Sunday, November 23, 2014

Highway To Hell

Real life and the Seahawks appeared to be morphing together. The ups and moments of positivity this season have been less prevalent than last year. It was easy riding the wave of good vibes and momentum en route to a Super Bowl championship last year, anybody could have done what I did. It just felt so right. This year though, this year was different. Trips to the doctor, hospital visits for my loved ones, being fired, and things just not bouncing the right way generally. Life has a way of balancing things out and after last year's miracle run, I really can't complain about anything. The phrase, "playing with Hausch money" comes to mind.

Still, the belief that there would be a repeat was strong. Seahawks fans believed it, front office folks believed it, and I'm sure the players did too. There were catchy sayings like "rePete" and who wouldn't want to believe after having witnessed the beauty that was 2013. I especially believed, so much so that I sit here on this flight from Detroit to Seattle to continue to try and witness a Seahawks Super Bowl repeat. It's game day as a matter of fact, and the Seahawks are about to hook it up with the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals. In all likelihood, a loss here and the chances of another Seahawks Super Bowl were probably sunk.

Nobody said repeating was going to be easy though, and this is the reality that stares us in the face. However, one can't lose sight of the lessons learned along the journey. Even when things don't go your way, especially when they aren't going your way, it's important to find the silver linings. Life's beauty and it's meaning are evident in nearly everything we do. Sometimes, it's more amazing when we fall because then it sets up our opportunity to redeem ourselves. I've always relished the opportunity at redemption in this life because it isn't always guaranteed. 

Despite redemption not being guaranteed, this was exactly the opportunity I was being afforded when the Seahawks traveled to the Midwest to take on their old AFC west foes, the Kansas City Chiefs. Just a few weeks earlier, I had traveled 22 hours on a Greyhound to St. Louis. The Seahawks were taking on the Rams and well, we all know how that ended. An impressive comeback attempt by Seattle that fell just a bit short. Jeff Fisher and the Rams opening up the bag of tricks to pull off the upset. After tasting the bitter taste of defeat I flew back home, a less strenuous 5 hour ride than the 22 hour trek to get there.

It may have been a more manageable trip home, but I couldn't help but feeling that I sold my self short. I could have saved even more money by bussing it home, but I didn't think I'd survive 22 additional hours on a Greyhound home. Especially after a loss, I thought the effects would have been devastating. When it was all said and done though, I was left with regret. Regret for not pushing myself to my limits. Regret for not finding out what I was truly capable of. I had doubted myself, and now I was full of regret. That's the ugly thing about self-doubt. It's a dangerous cycle to fall victim to, and it can be very tough to pull yourself out of it and start believing in yourself again.

Here was the opportunity though, knocking on my door. The Seahawks were traveling back to Missouri. I was still hurting financially, so the bus would be the only mode of transportation that I could afford. This time, I had no choice. Life was deciding for me. I'd be taking a series of busses from Manhattan to KC and there was nothing I could do about it. I embraced this opportunity knowing that not everyone gets a shot at a mulligan and this time, I was. Now hopefully the result of the game would be more pleasant.

What a difference a few days can make. One day you're enjoying an excellent trip with a friend, watching the Seahawks beat said's friend team into submission. A few days later and you're rushing from your job selling pickles on a New York City street corner just to catch a Megabus to Chicago. As I boarded that bus, I had literally no clue what to expect of this upcoming journey. All I knew was that I was ready for whatever life was going to throw at me.

You've got to follow your dreams in life, even if those dreams cross through Toledo. In fact, especially if they cross through Toledo! Penn State, Cleveland, and Chicago were the "bigger" stops along the way, but Toledo was the one I was most excited about. After years of watching the MAC on TV since childhood, I could not believe that I was at the home of the Blue Rockets. What can I say? I'm weird. The bus is pretty empty, so no need for people to be stuffed in together like a can of sardines. 

