has all day to find him. As per usual though, at least on this day, the Seahawks drive would stall out. Beast almost hauls in a nice grab with Sam Barrington providing excellent coverage. The ball bounces off of Marshawn and Barrington, before hitting the turf. Todd and I just shake our heads, as Steven Hauschka hits the field to at least get the Seahawks on the scoreboard. 

Hausch Money must be a magician in his spare time, because suddenly, there was magic. From our view in Section 127, it was a botched snap. The play never stood a chance. Then, Jon Ryan emerged, and it appeared that he was holding the football. If I hadn't seen Jon run for a first down in Washington earlier in the season, I wouldn't have believed my eyes. Still, I was in a foggy daze, unsure what reality even was anymore. I'm looking for the first down to see if Ryan has a shot, there are Packers in pursuit, but then the most amazing thing happened. Ryan floats a pass to the end zone, as Garry Gilliam has slipped past the Packers special teams and is now standing wide open in the end zone. The 12th Man collectively holds it's breath, and then lets out a wild roar deep from the depth's of their souls, as Gilliam makes the catch and gets the Seahawks 6 points.

Everywhere around me, people are bouncing up and down. Todd and I know that it's only 7 points, but it's a start, and it feels as if the Seahawks have turned the tide of the entire game with just one play. Before there's even time for what had just happened to settle in, the Packers offense is back on the field. It was time to get loud again. At this point, I'm absolutely kicking myself for not following Leif's time honored advise of drinking a cup of tea the night before the game. He says it works wonders for your throat and allows for optimal yelling throughout the game. Some fans go with cough drops, but Leif isn't like most other fans. My head is throbbing, as if it's about to explode, and the only thing that's making me feel any better is more yelling. Like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas on the field, who both picked up knocks and played through the pain, I simply had to keep going. There was no other choice.

The fake field goal appears to have galvanized the defense, as they finally get to Aaron Rodgers, Cliff Avril's sack on 3rd down being the Seahawks first sack of the game. The Seahawks defensive gameplan did not appear to be centered around the blitz, or bringing loads of pressure on the injured Rodgers. The Packers offensive line also did a great job of protecting Rodgers throughout the day. The Packers punt the ball away, much to the delight of the fans, and the 'Hawks were back in it, down only 16-7 with 2:22 in the third quarter. If we had made a wish with the clock at all 2's, it would have been for the Seahawks not to turnover the ball. That wish would have almost not come true, if not for Russell Wilson yet again recovering one of his own fumbles. He seems to be the master of that rare skill. What a bizarre skill to master.

The botched play put's the Seahawks behind the 8 ball, and before long, Jon Ryan was out for another punt. Eddie Lacy brings the third quarter to a close with 2 carries that pick up a first down for Green Bay. After three quarters of football, the Packers lead the Seahawks by the score of 16-7, with the ball, and with a first down. As the two teams switch sides on the field before the start of the fourth quarter, Todd grabs me and reminds me of something very important.
"Can you win in the first quarter?" "No!"
"Can you win in the second quarter?!" "NO!"
"Do you win in the third quarter?!?!" "NO!!!"
"Can you win in the fourth quarter!?!?!"
We both yell a resounding yes at the same exact time! We were ready for the Seahawks to rise up and fight their way into the Super Bowl for the second season in a row. However, life had other plans. The fourth quarter starts with James Starks cutting his run back across the field, and finding 32 yards of space before finally being brought down out of bounds by Sherm and Kam. Sherm gets up slowly after the play, having being laid out by Chancellor in a case of friendly fire. It's not the first time this has happened with the Seahawks this season, nor will it be the last. Such is the price you pay when you play so aggressively. Penalties, friendly fire, it all comes with the territory. And I wouldn't have it any other way!

Seattle's defense comes up with a key stop just a few plays later, and once again the Packers are forced to kick a field goal. Mason Crosby happily obliges, banging this one home from 48 yards away. Before the game had started, when the wind and rain were absolutely horrendous, I had told Juan that there would be no long field goals today! Looks like I was wrong. Crosby's fourth field goal of the game puts the Packers ahead 19-7 with 10:53 to go in the game. Crosby then kicks off, and Doug Baldwin's return goes absolutely nowhere. You start to hear more and more groans from the home crowd, as fans begin to realize the severity of the situation at hand. The Seahawks needed points, and they needed them now!

Seattle has the makings of a nice drive going, however, it stalls out after a 3rd and 14 from midfield falls incomplete. Jon Ryan punts away, despite everyone in the stadium feeling like Seattle needs to go for it. Todd and I can only look at each other with clueless expressions, as even we don't have an answer for what was going on. The Packers take the field one more time, and this time, the Seahawks D holds them to a 3 and out. It's exactly what the doctor ordered, and the Seahawks once again have the ball, with just 5:13 remaining on the game clock.

We are convinced in Section 127 that this is the drive where it all starts to turn around. At halftime, I had climbed on my seat and yelled to the entire section that we were not going to lose this game! There would be a comeback, and we would be playing in the Super Bowl in just 2 weeks time. I was beginning to feel bad though, as the Seahawks were not making me feel too confident in my declaration. This was the drive, though, it just had to be.

Or, it could just be another interception for the Green Bay Packers. Russell looks Kearse's way again on first down, and once again, the ball is deflected up into the air and picked off by Morgan Burnett, who takes a knee via a hook slide immediately after securing the interception. Todd lets out a "damnit, Russell", and the two women sitting directly in front of us turn to us and say "well, see you next season!" They head for the exits, as Todd and I can't believe that they are actually leaving with 5:04 left to play. Things were looking grim, but there was still a chance. And as long as there was a chance, we were still going to believe!

Believe as we might, we agree that we will not stay for the NFC Championship presentation if the Packers do, in fact, hold on for the win. It was at this moment where the reality of the situation set in for me. Todd turns to me and says, "it's not going to end like this for you brother, it just can't!" His comment makes me realize exactly how much was at stake. My dream of witnessing a Seahawks repeat was imploding in front of my very eyes. An emotional roller coaster of a season appeared to be on the brink of ending in disaster. With my head throbbing, and my heart heavy, I did the only thing I knew how to in that moment... yell!

Now wasn't the time to get down, or feel sorry for ourselves, we had to yell! We could not allow the Packers to go up by 15 points, or else then, then the game would be over. So yell we did, and despite a mini-exodus of bandwagon fans who flooded to the exists, the true heart of the Seahawks remained. The most ardent of diehards were left in the building, and that was all that truly mattered anyway. The wave of sound that ensued helps force the Packers to have to punt, and once again, the Seahawks are set to take over on offense. Lost in all of the excitement, are the timeouts called by Pete Carroll during this Packers drive to help keep the clock stopped and continue to give the Seahawks a fighting chance. Coach Carroll's clock management has come under question more than a few times during his tenure with the Seahawks, but not this time. This was a masterful job of clock management from the man who helped bring Seattle it's first-ever Lombardi trophy.

