Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sunday Bloody Sunday

A trip to the nation's capital proved to be just what the doctor ordered.  It wasn't the prettiest display in Seahawks history, but it got the job done.  Having experienced last season, and remembering that there were some clunkers sprinkled in there, not much thought was given to the style of play or lack thereof.  Naturally, with a game in the fortress known as CenturyLink Field against the usual paper tiger Dallas Cowboys, it appeared that the magical elixir known as "winning" would help remedy the Seahawks early season blues.

Meanwhile, back in New York City, I was beginning to settle into a somewhat normal schedule at work.  Selling pickles on a street corner wasn't what I had envisioned myself doing to fund this season, but it was what it was, and I'm not too good for any job.  Whatever it takes, was what I kept telling myself.  Oddly enough, I find my new job quite liberating.  I still get to interact with tons of people every day, something that I love, but without the rigor, demands, and expectations of serving or bartending.  Generally, people are quite happy when they're buying pickles, especially when they're damn good like these ones are.

Once again, it was time for my two world's to collide.  Luck appeared to be on my side, as I found a ticket to Seattle from Newark, through Minneapolis, just a day before traveling for $195.  I'd be using some of my miles that I had accrued from last season and earlier this season for my return trip home, plus $30.  A round trip flight for $225 just a day before traveling, it felt like a major win for sure.  And it also felt like the football god's and the universe were firmly in my corner, once again.  A conveniently placed bye week while I found new employment, followed by a seemingly impossible trip to DC for the Redskins game on Monday Night for only $48, and now this.  Things appeared to be lining up for another miraculous season, just like last year.

I make the 2 hour trek from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn to Newark International Airport early Saturday morning.  I make it in plenty of time for my 11:34 AM flight and soon, I was off to MSP for a 3 hour layover.  Looking back on things now as I sit on this flight back home, this layover was probably the highlight of the entire trip.  That's not a good sign, save for the fact that it probably would have been even had the Seahawks won.  Minneapolis is the home of, in my mind, the greatest Seahawks fan of all-time and one hell of an amazing and interesting person.  Leif, a man who's passion for the Seahawks is only matched by the size of his heart and his passion for traveling and human interaction with people from all walks of life.

Leif truly is one of the special ones in this life, and after crashing at my place for the Super Bowl, he had left some of his gear behind.  I lugged it with me from home to Minneapolis, as Leif had told me that he'd meet me at MSP.  As our plane landed and I headed out the gate, I was greeted by the familiar face whom I had shared so many experiences with just a year ago.  What made things even better was that despite recovering from a serious injury, he looked good as new!  The travels have been a bit interesting this season, so far, and seeing Leif for the first time since the Super Bowl brought back a sea of great memories that I had almost forgotten because of the focus applied to attempting to witness the repeat.

In true Leif fashion, the man was prepared to do something interesting.  After checking with Delta to see if my seat would be needed and if I would have to be bumped to a later flight to no avail, we bolt for the parking lot and jump in Leif's ride.  Having not been unable to fly out to Minneapolis in the summer as planned, this was my first taste of the beautiful state of Minnesota. Even as my plane was flying in earlier, I marveled at how flying over the city felt like flowing over a giant Central Park.  I was even able to spot the Minnesota Gophers outdoor stadium and Target Field from a bird's eye view up above.

Our first stop was Palmer's, a gritty place that is truly the definition of a "dive bar."  Known for it's widespread crowd, mostly the haggard and mentally ill, it's a sort of institution despite it's ominous description.  We drink a local brew, Summit, I think, before heading to our next spot.  Leif warns me that the next spot isn't the coolest place in the world, but that there was a reason for us going there.  That reason was Leif's buddy James, who I had just stumbled into in DC prior to the Monday nighter!  It was beginning to feel a lot like last season again, with spontaneous twists and turns all ending up in glorious wins both on and off the field.  I have a Midnight Ryder, another local brew as the three of us catch up and watch the conclusion of the Gophers victory over Northwestern.

After saying our goodbyes, Leif and I head to his apartment, a sweet pad that makes perfect sense of you know Leif.  After I taste some excellent rum and bourbon, we head to our third and final spot during this action packed 3 hour layover.  We go to another local watering hole of his preference, where I try a Grape Ape for the first time.  I now see what people in Minneapolis do with their free time.  Leif rushes me back to the airport just in time for my flight to Seattle.  Unfortunately, I wouldn't be getting that $300 voucher from Delta, and I wouldn't get to hang in Minneapolis with Leif any longer.  As we part ways, Leif adds that there's a possibility that he could be in Seattle for the game.  It would be his first game of the season.  This news is music to my ears, and I sleep like a log after breezing through security and boarding my flight to the Pacific Northwest.