This 17 hour trip to Chicago would have been your run of the mill bus ride to the Midwest, if not for one man. This man was sitting just two rows behind me. After hearing the man talk to those around him, I could tell that he was a person with a lot on his mind and with a lot to say. A storyteller if you will. Much of my life I've been considered a storyteller as well, so I took interest to the tales he was spinning for our fellow weary travelers.

It wasn't until I heard the man mention his aspirations as a writer that I turned around and took note. He's positive of the fact that he's written a great book, the only thing is he needs someone to publish it. I could definitely relate. I struck up a conversation with him and the rest was history. Within minutes of introducing myself, the man and I were deeply engaged in conversation. He tells me that his name is Castro, only it's not really Castro, that's just a pseudonym of created because of the nature of his business. Castro needs to transfer in Cleveland to a bus headed towards South Bend.

I ask if he's a Notre Dame fan making the trip to watch the Fighting Irish play Northwestern. He replies with a wry smile and a story about his life. Like myself, Castro was born and raised in Queens. Fate had brought us together for a reason, we believed, as we continued to share stories about life, ideas, and the things that made us tick as humans.

After giving me the background details of who he is, Castro finally tells me what's bringing him to South Bend. Cigars, and lots of them. As a matter of fact, he tells me that he hasn't had to work for 2 1/2 years. His routine consists of traveling to Paramus, New Jersey and picking up $366 dollars worth of cigars. He then goes to the biggest football venues of the week and proceeds to sell the cigars individually in the parking lot to partying tailgaters. Shady, sure. Illegal, yeah. However, you've gotta pay the bills and everything else about Castro's character screamed genuinely good human being.

He gets off in Cleveland and we agree to keep in touch. This chance encounter gives me hope that maybe this trip wouldn't be so grueling after all. If there were enough people like 'Castro' along the way, I'd actually enjoy myself rather than dread the hours lost along the way.

I eventually get to Chicago, and it's freezing out. The Windy City earned every bit of it's reputation, but reports were that it was even worse in Kansas City. My layover until my next bus is 12 hours, but I'm too broke to really do anything in Chicago. I wanted to try some alligator sausage per Greg's recommendation, but I stuck with a cream cheese bagel from Dunkin Donuts instead. Besides, after walking around the city for a bit and seeing all of the skyscraper's, I had had enough. It's like New York City and DC had a kid.

Next up was the bus to Kansas City. At first, I had planned on staying awake and writing. With nothing to look at outside though, the desolate non-stop rolling hills literally put me to sleep. I'm one of 10 people on the bus, and I have nearly the entire top deck of the bus to myself. When we arrive in Kansas City 12 hours later, I'm feeling refreshed after all of the sleep I was able to catch up on. 

The first thing that greets me in KC is a power plant with plumes of smoke billowing out from it. It's a classic Americana image, and immediately reminds me of the trip to Indianapolis that Greg and I took last season for the game against the Colts. Unfortunately, Greg was unable to make it to KC this time, which hurt because I knew how badly he had wanted to check out one of the crowned jewel's of the midwest. We had hoped that this and the Chargers game would have been switched around when the schedule's were released, and that we'd be able to catch a game at Kaufmann Stadium. Little did we know what a season the Royals would end up having. That would have been one for the ages.

However, real life matters called and Greg would have to skip out. It was just me getting off at that makeshift bus stop on 3rd Street and Grand. It's my first time seeing snow for the year, as there's an inch or so of the white stuff accumulated on the ground below. I walk in to a random Midwestern diner asking how to get to Arrowhead Stadium. The friendly waitress playfully asks one of the patrons if she should serve me or not, considering my choice of attire. My lime green and navy beanie and matching Seahawks scarf making my allegiances known right from the get-go.