With 3:52 on the clock, and down by 12 points (there's that number again), the Seahawks begin their comeback. With a swagger and assurance that had been missing all afternoon, whether it was raining or whether the sun was shining, the Seahawks offense started to look less like the New York Jets offense and more like the one we had become accustomed to all season. A run by Marshawn and a pass to Doug picks up 34 yards in a hurry. After an incomplete pass, Russell drops back to pass and finds Marshawn open along the right sideline. Beast makes the grab, stiff-arms a defender, and glides into the end zone for 6 points! Mass celebration ensues, but it doesn't last for long, as the touchdown is nullified due to Lynch having stepped out of bounds at the Green Bay 9 yard line. The call by the booth just delays the inevitable, however, as Russell waltzes into the end zone for 6 from just a yard away! The extra point from Hausch Money, is money, and the 'Hawks now trail 19-14, with just 2:09 to go in the game!

At this point, everyone in the stands is wondering whether or not the Seahawks will kick off or go with the onside kick. With 2:09 on the clock, and just 1 timeout, the decision is clear to make. You've got to go with the onside kick and hope that something works out for the best. I hate the onside kick, as it's such a low-percentage play, but I crossed my fingers and hopped for the best. Todd and I are watching with tremendous anticipation as Hauschka aligns his special teams unit to come up with the recovery. He slowly approaches the ball, and then kicks it with such vitriol that it goes flying towards Packers Tight End Brian Bostick. Bostick jumps into the air, in an attempt to be the game's hero. However, the ball bounces off of his face mask and falls into the waiting arms of Chris Matthews!

I try yelling down to Brandon, who is just a few rows in front of us. Brandon, a huge fan of the University of Kentucky's football team, must be ecstatic, as Chris Matthews attended the UK before playing in the CFL, and now with the Seahawks. It's a bizarre turn of events, the unlikeliest of plays made by the unlikeliest of players, but somehow the Seahawks had recovered the football! Absolute pandemonium ensues, as fans everywhere are jumping, hugging, and high-fiving one another! We have to reel it in though, because the Seahawks offense is now back out on the field.

Russell keeps it on a Read-Option play, gaining 15 yards before stepping out of bounds. He gets out right before the two minute warning, giving the Seahawks another play to run before the mandated stop in play. Marshawn fights his way for 3 tough yards, and shortly after, the whistle blows for the two minute warning. Somehow, someway, the Seahawks were in this thing! Todd and I are holding each other at this point, just waiting to celebrate after one of the most tumultuous days of rooting for the Seahawks, ever!

Play resumes with Russell finding Luke for 8 yards, and another Seahawks first down! With 1:33 left in the game, Todd and I get the moment that we had been waiting for. Russell hands off to Marshawn, and the Beast slips through a seam, and through the left side. He weaves around another would-be tackler, and then another, as the Seahawks pedestrian receivers do what they do best, and throw some great blocks to spring Marshawn for the go-ahead touchdown! Pure bliss sets in, and I swear that I've never heard a louder stadium in my life. I had been there for the Guinness record, and this blew that crowd pop out of the building. Todd and I are worried that there's too much time left on the clock, but we try not to get too upset about it, as we had just witnessed the most improbable comeback of our lives!

With the comeback now officially complete, and the 'Hawks leading 20-19, it was time for the two-point conversion. It looks like the play is hopeless, as Green Bay immediately has a defender in Russell's face. However, Hustle evades the rush, spins and turns his back to the defense, before heaving up a prayer to the other side of the field. Somehow, as if answered by the football god's themselves, the ball floats into the waiting hands of Luke Willson! The conversion succeeds, and the lead is now 3 points! It was a truly miraculous play that was a microcosm of the kind of day it was at CenturyLink field. 

Once again, we can't celebrate too much, as Hausch Money booms the ensuing kickoff to the Green Bay 4 yard line. Micah Hyde returns it 18 yards, and the Packers are set up. Suddenly, they are now down 22-19, with 1:19 left in the game and the ball at their own 22 yard line. The crowd is now swaying, bouncing, and dancing as "Hold me Back" by Rick Ross plays off in the background. I can't believe my eyes, everyone is dancing! Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense deserve a lot of credit, as they never got flustered, and they never quit. With their backs now up against the wall, Green Bay responds with an impressive, season-saving drive of their own. Rodgers is straight up surgical in his approach, dissecting Seattle's defense for 30, seemingly easy yards, within the drive's first 2 plays, before hobbling out of bounds for 12, tough yards just a play later.

However, despite Richard Sherman clutching his elbow for much of the fourth quarter, and despite Earl Thomas playing through a separated shoulder, the Seahawks defense still stood tall. They hold the Packers to a long field goal try, after Richard Sherman completes a one-armed tackle on Jordy Nelson. Sherman is slow to get up, but this play is a testament to the heart he displayed. Meanwhile, my headache was still throbbing, but I knew that I just had to make it through the game and that I'd be alright. As Mason Crosby lines up for a game-tying field goal with 19 seconds left in the game, everyone is yelling as loudly as human possible. It's an amazing display, but it doesn't amount to much, as Crosby ignores the noise and pours home his fifth goal of the day. This one from 48 yards out, yet again. Todd was right, there was too much time left on the clock.

Russell takes a knee and sends the game into OT. Eli's beloved "victory formation" streak was now sure to have ended, but even having a chance in overtime felt like a major victory after the first 55 minutes of the game. It felt like everything that we had endured, as a team and as it's loyal fan base, not only in this game but over the course of the whole season, had a purpose. It was all to make us stronger. We had the ability to overcome just about anything, and we had yet again. The only thing left to do, was win the damn ballgame! Todd was right, it was destiny.

Even the coin toss before overtime felt like something greater, a greater force even, was in control of things. The Packers send out their captains, yet the Seahawks chose to send out Tarvaris Jackson, and TJack only. It makes for an amazing scene, as the Packers trot out 5 of their guys while we send out our backup quarterback. TJack is good luck, though, having won the coin toss before the Broncos game back in September. On that day, the Seahawks never let Peyton Manning and the vaunted Broncos offense get a touch in overtime. They won, 26-20, after Marshawn plunged into the end zone on overtime's opening drive. Russell was methodical, the offense had a purpose, and they marched their way down the field for the game winning touchdown, as Peyton Manning looked on begrudgingly from the sideline. TJack wins again! Rodgers deciding that tails never fails, but it does this time, as the tails are no match for TJack!

A wave of relief sweeps over the exhausted crowd, our nerves frayed and our nails all but chewed up and spit out. I turn to Todd, and the look in our eyes suggests that both of us had been clued in on the future, and how it would look. Todd had been right on a lot of fronts on the day, none more profound than not being able to win in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd quarter. However, not even he could have known that it would take more than 4 quarters to win this one!