It's the first time on any of my travels over the past year and change now where I've literally fallen asleep before take off and woken up in an entirely different place.  Usually, I can't sleep worth a lick, but the Grape Ape in me makes sure that I finally get some sleep while in flight.  I rise from my slumber, and head out into the rainy abyss known as Seattle.  Seattle's so beautiful that even when it's pouring outside and miserable, it still leaves you in awe of it's beauty.  I head down to Temple Billiards to grab a bite as I normally do, devouring a delicious spicy Italian sandwich.  After chatting with Damian, the doorman at Temple and an awesome person, I begin to head towards SeaTac, which will be my resting place for the evening.  Luckily, my buddy Bart who gave me a Marshawn Lynch jersey last season, (as well as handing fellow road warrior Greg $100 to buy a Russell Wilson Super Bowl jersey) was also in town for the game and he offered me a place to crash for the night.

Bart is the definition of a standup guy, and his wife is the best too for agreeing to let me sleep on their hotel room floor.  You know, they say that sleeping on the floor is good for you, or something, and I've got to say that it beats trying to sleep in a chair on an airplane!  That's got to be as bad for your back as sleeping on the floor is good for it, and I can attest to that as I developed a painful cyst on my back from all of my traveling last season. I choose to rationalize these sort of things that happen by thinking "hey, I'm just like Marshawn! Playing through back pain and not letting it hold me back."  Luckily, I was better now and I got a good night's sleep before gameday, which is a rarity for me as anyone who knows me will attest.

The three of us awaken to a pleasant Seattle day, with the rain from yesterday just a distant memory.  After grabbing some breakfast, Bart and his wife head for their rental car in a nearby parking garage.  I head a different way, to the bank to take out some cash just in case I need to purchase a hard copy of a ticket.  Leif tells me that he won't be making it to the game, and to start looking for one ticket for myself.  Did I mention that I didn't have a ticket to the game yet?  Things had fallen through with my ticket connections and I was forced to fend for myself on the secondary market.  Somehow, this game started at $250 for the cheapest ticket just to get into the stadium!  Having paid $225 for the season opener against the Packers, and $225 for the home opener against the Niners last year, I knew that there was no way that I was paying $25 more for a game in October against the Dallas Cowboys.

I understand, Super Bowl champion prices, people want to cash in on their season tickets after years of being unable to even give them away, and the Cowboys are debatably still "America's Team" and they have fans all over the country who hopped on the bandwagon over a decade ago when Dallas was still relevant in the NFL.  Of course, the NFL and the sports media go out of their way to always keep the Cowboys relevant because of that widespread fan-base and because they sell but that's another debate that we won't start up right here, right now.  The bottom line was, I did not have a good feeling about this game after reading the secondary market.  With ticket prices being so high, it probably meant that the place would be polluted with Cowboys fans, as the more seasoned Seahawks fans had sold their tickets to watch the game at home because it was a probable win for Seattle.  Still, I remained optimistic that I was just being overly pessimistic and continued on in my quest for a ticket.

With last week's game ticket only costing $18, and with tickets to the Rams game in St. Louis starting at only $10 (which is 2 dollars higher than last year's $8 tickets for the same game), I figured that no matter what I payed I'd still be winning overall.  I watched Stubhub as prices continued to drop the closer we got to gametime.  I head down to Temple after hitting up Chase bank, and take my chances with someone in attendance possibly having an extra ticket. No dice.  However, I see a random ticket on sale on Stubhub for $179.  This being the lowest price I had seen since the start of the week, I jumped all over it and made the purchase.  I would be sitting in Section 334 for the showdown with the 'Boys.  Soon, Bart and his contingency arrive at Temple, as does Todd and his.  Also making an appearance was LymonHawk, a Seahawks.Net legend and pretty awesome dude who originally hails from the Bronx.  It wasn't long before I had to split though, to go to a random FedEx to print my ticket for the game.

After accomplishing that mission with ease, I head back to Temple to talk about the game at hand with my fellow diehards.  Eli is there too now, and all of us discuss what it'll take in order for Seattle to beat Dallas.  Largely, we are all skeptical of the "paper tigers" from Dallas, as Todd proclaims.  After spending years watching the Cowboys flounder to 8-8 record after 8-8 record, I must admit that I was skeptical as well and that I took this team lightly.  We all agree that Seattle will break the Cowboys spirit by midway through the third quarter after a heavy dosage of Marshawn, and that the Seahawks will be 4-1 in a few hours.