That's the thing about Kansas City though. She was only kidding, and ended up helping me find my way to the next bus stop over on 10th and Main. People in Kansas City might take loud and tough, but underneath it all they're warm and hospitable and want to make a good impression for their underrated city. It's 6:45 AM by the time I get on the bus to Arrowhead, and immediately a dude with dreads starts ragging on me because of my gear. "Hey man, we did you guys a favor! We took care of the Broncos for you in the Super Bowl", I said, as the man starts to laugh hysterically.

''That's my team, dude! I AM a Broncos fan", he retorts, as I start laughing just as hysterically. He says he'd rather not rehash the events of February 2nd, so being a gentleman, I oblige. He starts talking about how the Chiefs are going to take us down because of the power of Arrowhead, although he would love it if the Seahawks proved him wrong. It pains him to have to root for the Seahawks with those wounds still so fresh, but such is life as a fan in the NFL. Before I know it, I'm talking with the entire back of the bus about the game. They're confident in their Chiefs, and I admit that the prospect of Charles, Houston, and Smith having big games is something that worries me.

About an hour later and our bus pulls up to a gas station across from the Kansas City stadiums. I hop off the bus and directly in front of me stands Peter Flores, the head of the Midwest Seahawkers. We catch up for a minute before he asks "you ready to bartend?" I'm beyond thrilled at this point, as I had had a blast bartending at the tailgate prior to the Rams game. I had thought of the possibility of doing it again in KC, but didn't know if my services would be required. Luckily, they were. At one point, there are 15 Seahawks fans in this random gas station, and it's starting to look and feel like some of the road games from last season.

We hop in a white SUV and cross the road to enter the parking lot area. After the quickest tailgate setup in league history, we were up and rolling and ready to serve. Thank god for that propane tank I was parked next to, otherwise the 20 degree weather wouldn't have been fun, at all. I'm pouring drinks and chatting fans of both teams up. The atmosphere is fantastic, as KC's version of Blue Thunder swings by and starts jamming as Seahawks respond by dancing to their beats.

I was devouring some absolutely heavenly KC barbecue, when some familiar face peeked under the tent. It was Leif and James! I scream out a scream of pure happiness, as this mark's Leif's first game of the season. Hopefully this would help with rediscovering the magic of 2013. Leif brings an amazing positive energy to Seahawks games that can not be denied.

Not only was Leif there, but PredatorHawk made an appearance as well. I was making a drink when all of a sudden I got a request for a "Beast Mode." The Beast Mode was the drink of the day, as it had been in St. Louis just a few weeks earlier. This request was special though, as PredatorHawk was the one holding up the cup and I couldn't disappoint.

We continue pre-gaming and just a few minutes before kickoff, a man named Ben comes up to me and offers me an extra ticket. I had purchased a ticket for $20 the day earlier in Section 307, but this ticket was in section 108, which was where the Midwest Seahawkers would be sitting! Luck had smiled upon me once more. The group makes it's way to the stadium entrance, a massive tilt between two 6-3 teams waiting in the offing.

Once inside the stadium, it's apparent that the atmosphere is legit. I had heard the legends of Arrowhead, and they appeared to be real. This is what it was all about. These were the types of day that I lived for. Two great teams, a hostile environment, sprinkle in some great food and pregame antics, and you have a recipe for the perfect "football Sunday."

The game didn't get off to the perfect start, as Paul Richardson fumbles on the opening kickoff. Luckily, Jeron Johnson jumps on top of the ball and danger is averted. The opening drive sags however, and the Seahawks are forced to punt the ball away. It had been 29 games since the Seahawks defense allowed a touchdown on their opponent's opening drive, but that's exactly what happened on this day. Jamaal Charles glides into the end zone after Alex Smith pitches it to him on a perfectly executed option run to the right pylon. It was a crumby start, but no one said winning at Arrowhead was going to be easy.