Doug's kickoff return gets overtime underway, and Seattle's drive is going to have to be a long one, as Baldwin only gets to the 13 yard line. Luckily for us, Hustle Wilson was up to the task. After a pass to Doug gives the Seahawks a 1st down on the drive's second play, a rush for 4 by Marshawn, is followed by a Green Bay sack. It sets up a pivotal third down, while also showing the true character and grit of one, Russell Wilson.

It's 3rd and 6 and the ball is on Seattle's 30 yard line. Hustle lines up with Beast to his left, as is so often the case, with only Luke lined up at tight end on his left side, while having trips lined up on the right. Despite an awful day, partially through fault of his own and partially through the fault's of others around him (as well as a great game played by Green Bay's defense), Hustle Wilson stands and delivers! He throws a beautiful, high-arching rainbow to Doug E. Fresh, who hauls in the grab, picking up 35 yards in the process. It's a play that's reminiscent of Baldwin's long reception in the Super Bowl, and a similar play Baldwin made against the Saints on Monday Night. The stadium is on the edge of full ecstasy, as the ball is placed on the Green Bay 35 yard line!

Before the next play, I had never had a game describe my entire life before. As Russell drops back and surveys the scene, I still had no idea what was about to transpire. Then, Jermaine Kearse makes his way towards the end zone. He's beaten Tramon Williams for inside positioning and has a step on him. Hustle Wilson doesn't hesitate, instead firing a beautiful dime that archs through the air as if to completely stop time. The ball arrives, Kearse fends off Williams' futile efforts to dislodge the ball, and tumbles into the end zone. He's held on, as the referee raises his arms into the air to signify that it is indeed, a touchdown. Sheer bedlam and madness ensue!

The only thing that can be heard are the screams of 68,000 plus people. Todd and I embrace in a hug, as Brandon climbs up the seats from a few rows below to join us. I am on the brink of tears, but I compose myself and do my best to hold them back. Such an emotional feeling, such an emotional game. It almost didn't even feel like it really happened. In fact, none of this has felt like it's really happened. It's all just a dream that I'm trying my hardest not to wake up from.

As the mass celebration ensues, complete with blue confetti falling from the CenturyLink rafters, the three of us can only smile and laugh. What we had just witnessed didn't make any sense. It defied all logic. The five turnovers, the fake field goal, the onside kick, the pass in overtime. All of it. We struggled to cope with all of it. We had won, and that was all that mattered, but we had just witnessed one of the most amazing moments in sports history. It felt almost supernatural. As if the Seahawks weren't just playing against the Packers, but instead against something greater. Whatever it was, they had prevailed, improbable as it may have been.

As the ceremony comes to a close, and after the reality of the situation starts to sink in, the three of us make our way back to Temple. Bart, April, Doug, Jordan, JR, Greg, everyone's there. It's just like last year! There are hugs all around and absolutely no one can comprehend what we had just all seen. The drinks and good time's are flowing, and after holding it down at Temple for a while, we decide to make our way to the same places that we had gone last season. It was the same exact crew from last season too, with Leif being the only absentee. We definitely had a round or two in his honor, of course. As we walked through the streets, the Seahawks newly-crowned NFC Champions yet again, we couldn't get the smiles off of our faces, as car horns honked in the background. They were the most beautiful, jubilant-sounding car horns you've ever heard.

The next day, it was time for everyone to head back to reality, except for Brandon and I, of course. Greg and JR had flights to the east coast to catch, but I stayed back in Seattle, as Brandon let me crash at his hotel. We spent the day watching talking heads blabber on and on about Tom Brady and the Patriots, who had absolutely thrashed the Indianapolis Colts somewhere along the course of the night, although we hardly cared much. All we knew was that the Seahawks were on a road of destiny, and nothing, especially after what we had just seen just a day earlier, would stop them. We eventually made our way to the EMP to check out the 12th Man exhibit, and it was exactly what we needed after such a draining day just 24 hours prior.

It was Tuesday now, and Brandon and I had reached the end of our line, too. We take off on the LightRail bound for the airport, but I get off in the International District. We bid each other farewell, and vow to meet again at the Super Bowl in Glendale. I owed a lot to Brandon, as he had looked after me. I tried thinking of a way to somehow repay him, one day, for his generosity. I made my way through Chinatown to a nearby shop, as I devoured some dumplings, while drinking some tea, before heading down towards the stadium for one last look at the CLink.

I had forgotten that there would be people there to pick up their Super Bowl tickets. Scalpers patrol the area, forced off to the side by local Police, flashing thousands of dollars at people, offering them the money for their tickets. From what I saw, people kept it moving and weren't about to sell their chance of a lifetime. As I big the CLink farewell, I received a text message from Eli, he had won the season ticket holders lottery for Super Bowl tickets, and he wanted to give me the first crack at his extra ticket!

I could hardly believe it! What had I done to get so lucky? It didn't make sense to me. As I made my way to the airport for the long trip home, I tried to comprehend everything that had happened. From the beginning of last season, to that moment in time, I tried to make sense of it all. I couldn't escape the feeling that the game on Sunday was my life in a nutshell. For 55 minutes, we kept hope alive despite things not working out in our favor. Then, when all hope seemed loss, a string of highly improbable events led for the most magical moment imaginable. We were forced to suffer through 55 minutes of torture before finally being rewarded with one of the greatest things we had ever seen. It was a reminder to me to always keep believing, to keep on persevering, no matter how long the odds seemed.

The kid from Queens had just witnessed the unthinkable. The Seahawks were heading back to the Super Bowl, and I would be there yet again. The RePete was still alive! The Patriots/Seahawks prophecy that I had proclaimed before the season had come true. It was Tom Brady's turn to feel helpless as his world crumbled around him. I couldn't wait. I boarded my plane, with allegations of the Patriots cheating now-swirling. In fact, there was actual proof that violations had been committed! It all seemed comical, what did it all mean?

The stage was now set for a dramatic Super Bowl match up lush with storylines. Pete Carroll facing off against his former team in the Super Bowl, looking for a chance to become the first coach to ever win back-to-back championships in college and the NFL. Brandon Browner, one of my all-time favorite Seahawks, facing off against Seattle in his quest to actually earn a ring. There was the Brady/Wilson angle, since both were overlooked some when coming out of college, and there was the DeflateGate controversy that was looming over New England's heads. It was a battle of good versus evil, and the last time that such a matchup existed (Harbaugh/Carroll and 49ers/Seahawks), the good guys won, big time.