Now, unlike most people, I don't hate the Dallas Cowboys.  I have too many friends, family, and loved ones in my life who are Cowboys fans that I just can't bring myself to genuinely hate them like I do the 49ers.  They just don't occupy a lot of space in my mind, they hardly ever face the Seahawks, and they haven't posed a legitimate threat to Seattle, the NFC, or the NFL for years.  The group leaves Temple, and there's someone up above flying a plane with a banner with the Cowboys star on it that reads "How bout them Cowboys".  Some people are upset by this move, which is pretty funny in my mind, especially when you consider that Seahawks fans did the same thing in San Francisco last year in the game at Candlestick Park. What goes around comes around.

The march to the stadium is a brief one, and unfortunately it appears that my worst fears may come true.  The streets are lined with Cowboys fans, boisterous and annoying as usual, severely lacking in any form of self respect or class, but it's to be expected from the bunch.  I've never heard "woo!" as much as I did from Cowboys fans entering the stadium, they seriously love screaming "woo!" to one another and giving each other random high-fives.  I make it half way up one of the walkways behind the Hawks Nest, before I'm stopped by the opening kickoff and the insatiable desire to see every play.  Once again, as expected and as I pointed last week, teams are trying to throw Seattle off their game even from the coin toss.  Or, everyone is trying to mimic Seattle's success from last season by deferring.  One of these days lady luck needs to reappear in the form of a coin toss, so that the Seahawks can win a coin toss and get back to having the defense set the tone for the game.

Only, as the game gets going, it doesn't appear that that would be necessary.  The 'Hawks march down the field on their opening drive before ultimately settling for a field goal.  It's a solid start to the game, and it only gets better after the Seahawks defense stymies the Cowboys offense and forces a punt.  Doug Baldwin appears to be lined up with the Cowboys gunner, but at the last second he crashes down hard on the left side of the Cowboys line and comes through clean for a diving punt block.  Mike Morgan recovers the loose football and takes it straight ahead for the score and a quick 10-0 lead!  Usually, that's enough at CenturyLink for the Seahawks.  And usually, most teams would just fold like a cheap suit under such pressure.  However, not the Cowboys, not on this day.

Despite being down quick, the Cowboys stick with their gameplan.  That means a steady dosage of DeMarco Murray, some clutch throws by Tony Romo, and a defense that excelled with their man coverage that the Seahawks just couldn't seem to exploit.  Somehow, in the blink of an eye, it's 10-10 and the Cowboys are now marching down the field with time dwindling in the first half.  Up to this point, the game has been a disaster, as every category is largely in the Cowboys favor.  Total yards, first downs, and most importantly time of possession.  Suddenly, this game is starting to feel a lot like the San Diego game from a few weeks ago.  Even more shocking this time around, since the Seahawks were being dominated at home, an extremely rare occurrence.  Things continue to get worse, as Tony Romo fires a touchdown pass with 16 seconds on the clock in the first half.  The Seahawks had coughed away a ten point lead, at home, to the Dallas Cowboys.  Not good.

At halftime, I head to my seat in 334.  Despite the cool view from the ramp way in the North End Zone, I remember that during the Cardinals loss at home last season, I kind of wandered around the stadium too, and never got situated at my seat.  I figured that this was my punishment for not being a part of my fellow 12th Man for the game.  Once I get to 334 though, and once the game gets underway in the second half, I start to wish that I had stayed in my spot by the ramp way.  What I saw was quite disturbing.  Cowboys fans littered all over the section, but that's not even the worst part.  The worst part was seeing my fellow Seahawks fans sitting down on 1st and 2nd down's while the defense was on the field!  People would rise to their feet on third down, but that's what every fanbase around the league does, we're usually better than that.

How could this have happened, I wondered.  Well, this explained tickets being so expensive on the secondary market.  Apparently, all the diehards stayed at home or couldn't make it for one reason or another, and decided to cash in on their tickets for triple the face value.  That usually equals more opposing fans and Seahawks fans who can afford $200 tickets in the upper deck.  I can, barely, and that's for one person.  What about the average Joe dad who wants to take his kids to the game?  Sorry, not this one pops.  The working class Seahawks fan had been squeezed out of this one, the heart and soul of this team ripped from it's chest.  You just know that the players picked up on the lack of energy, and there were times in the second half where Richard Sherman and company were bouncing around, trying to do anything to get the home crowd hyped.