What's important is that the Seahawks responded. Throughout the day in fact, they did a pretty good job of responding to adversity and to Kansas City scores. After Hustle Wilson marched the lads down the field, he finds Doug Baldwin in the end zone to tie the game at 7. Doug does an excellent job of keeping the play alive with Russell evading pressure, something that has been lacking from the Seahawks receiving core this season. This touchdown showed that this day would be no different from most for the Seahawks under Pete Carroll. The Seahawks were going to be in this game to the very end.

However, the loss of Brandon Mebane in the middle of defense coupled with the continued absence of linebacker Bobby Wagner meant that it was always going to be a long day for the Seahawks defense. Their efforts to contain the Chiefs rushing attack which was spearheaded by Charles, Davis, and Thomas did not go according to plan. Charles especially was effective at reaching the second level and creating missed tackles while picking up chunks of yardage for KC in the process. These critical losses for the Seattle defense would create problems for them all day long.

Still, the Seahawks resiliency was on full display. Despite allowing another Charles touchdown, they answer with a nice drive that continues to eat up yardage as well as clock. Unfortunately, this drive stalls out and the 'Hawks have to settle for a field goal from Hausch. It would be a prelude of things to come.

The Seahawks defense continued to fight on before the half, despite generally being gashed by the Chiefs running game and unable to get consistent pressure on official Seahawks-killer Alex Smith. It looks like the Chiefs are going to put up another score before the half, but Earl Thomas plays hero and forces a fumble from Travis Kelce at around midfield. It's an opportunity for the Seahawks to redeem themselves and get into the end zone before the half, which we know isn't always guaranteed in this life. However, once again the Seahawks offense just can't seem to make that final big play to get themselves into the end zone for 6. Hausch bangs home another gimme, and the Seahawks head to the half down 1 at 14-13.

Leif, James, and I agree that although the team left some points on the board, this was a pretty good start all things considered. Down 1 at the half in one of the league's toughest environments? We all agreed that we'd take it, and that we believed that Russell would lead the Seahawks to victory in the second half. The half is about to end, when our old friend Garret from Super Bowl weekend in New York City last season appears in the corner of my eye. We call him over and he joins are section of 40 or so screaming Seahawks fans.

The game continues on in the second half with Kansas City's offense picking up where they left off in the first. It's become apparent to us in 108 at this point that the 'Hawks just aren't going to be able to stop the Chiefs ground game with all of their injuries. We must outscore Kansas City in this second half if we want the win, the defense won't be able to held them back for too long. They're able to hold KC to a field goal, but the threat that the Chiefs are posing is definitely real. 

This game marked a banner day for Leif and I. It was the first time we actually got to sit together during a game. We had been to countless games together, but never had the chance to sit in the same section. Just two seats apart now, we were finally getting the opportunity. Sitting next to him and James was as much fun as I've had cheering for the Seahawks since last season. We left it all out there in the stands on this day. Not only the three of us, but the rest of the Midwest Seahawkers made Seahawks fans all around the globe proud. Our voices were loud and constant. In fact, we rivaled the noise that Chiefs fans in our section were able to muster up.

I'm sure some are wondering, what about the crowd noise? Is it really louder than the CLink? I'd have to say, no. While I thought it was great that Chiefs fans rarely, if ever, sat down at all during the entire game, that was probably more due to the fact that it was 18 degrees and you might get frozen to your seat if you did try sitting down. Generally, noise wasn't an issue, unless it was 3rd or 4th down. When the CLink is really rocking, it's rocking on every single down. We'll need that kind of non-stop atmosphere for the Cardinals game, that's for sure.

This incredible game of back and forth, old school type football with a focus on the ground game continues to entertain. Once again, it's Earl Thomas saving the Seahawks defense' bacon, this time forcing a fumble by stripping the ball from Jamaal Charles as Charles fights to keep the play alive and get every yard possible. It's Longhorn on Longhorn crime in the Midwest, as Earl's play gives the Seahawks a jolt in the arm they greatly needed.

the Seahawks continue to drive well and pick up yardage, however, they can't seem to punch the ball into the end zone. It's 4th and goal from the Kansas City 2 yard line now, and Seattle is going to go for it. I love the call, but it ends unfavorably for Seattle with Doug Baldwin's plea for pass interference falling upon deaf zebra ears. Our section agrees that it probably was PI, but that the refs will never call it down there in that situation. Funny enough, the league issues an apology on the call just a few days later. Doug wasn't lying. It's all fitting though, as the game was being officiated by Seattle antihero Bill Leavy. He of Super Bowl XL infamy, of course.