Within minutes of arriving back home, there was bad news. The pickle van was missing, and with it, my opportunity to help pave my road back to the Super Bowl. To make matters worse, there appeared to be a storm looming over the northeast. The timing of these two events couldn't have been worse, but rather than panic, I thought back to the NFC Championship. 55 minutes of agony, for 5 minutes of glory, as well as the rest of our lives to cherish the memories. I'll take that trade any day of the week. It's with this mindset, that I soldiered on home, and got ready for the final chapter of a most excellent story. A story that would be told until the end of time.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Beautiful Struggle

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
- Lao Tzu 

It had been a grueling season. A tumultuous journey that tested the limits of the soul. A war of attrition waged between the mind and the body. They say the sequel's never better than the original, but that depends on your perspective. If you love the storybook ending, then last season's seemingly destined first Super Bowl run can never be topped. However, if you grew up romanticizing the struggle, then maybe this season could top last? There were blood, sweat, and tears waged on this quest. Nothing came easy, yet the true warrior heart of a champion still shone through.

Great moments were plentiful down the stretch, however, earlier in the season it appeared that the 2014-2015 Seattle Seahawks would not get the chance at a repeat. After a heartbreaking, hard-fought loss in Kansas City, everyone could have thrown in the towel. Having accomplished so much just a season ago, it would have been easy for the team, both players and coaches, to pack it in and be resigned to their fate. Maybe all of the critics were right? Maybe the "Super Bowl hangover" was real and maybe the repeat was increasingly more difficult than winning it for the first time in franchise history.

As such, I'd be lying to you if I told you that I didn't think about giving up. There were people in my life who suggested that I do as such. It's not so much that they wanted to see me fail, as it was that they didn't want to see me hurt anymore. I live and die with this team, always have since I first fell in love with them back on December 16th, 2000. The 6-4 start, coupled with mind-numbing bus trips from NYC to Charlotte, St. Louis, and Kansas City, were starting to take it's toll on me. My loved ones saw a version of me that wasn't what they had become accustomed to after all of these years. 

Sure, those that had been with me long enough knew that this was nothing. This was just an exercise in character building. I had shed tears when Al Harris intercepted Matthew Hasselbeck's overtime pass and took it to the house. That one was a dagger placed right through my heart. And if they knew me long enough, they knew that I was quite literally depressed for months after the sham that was Super Bowl XL. Heck, my first Seahawks experience was a disaster in and of itself, and resulted in tears. 

The stage was set. After a year of being a Seahawks fan, the 'Hawks would invade the original Meadowlands on December 23rd, 2001. My dad was able to get us two tickets from his scalper friend, Spiro. Back then, in New York City, it seemed like everyone knew a scalper, or a bookie, so these types of things were pretty common. Spiro hooked us up for years with excellent tickets, always for face value. I still remember that frigid December day, and not just because it was my first live Seahawks experience, or because it would ultimately end with me in tears.

I remember it mostly because it was actually a great game. Both teams traded hay makers, with Shaun Alexander pacing Seattle's offense while Kerry Collins, Amani Toomer, and Ike Hilliard did the same for the G-Men. Back and forth they went, and the Seahawks actually held a 24-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter. It wouldn't last though, as Ike Hilliard would place the final dagger in my heart at the ripe ole' age of 14, with a late touchdown that would prove to be the gamebreaker. I remember the tears flowing down my face, my father attempting to console me, and ultimately the Giants fans who were sitting around us came to offer me words of encouragement as well. 

If you would have told me back then, that 13 years later on that same plot of land I would witness the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl in franchise history, I probably wouldn't have believed you. The point is, being a Seahawks fan had trained me for disappointment. Fast forward back to the not-so-distant past, and the 24-20 defeat to Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, which is a pit to play in, suddenly didn't seem so bad.

All of the hard time and the struggles were now a thing of the past. Every day is an intense grind in the NFL, so sure, there were still the daily struggles and rigors of day-to-day football life, and there were even still some more hiccups for yours truly down the improbable 6-0 stretch that helped make this team NFC West Champions and the #1 seed in the NFC once again, but they could not break the Seahawks and they could not break me. The warrior spirit had already been forged long ago, and it was destined, or so it seemed, to carry on no matter what.

After a week of normality, spent watching other NFL playoff games without a care in the world, it was now time to get back into focus. During my downtime at the pickle stand, my mind would drift as it has for the past 15 years of existence. Visions of Earl Thomas interceptions, Kam Chancellor decapitating receivers, and Russell Wilson weaving through defenders before a perfectly-timed slide had taken over my mind. The week of normality, was just a formality, because inside there was nothing normal about the way I was feeling.

The only thing that could break my concentration on all things Seahawks, was my right hand crashing through the ice and digging through the now-chunky pickle brine to dig for pickles. 

"Hey brotha! Quart of sours, please? Thanks boss!"

Thank god for these requests, because surely otherwise I would have gone crazy and frozen to death with Seahawks on the brain. As the time grew closer and closer to Saturday though, there was no avoiding the reality of the situation. I realized, who cares about what everyone else thinks? I was content with thinking about the Seahawks 24/7. After years of futility, we were just days away from another chapter in Seahawks history. The playoffs were set to begin for our beloved osprey's of the Northwest, and with that meant an opportunity at the seemingly improbable.

Finally, Friday had arrived. It was too cold to sell pickles, so I was spared the torture and agony and was able to concentrate solely on meeting with Greg, and heading to Newark International Airport. When I link up with Greg, at 'New York Pizza Suprema' on 31st Street and 8th Avenue, a familiar feeling suddenly returns. That feeling that everything was going to be alright, and that great things were destined for our future, and for the future of the Seattle Seahawks. We devour our slices, then make our way across the street to Penn Station. After pounding a few beers at Rosa's Pizza down near the subway to help ease the pain of two upcoming flights, we hop on the NJ Transit bound for Newark International.

The two of us can not stop talking about the game. Despite being a Jets fan born and raised, Greg's knowledge of the Seahawks had come a long way. It was nice having someone back home who was also able to talk Seahawks. Most other people had no interest in the Seahawks, some even hated them, but with Greg I had someone who genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the team, and did the homework to know what he was talking about, which made it even more enjoyable.

After checking through security and the hassles that that entails, we make our way to our gate and wait for our flight to depart. Still, all the while, talking Seahawks football and running through all the possibilities of what could happen in their Divisional Round game against the Carolina Panthers. Soon enough, it's time for us to board and depart. Away we go, in to the frigid atmosphere up above, our next destination being Phoenix, Arizona.

It was a fitting place for a layover, and one that Greg and I hoped we would get the opportunity to return to in less than a month's time. Going to Phoenix in December was outstanding, and Greg and I both had a blast, however we really wanted to be back in February for the big game.

As fate would have it, a familiar face was also boarding that plane from Phoenix to Seattle that night. Bob, or 'PredatorHawk' as he is affectionately known, was also making the trip to Seattle for this week's playoff game. Back at the Eagles game, in the Lincoln Financial Field parking lot, Bob had vowed to sell me his extra ticket for each playoff game for face value. This gesture was absolutely indicative of the outstanding character that Bob possesses. His goal in life, or so it seems since I've never actually asked him, is to help others and make sure that other people are happy, putting that even before his own needs. It magnifies when it's a Seahawks fan in need, and Bob is always there to try and do his part.