All of the positive energy, and relentless noise that helped earn a Lombardi Trophy months prior, were replaced by entitled fans who bemoaned every Seahawks failed attempt at making a play, as if they expected a Seahawks blowout because they dropped serious coin on attending.  It doesn't work that way, unfortunately.  We had a bunch of people who wanted to watch a victory, and celebrate one, but it appeared that most in attendance didn't know what was required of them as a member of the 12th Man in order to help the team achieve victory.  Hopefully, the occurrences of the next several minutes will ensure that the seasoned diehard's return to their seats.

And those occurrences that I just referenced weren't pretty.  Despite once again scoring the first ten points of the second half on a muffed punt that set up a Russell Wilson rushing touchdown and a fumbled snap by Tony Romo that led to a field goal, the Cowboys stuck with their game plan and came roaring right back.  While the Seahawks appeared to be content with empty sets and having Russell Wilson wing the ball all over the field, with little to no success while neglecting Marshawn Lynch entirely for certain parts of the game, the Cowboys rode the horse that got them to their sparking 4-1 record, DeMarco Murray.  Murray consistently gashed the 'Hawks when he needed to most, and Tony Romo continued to stand tall in the pocket and make all the throws he had to, a la Philip Rivers in San Diego in Week 2.  Once again, the Seahawks pass rush was invisible to the naked eye, and the Cowboys had made it a 23-20 ballgame just like that.  However, after a vital holding penalty, they were now faced with a 3rd and 20 and the game seemingly on the line.

With Bruce Irvin closing in on Tony Romo's blindside, Romo pulls his best Russell Wilson imitation and spins away from the hit, steps up in the pocket, evades Bruce Irvin's lunging efforts again, and fires a rifle down the right sideline.  Miraculously, Terrance Williams is a) able to get open over 20 yards downfield on a 3rd and 20 and b) tap both of his toes in bounds before falling in a heap on the Cowboys sideline.  Seahawks fans argue that he didn't get his feet in, but it was clear when it happened that he did and that it was a fantastic play by Romo and Williams.  How was Williams able to get open 23 yards downfield?  We'll never know.  I suddenly have flashbacks to Gus Bradley's soft zone coverages down the stretch in numerous games in 2012.


That was the game changing play right there.  DeMarco Murray would go on to finish the drive in impressive fashion with two excellent rushes, one of them for a touchdown that gave the Cowboys the lead with under 5 minutes to play in the 4th quarter.  Cowboys fans everywhere rejoice as Murray's crosses the goalline, the crowd reaction a disturbing reminder that this was not a typical day at the office at the CLink.  Having burned a bunch of timeouts throughout the 2nd half, the Seahawks were faced with having to march down the field with no timeouts and time running out.  No problem, we've got Russell Wilson!  Or so we thought.  After some lousy execution on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down gets the 'Hawks offense nowhere, a recurring theme throughout the day for a struggling unit, the 'Hawks go for it on 4th down deep inside their own territory and fail to convert, fittingly on this day.

Still, they manage to hold the Cowboys to a field goal and hope still remains as the score is now 30-23 with 1:09 left to play.  We've still got Russell Wilson, and I'll always believe in Russell's ability to do the improbable.  This would have been one of those moments.  However, clearly some of the other fans in attendance didn't feel the same way, as droves of people head for the exits to beat the traffic, I guess.

What followed was to be expected.  Two plays into the Seahawks last ditch drive, Russell's pass floats right into the waiting arms of a Cowboys defender and the game is sealed.  A few kneels and the Cowboys legion of fans begin the celebration.  I was sitting next to a Cowboys fan, and luckily he was a pretty cool dude, one of the few humble Cowboys fans in existence on this earth.  Luckily, the way out of the stadium is a breeze since a ton of fans had already abandoned their team early, and all of the Cowboys were staying in the stadium and cheering their team on as they walked off the field.  My Seahawks beanie goes off to Dallas.  They came in to the lion's den when many people didn't give them a shot, and slapped the lion around and pounded the lion into submission.  It was yet another stinging, humbling defeat just like the one in San Diego weeks prior.