And wouldn't you know it? Of course it would be ex-Chief Tony Moeaki who would be on the receiving end of a floater from Hustle in the back of the end zone. The Seahawks were now up 20-17, their first lead of the game. The moxie and perseverance they were showing was truly impressive. It was far from the perfect game on display, but the Seahawks didn't need perfection, just a win would do. 

The Seahawks first lead of the game didn't last for long though. Unfortunately, the Chiefs did what they had been doing all day long, and gashed the Seahawks defense en route to an easy touchdown for Kniles Davis. That momentum swing seemed to take the air out of the defending Champions from Seattle. That, as well as the loss of Center Max Unger. We knew it was bad in 108 when the cart drove out on to the field. We didn't want to speculate on the severity of the injury, but we knew that Max was probably done for the day.

And wouldn't you know it, the loss of Unger would play a vital role in the ending of this game. It's not like the Seahawks didn't have a chance to get even. They continued to move the ball downfield, and Marshawn Lynch continued to be a magician on the field. His performance stood out to me as the best performance of any Seahawk on the day, his unbelievable balance and power making him almost impossible to bring down for KC defenders. Even Marshawn was playing hurt though, his balky back once again making things harder on the big fella than it had to be.

When the Seahawks faced another fourth down at around midfield, we knew that this would probably be the play of the day. We were calling for the Beast in 108, and we got our wish. Only, the outcome wasn't what we had imagined. Stuffed, Dontari Poe and company absolutely throttling JR Sweezy and the Seahawks O-Line. It was another massive defensive stand for the stifling Chiefs defense. We were down, but we weren't out. However, a comeback in the waning minutes of the game in such a tough environment would be extremely tough.

The Seahawks defense did it's part though, and held strong. The ball continued to NOT bounce our way though, as on the ensuing punt a bevy of Chiefs special teamers collaborate on pinning the Seahawks offense deep inside their own 5 yard line.

We're so used to seeing Russell lead this team through the improbable, that I still believed. After all, he had done it once before during his rookie season in Chicago. The 98 yard drive he engineered to force overtime is the stuff of Seahawks lore. That's the game I had on my mind as Russell started his newest comeback effort. This wasn't Chicago though, and it wasn't 2012. Instead, this one ended for Seattle on an incomplete pass to Paul Richardson. It was uneventful, and it hurt. It stung badly.

I tried to not let the defeat get to me it, but for some reason this one hurt so bad. Maybe it was the 33 hour travel just to get there, maybe it was the prospect of 33 hours back home with a fresh, tough loss on my mind. Whatever it was, this one hurt more than most. As people, we want to think that when we believe in something and work hard at it, that it'll work out for us. I was foolish in thinking that my travels would make a difference in the game's outcome, but I had known this all along.

The Midwest Seahawkers gathered in the parking lot before heading back to the hotel. Leif and James bid farewell, a drive back to Minneapolis staring them in the face. Garret and I hitched a ride with Peter and the Seahawkers, but the rest of what happens is a mystery to me. Jameson playing the part of great equalizer. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head to the bus station to catch my ride back home. I think it was Garret who helped get me to the bus station in one piece, only it was the wrong bus station!

I had hit rock bottom. My cab driver drops me off in a random hotel parking lot, right beside my bus home for the night. He tells me that all I have to do is go inside the hotel where the bus driver is staying and wait for him in the lobby. Unfortunately, that's not how things work, but it only cost me $6. A police officer and the hotel receptionist inform me that I'll have to walk to the bus station a little way's away instead. I was lost, the Seahawks had lost, and the trip home was looking brutal. I did the only thing I knew how and called my lady to hear her voice.