Staying true to his word, Bob reminded me that his extra ticket was mine, if I wanted it. Of course, I said yes, however I told him that Greg would be coming along with me, and that we were going to try and sit together if at all possible. Luckily for Greg and I, Bob had purchased another seat a little bit closer to the action. Being the gem that he is, he offered us both of his tickets, for face value. I'm sure he wouldn't want me including these details, because that's the type of person the man known as the PredatorHawk is, but someone must tell the tale of his good deeds.

"Hawking it forward" was indeed alive and well. The three of us chatted for a bit, even mixing it up with some Panthers fans as well. It appeared that everyone, no matter the team they rooted for, was just excited to be going to the game. These two teams had had a past, with the Seahawks winning 3 in a row in Charlotte spanning over the past 3 seasons. Before that even, the Seahawks disposed of the Panthers en route to Super Bowl XL, so it was safe to say that folks from the Carolina's were not the biggest Seattle Seahawks fans in the world. However, this was one of the beautiful things about the Seahawks now being a great team. Other teams fans hated us!

Rivalries were now popping up seemingly out of nowhere, with teams with no geographical affiliation with the Seahawks at all. Redskins fans absolutely despised us, as did New Orleans Saints fans. This wasn't because the Seahawks were "cheaters" or because they played the game dirty, but instead because the Seahawks kept beating their teams, especially when it mattered most in the playoffs. The same could be said for Panthers fans, who after talking to some at Sky Harbor International Airport, had revenge on their minds.

We thank Bob for his generous act, and send him some more thanks in the form of a man named Jack Daniels, once we ascend into the picturesque Arizona night sky up above. The good karma tour was officially underway, and it's next stop was Seattle, Washington.

In some ways, this regular season had to finish the way it did. The Seahawks just had to have the #1 seed in the NFC yet again. Last year was just too much fun. I was not ready for it to be a one and done. In fact, I had visions of perfection before the season started and even after the Packers game in early September. How foolish and naive I was, however, the Seahawks were still the #1 seed. It was part of the reason why Greg was so intent on making his way to Seattle for both playoff games, because of course there would be two. He had an amazing time in Seattle last January, spent with amazing people who showed us so much generosity and the warmest welcome that we had ever seen.

Seeing people that I had created bonds with from both coasts get along so well was one of the greatest things that happened on last season's entire journey. Watching my worlds collide was what I lived for, and it was something that I tried to continue this season.

True to last year's form, things broke our way right off the bat. We would be staying with Steve that night, and with our flight landing after 11 pm, we would need a bit of luck to get us to the 512 bus stop at 4th Street and Jackson. That luck came, in the form of our flight landing at Sea-Tac 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. We didn't even get to say goodbye to Bob, who was seated towards the back of the plane, as we sprinted off of the flight, through the airport, and to the Light Rail. I advise Greg that we should probably hustle the rest of the way, and as soon as I say that, a train appears in the distance. We give it all that we've got and make it just in time, as the train departs shortly thereafter.

It was truly an "earn everything" type moment. That was the phrase that Greg, Jordan, and I would use continuously during last season's epic title run. Ran through the airport to catch your flight as the door was closing for boarding? Earn everything! Had a tooth pulled instead of getting a root canal just to save money and keep the improbable dream alive? Earn everything! It wasn't just a slogan anymore, at this point it had become a way of life. A new purpose to our existence. A key component to our genetic makeup and what set us apart from the rest. We owed it all to Pete Carroll and his amazing vision. 

We actually make it to the bus stop a few minutes early and soon we were on our way to the Everett Transit Station. We were definitely weary travelers, as being 34,000 feet in the sky had taken it's toll on us. We were both dehydrated, and I tried my hardest to take a nap, but to no avail. However, our poor condition improves, as Steve's car cuts through the fog and pulls up in the adjacent parking lot.

We run over to his car and hop in. It's all smiles as we were reunited once again and under such incredible circumstances. Steve's forgotten more about the Seahawks than I could ever know, so it's always great to hear stories about Seahawks teams of yesteryear. We use the drive back to Steve's place to catch up, especially Steve and Greg. They'd not seen each other since last January, as this was Greg's first return to the Pacific Northwest this season. They had met in Houston last year, when Steve, then still a stranger, had offered to store our bags in his car before the game. As luck would have it, the game ended up going into overtime, and Greg, Dah-Un, and I were on the brink of missing our flight back home. Steve sprung into action, offering to drive us to the airport despite not having to depart on his own flight in some 7 hours or so. He zipped across the massive, sprawling Houston highways and to the airport, where we made it on to our flight with about 5 minutes to spare. It was the type of moment that defined the year, only there were seemingly hundreds more of those moments. It was also the type of moment that defined Steve as a person, a billing that he would end up living up to time and time again.  

After a quick stop for some fuel in the form of sirloin burgers and curly fries, we reach our destination and our day of travel is complete. Now it's time to kick back and relax and discuss the week's game, which is less than 24 hours away. It seems that we are all in agreement, and the consensus feeling about the game is that it might be tough for a while, but the Seahawks will ultimately win in convincing fashion. Having so much confidence is weird for the lifelong Seahawks fan. Even weirder, is having that supreme confidence be justified.

We laugh until we can laugh no more, listening to clips of Mike Francesca tear John Idzik apart, and soon it's 4 am, which was actually 7 am for those of us traveling from the east coast. With a big day ahead of us, we decide to call it a night.

Although I usually don't get much sleep before Seahawks games, I logged a solid 6 hours this time. My body was simply too shot to keep going any longer after a brutal week of working in the cold and the grueling travel to get out west. We rise, and Steve serves us up a delicious breakfast complete with some of the best bacon I've ever had in my life. I'm not even much of a coffee drinker, but for some reason, I get in to the mood when I'm in Seattle on gameday. The confidence has turned slightly into nervous anticipation, as we discuss whether or not 'Scam' Newton would be able to enter the CLink and leave it in the same condition he arrived in.

Steve comments on my beanie, and how much he likes it, and I think back to a story about Marshawn Lynch. In this story, the writer mentions how Marshawn was once hanging out with a friend when someone commented on Lynch's shirt, and how much they liked it. Marshawn, without hesitation, took the shirt off and gave it to the person. This story was not told by Marshawn as a way to gloat about his great, kind act, but by the friend, who said that Marshawn then walked around without a shirt on the rest of the time. With that story in mind, I decided that I wanted to be like Marshawn, so I gave Steve the hat. It was an example of the Seattle Seahawks being more than just a football team, and inspiring something positive off of the football field. As silly as it sounds, it felt great to be able to give Steve the beanie, especially after the circumstances of how I obtained the beanie. It never belonged with me in the first place.