Still, I left the stadium with my head held oddly high.  This team, and it's fans, needed a real wake-up call.  Not one that we could blame away on the heat or some poor officiating, just a real proper whooping like the one the Cardinals handed them at the CLink last season.  The Seahawks never looked back after that loss, and while I'm sure there are more losses on the way for this team that's still struggling to find it's identity on offense and defense, you just have to believe that everything is going to be alright.  No matter how dejected any fan is, they'll never take it harder than this group of players and coaches will, and that's what makes this team special.  They are human, as they are proving this season especially when it comes to their depth which doesn't seem as impressive as it did last year, but they'll outwork anyone and I fully expect them to play a better game in St. Louis verse the Rams.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that years ago I wouldn't have been able to handle this loss.  I would have been distraught, devastated.  My entire week would have been ruined.  Now, I understood that losing was a necessary part of life and some of life's greatest lessons can be learned in defeat, so long as you gave it your best effort.  This team tried their hardest but awful play calling, horrendous execution, miserable crowd support, mounting injuries, and despicable officiating combined to lead to their downfall.  Also, an outstanding effort from the Dallas Cowboys who proved that they just might be legit.  Don't get too excited Cowboys fans, you all know that in the back of your mind you could see this ending in another depressing 8-8 season.  No doubt, they look legit, but it's not how you start but how you finish, as Pete Carroll would surely attest to.

With my head held high I head back to Temple Billiards to commiserate with my fellow 12th Man after a rough day at the office.  Most agree, even members of the Blue Thunder band, that the crowd didn't have the juice on this day, and neither did the team.  Most also agree that Pete Carroll and his coaches would get this figured out, and quickly.  They would have to, or else they'd risk losing ground in the treacherous NFC West, as well as the race for the always important homefield advantage.  My hopes for homefield took a huge hit after this one, but there's a sick part of me that wants to see the Seahawks win a Super Bowl in New York Giants fashion, being road warrior's and slaying opponents in their own house and ending their dreams of taking away our championship from us.

Damian, the doorman at Temple, and I chat about the Seahawks, Sounders, and life.  FC Dallas scores a last-ditch winner at home against the LA Galaxy and the place livens up a bit.  This win means that the Sounders remain in first place, probably the only good thing to happen to Seattle sports over the weekend.  Yes, I refuse to acknowledge the Washington Huskies and their accomplishments.  That's what being bitter rivals is all about.  It's okay Dawgs, the Cougs dropped another one and now need to win 4 out of 5 to even get a chance to Coug It in another bowl game.

Despite an awful sports weekend for yours truly, I leave Temple for the LightRail with a smile on my face.  Good times, with great people, and great conversations were more important than a Seahawks victory in October.  Especially when I still knew deep down in my heart that everything was going to be alright, and the Seahawks would still win the Super Bowl in improbable fashion.  I make my way to the airport, which would be my free hotel for the evening before my flight back home in the early morning.  SeaTac is actually a pretty comfortable place to sleep, and there's something cool about seeing weary travelers sprawled out in whatever position they can manage to find some bit of respite.

I guess if I was being honest with myself, complacency had set in. This wasn't just a reunion tour to try and relive the amazing memories of last year. Those were a part of the past now, a beautiful past, but the past indeed. Instead of trying to replicate last season, just like the team I would have to adapt and making changes and realize that this year was different. Different circumstances, different trials and tribulations, and different experiences. I no longer wanted to just be happy to be along for the ride again. I needed to find that hunger that was so present last year.

Friday, October 10, 2014

You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone

Never in my life have I been happier for a Week 4 bye.  Any other year, I'd hate it.  I remember the days of not too long ago, when it seemed as if the 'Hawks got jobbed annually with the early bye week, as a sort of reminder as to how little the league cared about their existence.  This was different though.  Having been recently cut from my last job's 53 man roster because of my love for the 'Hawks, things weren't looking so good for the prospects of witnessing the 'Hawks Super Bowl repete performance.  Still, we soldiered on despite the cloudy forecast and stepped into the future to embrace what the universe had in store for us, because it's the only way we know how.

The week got off to a great start with a new work opportunity.  During the bye week, I bumped into an acquaintance that I had met about a year and change earlier at a NYC Department of Health exam.  Yes, I passed...  with my usual score in the 75 range.  It turns out this acquaintance, Nicky, needed help with his personal business, Horman's Best Pickles.  I had never had any interest in pickles before, other than I loved them, but I figured I need the work and it was a pretty great coincidence.  So my life as a pickle hustler began.  Whatever it takes, I told myself.  Whatever it takes to witness the Seahawks win it all again.

Luckily, the Seahawks week 5 opponent resides not too far from yours truly.  DC is about a 4 hour bus ride from Manhattan, and a round trip ticket will only set you back $30.  This game absolutely could not have come at a better time.  And if not for the kindness and generosity of my friend's, Jazz and Juan, this would have never happened at all.  The three of us sat at Olde Prague in Astoria, Queens a few weeks ago and watched the Jets self-destruct against the Bears on Monday Night Football.  It was then that Jazz and Juan pledged to help get me to my next two games.  That kind of friendship and loyalty is so impossibly rare to find these days, I just know that I'm one of the lucky ones in this life.