She worried for me. She could tell that I wasn't in a great situation. I'll never forget her telling me to get it together and go find my bus home! I'll never forget the worry in her voice and how it made me feel. I took my lady's advice and trekked it to the bus station, not before falling face first on a patch of grass that was missing a divot. I picked myself up, and carried on.

I finally did catch that bus. I was exhausted from the events of the past 3 days and passed out straight through until we made it back to Chicago. My layover wasn't quite this long this time, and as I boarded my noon Greyhound bus home to NYC, I thought that finally the end of this marathon journey was in sight.

I make my way on to the bus and there's a man with a mohawk and tattoos talking to himself. I figure it's no big deal, but then he stands and blocks the aisle way to say "I know you all hate me, please, someone punch me in the face!" The nervous bus riders look around at one another, wondering if they should do anything. He sits back down and everything appears to be okay. Our bus is about to depart, and the man stands once again with the same speech. I think of the 17 hours of travel ahead, and decide that I can't put up with it. I tell the bus driver about the man and she passes the message along to security. Security removes the man from the bus, as it turns out he's schizophrenic and his mother did not show up although she was supposed to be riding with him.

It was a sad turn of events, but it had to be done. A mother with her newborn child thanks me and suddenly everyone is no longer on edge. I look up at the bus number and laugh, #6660 of course. Bus #6660, 66 hours of was a truly hellacious trip. I spoke too soon though, as the front door to the bus breaks in Indiana. Luckily, we're at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, but we remain stranded waiting for a repairman for over 2 hours. The repairman finally comes and saves the day and we're on our way, but now I miss my connecting bus in Cleveland.

Luckily, I did, because it was there that I met Andre. Andre was a German traveler who was also traveling on bus #6660. He strikes up a conversation with me and we discuss a wide range of topics varying from Dirk Nowitzki, the universe, Kevin Willis, traveling, and the 1995 Houston Rockets. After I tell him of my Seahawks travels and the struggles they've encountered during their quest for a repeat, he reminds me that it's always harder to repeat than it is to win it the first time. He mentions that, as a big fan of basketball, he remembers the '95 Houston Rockets repeating despite a relatively unsuccessful regular season. They got in as a #6 seed and then proceeded to steamroll the 3, 2, and 1 seeds en route to a convincing finals victory against the Orlando Magic.

Andre inspired me, because I was starting to think that maybe it wasn't the Seahawks year. Maybe it wasn't meant to be and I had misread the tea leaves. Maybe it was time to go home and put this journey on hold and return to my family and my amazingly understanding girlfriend. Faithfully by Journey was playing on my headphones, and it struck a chord with me. It made me think of Laura and everything she had done for me. For the first time during my travels, I had thought about calling it quits. I won't lie.

Andre talked me back from that ledge, reminding me that life can still be beautiful even when you don't win. Even if the Seahawks didn't win, it was still a remarkable story that needed to be told. Life is full of up's and downs. I couldn't get too high, and I couldn't get too low. I had to bounce back and stay the course with the plan.

I finally made it back to New York City on Tuesday afternoon. I was down, but I wasn't out, just like the Seahawks. I had survived the toughest travel of this year and a half long journey to date, but it wasn't about to get any easier. The Cardinals were 9-1 and looking for blood. This season hadn't followed the script, at all, but it wasn't over yet, despite what the bandwagoners who were jumping overboard might think. History was littered with teams who struggled throughout the season, only to sneak into the playoffs, catch fire, and go on to win it all. Why not Seattle this year? Why not us? I headed straight to work after my bus arrived in Manhattan, and I was ready for the stretch run that would ultimately decide the fate of the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mo Injuries Mo Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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