My lady was sweet and kind enough to buy me the sideline beanie for Christmas last season, but me being me, I lost it on the 7 train on my way to my mother's house prior to heading to the airport for the Cardinals home game in Week 16. Rather than be a standup guy about it, and tell the truth and admit my gaffe, I lied about it instead, with the thought that I'd be able to purchase another one in Seattle within the next few days. Only that proved to be impossible. The beanie was a hit all over town, and it was sold out for months at every Seahawks Pro Shop in town. Week after week, she would ask if I got it back "from my friends house", and week after week I replied no.

Finally, during the off-season, she went away for a week to go see her family upstate. I ordered up a beanie on ebay and it arrived a few days later. I thought I had somehow gotten away with it. To my surprise, upon opening up the package, it was the same beanie alright, but it had a Super Bowl champions patch on one of the sides! As she had originally given me the beanie before the Seahawks became champions, this made no sense! I took it as a sign of life proving me a valuable lesson, and came clean about the whole ordeal.

Now, the beanie had a new head to call home. I could think of no one better than Steve, who's son Zack had tried to get one for his dad for Christmas last year but with no luck. Steve had gotten the hat he truly deserved, and would cherish, complete with a Super Bowl champs patch and all. It was the universe restoring order.

After breakfast, Steve takes Greg and I back down to the Everett Transit Station. We were heading down to the CLink especially early because Mike Flood had invited me down on to the field for player warmups! He was even so kind as to allow Greg and old friend, Eli, to come as well, upon my request. The drive down was filled with nervous anticipation, as the magnitude of what was about to unfold started to sink in. The three of us do the best that we can to focus on the task at hand, which is getting ready to be as loud as humanly possible to help our team to victory.

We arrive in Everett and board the bus headed back downtown to Seattle. We're the first people to board, and the driver lets us on for $3 instead of $3.50. It's the first minor victory of the day. Stop after stop, the bus starts to fill in with men and women clad in blue and green. Some wear masks, others wear fake dreadlocks, regardless of the specifics, nearly everyone is representing the Seahawks in one fashion or another.

We notice a man sketching as he talks to the Seahawks fan directly across from him. We're engaged in our conversation with an ex-convict on work release, who loves the Seahawks just as much as everyone else, so we can't hear the specifics of what the man sketching has to say. He is sketching a man with a Seahawks mask that he has handmade. It is an impressive bit of work, and serves it's purpose of intimidation.

Shortly after, the man with the notepad slides over to the seat next to ours. He informs us that he's an artist for the Seattle Times, and that his name is Gabriel. I can tell from his accent, that he's not from around here, and that perhaps he was from Spain. In fact, he is from Spain, he says, to which I retort with the fact that my mother is from Spain as well. We connect on that for a minute, and then he's back to asking us about the game. He asks us where we're from, and he can't believe his ears when we tell him that we're from New York City. I tell him that not only did we make the trip out for this game, but that I had been to the past 36 Seahawks games as well. He begins to start sketching me as he continues with his questions.

Gabriel is a nice man. Non-imposing and polite, he's a laid back guy with an inviting smile and a calmness about him. Greg and I engage him with conversation about travel, the Seahawks, and the specifics on good living. When we finally get off the bus at 5th and Jackson, he makes his way to the stadium, as Greg and I keep walking along Jackson towards Temple Billiards. They are at capacity, so there's no time to mingle with our friends before the game, but that's okay because we were big things in store in our future.

We get down around the stadium about 3:15 when we finally meet up with Eli. He's psyched about the chance to get on the field, and the three of us walk towards the NE VIP entrance. After being unable to find it for a minute, we're finally led in the right direction but some helpful stadium staff. We get through security and make our way towards our destination. Once we arrive, we wait, as the room fills with assorted family members of players from both teams. Members of the Tukuafu family walk by, as does a large group of people wearing Panthers jersey's with the name 'Benwikere' on the back.

Soon, Mike appears, alongside his brother. We are all given wristbands, as Mike takes a minute to personally greet everyone who he had invited. Mike is a shining example of why the Seattle Seahawks are the best organization in sports. He is authentic and genuine, and loves reaching out to the 12th Man, going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that everyone is happy. After pleasantries, the moment that we had all waited for was finally upon us! Mike leads the way, as we walk through the concourse, out through the tunnel like the players battling it out soon would, and onto the field.

I had been here once before. Coincidentally, PredatorHawk had gotten me on to the field prior to the Titans game last season. I remember feeling an amazing feeling that day, the feeling that this is where I belonged. The stage didn't seem too big for me, and I loved the vantage point that being right on the field provided. It was here, as the offensive line galloped past us, that I realized the enormity of the size of some of these men. These men were giants, mythical titans that defied the laws of existence.

Now, I was back, and with two friends who were experiencing it for the first time, like I had a season prior. Seeing their eyes light up gave me an excellent feeling deep down inside. We immediately recognize Cam Newton, who is directly in front of us on the field, alternating between throwing passes and catching them, all while never moving his legs. The ball zips through the air, as his facial expression hardly ever changes, despite the work load. Newton is a massive figure, and he appears to be locked in and focused. Gone is the wide smile that has been his trademark up until this point.

A few feet away from Newton stands the Seahawks linebacker corpse. Their positional coach, Ken Norton Jr., is at the center of the group, inspiring his men as they dance, hoot, and holler around him. They break from their huddle, and start backpedaling before springing into action and leaping for the would-be, hypothetical interception. It's here that you really get to appreciate the wingspan of KJ Wright, who glides through the air and reaches out for the ball with arms that look like that of Inspector Gadget's. 

Soon, Kam Chancellor emerges from one of the entrances. He is wearing a white under armour shirt, shorts, and his customary blue and green spikes. His face never winces, smiles, or makes any expression really, as he jogs around the field a few times before settling in for some drills. Like the linebackers, he backpedals before breaking on the ball and making it his own. I think back to Training Camp, when I saw Kam, Earl, and Sherm leading the way in defensive back drills. I can't help but think about how I realized that these were what consummate professionals looked like, and that this is what it must have felt like to get to watch guys like Mike Singletary play back in the '80's.

I was at peace now, for as Lao Tzu had said many ages ago, I was living in the present. We continue our walk around the field, and just like that, Pete Carroll is standing a few feet away from us. He has his hands behind his back and is pacing slowly, looking out at the massive structure that was the CLink. He appears stoic and unfazed by the enormity of the situation at hand. This was, in fact, what he lives for.

As we make our way to the endzone, a few of the Seahawks run to the tunnel to head back to the locker rooms to get fully suited up in preparation for the game. On his way back, a young fan standing near the front railing, screaming his name, catches Bobby Wagner's attention. Wagner walks over, and hands the kid his beanie. Later, KJ Wright would stop and sign autographs for a host of children who were standing near the railing. Even Kam Chancellor, who was in all-business mode, made sure to stop by and hook the kids up with some gear. Even more impressive, none of the kids got laid out like their name was Vernon Davis. It was the type of moment that made you extremely proud to be a Seahawks fan.