My good luck continued during the week, as my buddy Jeff who works at The Huffington Post, was able to get me the rare opportunity to ask Russell Wilson a question during his segment on Huffington Post Live during midweek.  What's really weird about the whole situation is that Jeff and I imagined a scenario like this unfolding just a week earlier in my backyard.  It went something like this...

Me: "Come on man, get me on Huffington Post Live." 
Jeff: "Look, I know you've been in the newspaper and a bunch of other things but it doesn't work like that.  Now, if Russell were to come on the show, I could probably get your question read on the air." 
The two of us laugh it off due to it's impossible seeming nature and carry on. 

Literally about a week or two later, that scenario that we had laughed off became reality.  I was going to be asking Russell (Wilson, sorry Okung) a question, live and on the air.  I thought about what to ask him for a little while and rolled with it.  In my head, I knew what his response might sound like, but just hearing it was enough for me to get the message loud and clear.  Having been going through what I've been going through, it's exactly what I needed to hear, at the exact right time, from the exact right person.  If not for my buddy Jeff, Russell Wilson still doesn't know of my existence.

Not only have my friends been there for me, but my lovely lady Laura has been also.  Big time.  Unlike Adrian in Rocky, she's stuck with me through thick and thin.  As a newly crowned Super Bowl champ (that never gets old), and as someone trying to find their way in this life.  Short on cash, high on aspirations, but needing to strike a balance between the two.  That's not why we do this though.  Just like with the Seahawks on the field, it's the love of the game at the end of the day, that's why we do this.  Nobody ever said that attempting to go to every Seahawks game over a 3 year span would be easy, but I do it because I love it.  That's how much this team means to me, and it's my way of expressing it, just like everyone else has their way.

Right before the game on Monday, my lady and I were able to make it up to Cooperstown for a relaxing weekend.  We would get away from the city, do nothing and be okay with it, enjoy the views, and relax and clear our minds for a minute.  There were birthday festivities too, Happy Birthday Jen and Brian, and a great time was had by everyone.  Even if going hiking wasn't the greatest idea in the world.  Everyone survived, it happens.  Getting away from the city is an instantaneous stress relief, especially when going to a beautiful little town like Cooperstown.  It's an awesome little place where you leave all your problems at home before heading up there, only to realize that those problems aren't as bad as you thought when you were so wrapped up in them.

With a refocused mind, fresh and rested up both physically and mentally, I felt rejuvenated and ready to conquer the rest of the journey.  Bring on Week 5, and bring on the Washington Redskins.  Making the quick trip up to the national's capital would be road warrior Jazz, who would be attending his fourth Seahawks game overall, and his third road game.  Also joining would be my roommate Cole, who made it out to the Giants game last season, and my friend Michelle, who was good friends with my girlfriend and an avid fan of football in general.  Both Cole and Michelle are Ducks fans, so I don't mention much about Oregon's catastrophic loss to Arizona.  It's quite the motley crew we have, one that doesn't even make sense to the naked eye from afar. 

However, we all shared one thing in common on this day.  The desire to watch the Seattle Seahawks pound Washington into submission.  It was a feeling that called to us for one reason or another, like the wind crying Mary, as good ole' Jimi would say.  I still maintain that Jimi Hendrix would love this team, by the way.  I'm pretty sure Marshawn Lynch would be his favorite player, wild, reckless, and an innovator much like Hendrix himself, but Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas might strike a chord within the Voodoo Child as well.  Regardless, he would love the passion, energy, aggression, reckless abandon, and raw talent that this team possesses an abundance of.

It was me, and not Jimi, who was walking through the clouds.  I was in a dreamland.  The same dreamland that I've been since before last season.  I keep pinching myself to make sure that I'm awake, and I think I am, or am I just stuck in this dream forever?  Either way, I'm fine, it's the best dream ever.  The Seahawks are champions and taking the world by storm.  It's everything I ever wanted, everything I ever imagined, and then some.  Suddenly, I rise from this dream sequence and my eyes try to adjust to their new surroundings.  I had slept through pretty much the entire four hour ride, a rare occurrence for me when traveling.  Something about cars, buses, and trains makes them infinitely easier for me to sleep on then planes.  We had reached our destination, now came the fun part.