Once we made it to the endzone, Mike introduces me to a man named Joe Jones, and his wife. Joe is a former running back and linebacker for the University of Washington. He was a member of the 1960 and 1961 Rose Bowl teams for the Huskies. I tell him that he must love Wil Tukuafu, as Tukuafu is one of the rare two-way players still playing in the league. In fact, he does, as he eventually tells me that back in his day, every player had to play on both sides of the ball. Despite being a Cougar, it was an honor to meet such a great man, and a kind man, who told me to continue pursuing being a writer, as that's what his wife does and she loves it.

Still in the endzone, I look to my right in the first row of stands behind the goalpost, when Greg and I see a familiar face. It was Michael Stentz, a Seahawks fan who was also traveling to every game last season! We had met him at the airport in Atlanta last season after the Falcons game. Although we didn't keep in touch, Michael recognized us and the three of us had an impromptu reunion in the back of the endzone. It was quite the coincidence, and definitely a cool moment.

As Greg, Eli, and I continue our tour around the field, we can't help but marvel at the size of both Mike Tolbert and Kawann Short. These are two of, pound for pound, the biggest human beings I have ever seen in my life. Tolbert is right next to us, stretching in the endzone, and his jersey won't go past his bellybutton. He looks like a woman wearing a t-shirt that's tied above her waist at the beach, not an NFL fullback. Short, on the other hand, is the widest human being that I think I've ever seen. And unlike James Carpenter, who held that distinction before, he does not look like a gentle giant. He looks all the part of nasty, NFL defensive tackle.

We touch the turf, pick up rubber pellets, and mostly stand in awe. Soon, as our tour comes to an end, we walk past a tall man wearing a hat in the style of legendary wrestler, The Undertaker. It's Martellus Bennett. The enormity of this game starts to sink in as we exit the field and make our way back to the concourse.

We stand in shock for a few minutes, doing nothing and saying very little. We came, we saw, and we conquered. Blue Thunder sets up behind the 'Hawks Nest and performs for the fans as they begin to spill in through security and in to the CLink. There is blue and green literally everywhere, as only once in a while you'll spot a Panthers fan who was brave enough to make the trip out west. Greg and I walk with Eli to his seat, before we eventually make our way up to PredatorHawk's seats up in Section 327.

We cruise past the 12th Man Flag, which is about to be hoisted by Seahawks legend Kenny Easley, before stopping at a food kiosk in search of the commemorative '#31 Bam Bam' turkey legs that were being sold for $10 in honor of Kam Chancellor. As we finally get to our seats, our neighbors around us at the giant hunk of turkey that we are consuming. We look like two Vikings, utter savages with no regard for table manners or any of those useless pleasantries.

We're almost done with our feast, when the player introductions begin and the crowd whips into a frenzy. It's a typical Seattle night, with mist breaking through the clouds, making sure that no one goes home dry for the evening. The offense is introduced this week, and the largest ovation definitely goes to Beast Mode. The pyro continues to go off, before India Arie takes the stage to sing the national anthem. She delivers an excellent performance, as everyone's attention shifts to the 12th Man Flag above the South End Zone.

The crowd goes berserk, as Kenny Easley gets the call to finally raise the flag. After years of bad blood with the organization, it was great to see Easley finally etch his name into another part of Seahawks lore. As Hausch Money gets set to kick off, the crowd is now in playoff mode and ready to make life on Cam Newton as impossible as possible.

Neither offense can appear to get on track, whereas the Panthers struggle to move the chains, the Seahawks struggle to stay disciplined. The first big play of the night comes on a Panthers 3rd down, as Cam Newton heaves a pass deep down the right sideline, right into the waiting arms of Richard Sherman! It appears that the Seahawks might be able to capitalize on the early turnover, however, Ricardo Lockette's personal foul penalty moves the 'Hawks out of field goal range. It's still only the first quarter, however, it appears that this game will be much like the last few meetings between these two teams.

Although much was made about the Panthers losing record during the regular season, they were playing much better football by season's end. Plus, Seahawks fans couldn't talk, as one of their greatest victories in team history up to that point came as a team with the losing record in the playoffs. Furthermore, the Panthers always seemed to play the Seahawks tough in the last few years, and were built to take on the physical team from Seattle. As a kid, my dad had bought me a Panthers 'Tim Biakabutuka' jersey, and I always wore it proudly. So I've definitely got some love for Carolina. However, not during this game. Not in the playoffs. Sorry, Panthers.

The Seahawks open the scoring late in the first, with a beautiful lob from Hustle Wilson to Doug Baldwin, set up by a Michael Bennett fumble recovery. Wilson's strike to Baldwin shows the maturation of our fearless leader, as he tosses the ball up to the spot he believes Baldwin will be in, beating the blitz while in the process showing faith that Baldwin will beat his man as well. Section 327, and all of CenturyLink, erupts as Baldwin makes the grab before making sure the referee sees that his feet were in bounds and that it was a touchdown. It was a great start for the home team, and Seahawks fans everywhere might have thought that the rest of the night would be this easy.

The first quarter comes to an end, and soon, a man by the name of "The Seahawks Rooster", was now standing beside me. He had a plaque in his hand, with my name engraved in it, and was presenting me with this award for being a part of the Guinness record breaking crowd for loudest crowd roar last season. 'The Rooster' is all about connecting Seahawks fans, and giving them a platform to be celebrated on, and it was definitely a fun moment during such a tense situation. We shake hands, take some pictures, before getting back our seats to catch the action of the second quarter.

However, much to their credit, the Panthers hung tough. That includes Cam Newton, who in fact played much better than we had all expected heading in to the game. The Panthers march down the field and answer the Seahawks opening score with one of their own, as Kelvin Benjamin beats Tharold Simon on a slant for a quick score of his own. These pesky Panthers weren't just going to lay down and die. Their quarterback had been in a car wreck just a few weeks earlier and fractured his back, while their head coach had his house burn down just a few days prior. Carolina had the nation's sympathy, and they were going to use their momentum from their win against the Cardinals to try and slow down a red-hot Seattle team.

To be quite honest, I had hoped that the Lions would beat Dallas during the Wild Card round. I wanted a chance to see Golden Tate, Suh, and Calvin Johnson take their act to Seattle. Tate especially. I wanted to see what his reception would be from the Seattle crowd, as well as wondering what would happen if he were to catch a ball across the middle of the field, oh, say in the radius of Kam Chancellor?

Chancellor is becoming a bit of a playoff legend in Seattle. While Reggie Jackson is known in the baseball world as "Mr. October", Chancellor is becoming a sort of "Mr. January", if you will. His game reaches insane new heights when the games really start to count, and you can count on him delivering punishing hit after punishing hit on opposing players.  You can also count on their spirits and souls being crushed during or immediately afterwards.

January 10, 2015 was no different from any of the games last January, where Kam Chancellor was a one man wrecking machine. You could tell early on that he was in the zone, and that he was going to deliver another signature performance.

Another man who has become a big time playoff performer is #15, Jermaine Kearse. After an uninspiring regular season, "Big Play Jermaine" re-emerged from the abyss, with two especially outstanding grabs in the first half. On the second one, he beat his man off the line, before fighting through some illegal contact, reaching out with one arm and making a sweet grab, and jetting his way to the endzone, where he dove for the pylon and got in before his knee was down out of bounds. The crowd erupts, as Macklemore starts to play in the distance, and you immediately feel like you're back at the NFC Championship game after his massive touchdown catch.

We hurl Skittles into the air in celebration, and soon it's Kam Chancellor hurling himself into the air, not once, but twice, in an attempt to block Graham Gano's field goal attempt at the end of the first half. The first time, in an amazing display of anticipation and athleticism, Chancellor hurdles the center cleanly but misses the ball, as Gano's kick somehow goes through the uprights. A penalty on Carolina nullifies the score, however, and Gano attempts another field goal. Again, Chancellor soars over the center's head, timing the snap perfectly, and again he misses the block from point blank range! However, distracted by the frightening sight of Kam Chancellor leaping through the air and barreling straight towards him, Gano shanks the kick wide left and everyone begins to celebrate.

Hold on, there's a flag down. This time, it's on Chancellor, and running into the kicker is the call. It appears that Gano flopped, but what do you expect from a kicker? The teams head to the locker room, as Seahawks fans shower the referees with boo's, and Chancellor tries to catch his breath. It's 14-10, Seahawks, and Seattle is scheduled to get the ball to start the second half.

There's a few things you can count on in life, and that's death and taxes. You can add another thing to that list, and that's the Seahawks making halftime adjustments and making big plays in the fourth quarter. This game was to be no different.

After a scoreless third quarter that saw the team trade disappointing drives, the Seahawks were able to put up 3 points in the form of a Steven Hauschka field goal. With the score now 17-10, the Seahawks defense forces a stop and makes sure to put a stranglehold on the game with an efficient 6 play, 58 yard drive that takes only 2:27 off the clock. It ends with a Wilson to Willson connection, this one for 25 yards and six points. It's Willson's second huge touchdown catch against Carolina, the first being his game-winning touchdown reception in Charlotte back in October. Greg and I are elated, as Luke Willson is one of our favorite Seahawks, and we scream "Luuuuuuuuuke" along with the rest of the 68,000 plus frenzied fans in attendance.

Still, the Panthers never gave up. Despite being down 24-10, Cam Newton leads his men on a march down the Seahawks side of the field. An impressive drive that shows their character, as well as their resolve. All of that good stuff goes out the window, however, as that bad man, Kam Chancellor, arrives back on the scene. After a long, 31-yard pass play to star Tight End Greg Olsen, and a 6 yard run from Newton himself, it sets up a 2nd down and 4 from the Seahawks 13 yard line. With 6:11 to go in the ballgame, the Panthers still had a shot at this one. That shot goes up in smoke, as Kam Chancellor jumps the route, picks the pass, and takes it 89 yards in the opposite direction for a game-sealing touchdown! 

If we had still had our 'Bam Bam' turkey legs, we would have thrown them up in the air in jubilation! Kam had made the play of the night, on a night filled with many great plays by the Seahawks. What did we expect? It was under the lights, on prime time, the time when the Seahawks really come alive and show the world their greatness. The Panthers added a consolation touchdown late, Kelvin Benjamin yet again showing that I can be horribly, horribly wrong about football a lot of the time, but it meant nothing other than different scoreline at the end of the night.

31-17 was the final score, and as the Seahawks lined up in their patented victory formation, which has become a staple of Seahawks playoff football, step one of the three step journey was now complete. Fireworks shoot off into the sky, as fans high five and hug it out in the stands. Greg and I kick back and hang at the stadium for a little while longer, as we hang with the man in front us, Eddie, and his crew. Everyone's all love and smiles, as few things make us feel better in life than Seahawks playoff victories.

After the game, Greg and I head to Temple for some celebratory brewski's. Steve, Tim, Bart, Jordan, and the rest of the gang are already there, celebrating a nice, hard-fought victory. You could tell that some of our voices were tattered and torn, but that was to expected, and quite frankly, anything less would be an embarrassment. I couldn't help but get down about the absence of Leif, but I knew that he was out there, somewhere, watching proudly.

Shortly after, we made our way to another local establishment, and it was there that we met up with Kam's brother, Cornel, and the rest of the Chancellor clan. Mama Chancellor was there, and I gave her a big hug and told her that it was good to see her again. We had met after the Divisional round win over the Saints last year, and I made sure to tell her that I knew she must have been extremely proud of her boy and his amazing performance.

After kicking it with the Chancellor's for a minute, Greg, Eli, Eli's buddy Cam, and I decided to go back to Eli's for some post-game barbecue! We celebrate the night away, while devouring delicious slabs of brisket, and re-watching the game on Eli's TV. We don't make it too far in the game though, as we are too excited to stop from interrupting the game every few seconds to interject with stories of Seahawks greatness.

We wake up the next morning and pick up right where we left off. We turn on the TV and there's two more playoff games to be played. We watch with disregard for either team, as the Cowboys and Packers duke it out for a chance to face our mighty Seahawks in the NFC Championship the following week. Neither side hardly musters up any fear in us, as both quarterbacks appear to be broken men on the verge of hospital visits. Mercifully, the game ends in regulation, as the Packers prevail, and with it, the prophecy was fulfilled.

After the game on September 4th, I had told Juan and Jazz, who also went to the game, that the Packers would be back in town for the NFC Championship. Months later, albeit in an entirely different fashion then I had imagined, the scenario had indeed unfolded the way I said it would. It was a dream matchup for Juan and I, and one that we had talked about as a possibility since the beginning of last season. Now, it was reality. The harsh reality of the situation was, of course, that someone was going to go home very unhappy. Depressed even.

Still, it was all about living in the now, and that's what the four of us did. I hadn't laughed as hard as I did that day for a while, and the laughs continued as we joked about John Schneider, Steven Hauschka, and a variety of insane Seahawks alternate universes. We didn't care that we were watching the possible end of a great career during that Colts/Broncos game, because we knew that the Seahawks had actually ended his career months earlier at MetLife.

Sadly, it was time to go. Greg and I had a flight to catch at Sea-Tac. However, this wasn't the end of a chapter, no, this was the beginning of one. We knew that the great time we had had was something special, a part of something bigger. And we knew that all across the great state of Washington, people had that familiar, contagious feeling. The feeling that something beautiful was happening, something truly amazing was being forged.

The Seattle Seahawks were one win away from returning to football's ultimate showdown. The next chapter in Seattle Seahawks lore was ready to be written. However,this one was still up to the fates.

To Be Continued...