Except, D.C. isn't really any fun.  At least not on a Monday afternoon.  We walked up and down the same block three or four times, trying to find anything that remotely resembled a good time.  Or at least something that wasn't a museum or a federal building.  The first person we see, someone working at the bus station, is not a fan of my Marshawn Lynch jersey, or my Seahawks beanie.  With the Seahawks having eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs three times in the past ten years, I had expected a bit of hostility from the 'Skins fan base and they did not disappoint!  A man riding passenger in an oncoming car yells "Hail to the 'Skins!" at me as his car speeds by.  These people are not playing around.

Well, actually, they were.  A few more people offered quips about our Seahawks allegiance but we come to find that they were really just busting our chops and messing around with us.  It's obvious to us that this isn't Philadelphia, or San Francisco, and we aren't going to get knifed in the middle of downtown in broad daylight. 

Most of the fans are actually quite apathetic towards the home team and expect the Seahawks to win, and win big.  Even one of the bartenders, Marcus, at the bar near my house, thinks that "it's going to be a slaughterhouse."  Confidence in the 'Skins among the locals isn't at an all-time high.  Conversely, I'm feeling very confident that the Seahawks will at least walk out of the nation's capital with a W, if not a blowout.  Having watched the New York Giants go to work on them, you just knew that it was going to take a Herculean effort to upset Seattle.  Even the weathered and beaten Seahawks fan in me, the one who had seen the Seahawks fail to show up against weaker competition routinely in years prior, was looking at this game as one in the win column.

After printing our $19 tickets at a random FedEx, we tried to find some form of existing life form in downtown D.C.  The sun beat down on us as we navigated our way through the poorly constructed and wobbly streets.  Seemingly none of the sidewalks were completed, and random tiles would pop out at you.  We wondered if we had somehow traveled into another dimension on that BoltBus and ended up in the Twilight Zone.  With Rod Serling thankfully nowhere in sight, we traveled onward, to the Penn Quarter Sports Tavern.  Apparently, this place is DC's Seahawks bar, or sort of like their answer to Carlow East.  Although their BBQ burger was absolutely delicious, they could not compare to the watering hole of mythical lore from back home.  Still, there was a strong gathering of Seahawks fans present, and a pretty cool framed jersey of the Boz!

As we sat there watching various highlights from the previous day's action in the NFL, some familiar faces walked through the door.  Originally, months prior, the plan had been for our old friend Leif and his buddy James to meet me in D.C. and to sit together in the 'Dream Seats' at FedEx Field.  Unfortunately, Leif was still at home recovering and would be unable to attend.  The plans fell through and James and I made our own plans.  My "plans" weren't really plans though, just good timing, excellent luck, and 48 dollars.

Now, in to the bar walks James with his buddy Peter, who I had also met last season prior to the Vikings game.  We catch up and talk about James' experience volunteering at Russell Wilson's Passing Academy over the summer in Madison, Wisconsin.  As you'd imagine, he says it's a great experience and that Russell was a stand-up dude.  Exactly what you'd expect to hear about Russell.  Thank god he's our quarterback.  I can only hope that I won't be as annoying about Russell Wilson at the end of his career as Derek Jeter fans were at the end of his, but I think it might end up that way.

Our group decides to head to the Seahawks tailgate that would no doubt be ongoing upon arrival.  That's just what happens at these road games nowadays.  A stark contrast from the times I froze my butt off at the Meadowlands with two other dudes in ragged Ricky Watters jerseys.  We part ways with James and Peter and agree to meet in the parking lot.  Our original motley crew of four now faced with the challenge of navigating the DC subway system.

Which you would think would be no problem for a group of New Yorkers.  Instead, we looked like a fish out of water.  The locals could definitely tell that we weren't from around those parts.  After literally 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to put money on the card, we were on our way.  The trip over included discussions about why their version of the Metro Card was on a piece of paper and why would they ever install carpeting on a subway car.  To those questions that Jazz, Cole, and I asked, we received no answers.

After unknowingly buying a Kirkland Sport Drink pawned off to me as a Gatorade, we made our way down a street named after Joe Gibbs in a random suburban neighborhood to the stadium.  The parking lot is a sea of humanity, most wearing Redskins gear.  Large groups gather with TV's, jacked up sound systems, and there's even a Redskins diesel truck that looks pretty cool.  Still, we were having no luck finding the tailgate.  As I was trying to check up on the specifics, my phone died.  We decided to walk around the parking lot in the hope that we would eventually bump into it.  Little did we know that the parking lot was enormous.

Our effort may not have been valiant, but we decided to head in to the stadium early and watch the players warm up.  If you ever wonder how one can watch an NFL game for 18 dollars, one needs to know that you might be sitting directly in front of a chain link fence.  That's the unique experience we had in Section 433.  Still, the sight lines were pretty good because of our altitude and the view of the game and the ability to watch plays unfold was still great as well.  18 bucks, to watch the Seahawks on Monday Night Football?!  Count me in!  It might not have been the "Dream Seats" that I had imagined a few months earlier, but they were a seat, and that's all that mattered.

The Seahawks look sharp in warmups, especially Russell Wilson, as gametime quickly approaches.  A chill that let's you know it's just about time for some autumn football rolls in with the wind.  One of the Redskins defenders stays out at midfield, over the team's logo.  He looks to the skies above with his arm's raised and the crowd begins to roar.  David is ready to try and slay Goliath once again, only this time with a national television audience watching too!  Another Seahawks opponent wins the coin toss and elects to defer, an obvious response to Seattle's preference to defer that we'll see mimicked throughout the entire season in an effort to throw the Seahawks off their game.  Much like Denver in the Super Bowl earlier this year, the Redskins kick it short to mah boy, Luke Willson.  

The Seahawks come out throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Washington.  Unfortunately for Washington, they tried coming out aggressive as well, and this cost them a few times early on when it came to containing Russell Wilson and not letting him get into acres of space.  It didn't take Russell long to realize that this option was going to be open for him repeatedly, and he took advantage.  If you were a Redskins fan, you could at least take solace in the fact that Robert Griffin Tres was probably watching and might have taken a few pointers when it comes to sliding.  Russell was putting on a display.

Add to that that the defense was absolutely stymieing the Redskins running game and you had a recipe for the early 17-0 lead that the Seahawks had posted.  Which brings us back to our buddy Jazz, who was sitting in Seat 12 today as an shameless attempt to appease the football god's by yours truly.  With the 'Hawks ahead 17-0, this meant that in the three Seahawks road games Jazz had attended, the Seahawks were ahead 82-0!  Add to that the 36-16 pasting of the Packers back in September that he also witnessed, and he was at 3-0 all-time with 118 points for and 16 points against.  It must be true.  He must be the Seahawks good luck charm!  The evidence is just so overwhelming...  Guess who's making the second trip to Zona this year?!  That means you, Jazz, if you're reading.

Of course, all good things come to an end, even Jazzy's Seahawks road scoreless streak.  Just like that, DeSean Jackson had torched the Seahawks secondary and the streak was up in smoke.  I tipped my Seahawks beanie and clapped in Jazz's direction, as if to commend him for his outstanding work in Seahawks fandom.  I could tell that the touchdown had stung, but that he had to be reminded of his mortality, and that winning in the NFL isn't easy.  At least, it's not supposed to be, although all he's seen in person is otherwise.

Not only was the streak no longer in play, but that feeling of comfort that came with the opening minutes of this game was gone as well.  With every Percy Harvin touchdown that came off the board, you could tell that things were going to get a little whack in the capitol on this night.  Still, no matter how many cooky things seemed to happen that seemed to give the home team life, the feeling of doubt never truly crept in.  There was frustration, and possibly a general failed sense of expectation, as well as many bright spots as well.

Marshawn Lynch continues to give his heart and soul for this team and there were multiple runs and catches of his where I'd find myself wondering about the future.  Life potentially without Beast Mode.  I don't like to think negatively, usually, so we'll save that for a rainy day.  Maybe life post-Marshawn won't be so difficult, if Russell continues to evolve into one of the game's most well-rounded talents.  It figured as much, that in such a historic town, Russell would have a historic night.  122 yards rushing, the most ever for a quarterback on Monday Night Football, and we were there to witness it.  It's a shame we had printed tickets, it would be nice to have a stub from this one.

I'd say the highlight of the entire trip occurred with 11:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.  With the 'Hawks lining up for a would-be 49 yard field goal attempt that would put them ahead 20-10, they instead ran the fake field goal with punter and holder Jon Ryan!  Ryan followed his blocks and got to the sticks, a masterful 5 yard gain and one that Marshawn himself would surely be proud of.  We went nuts because you have no choice but to go nuts when Jon Ryan runs for the first on a fake field goal on 4th down!  The legend of Ryan now surely will continue to grow, much like his career rushing totals.


Even then, after such an amazingly rare play like a fake field goal, I still can't say with complete certainty that that was the best play I saw all day.  Watching Russell somehow manage to not cross the line of scrimmage before getting off a slick pass was pretty impressive, as was his impression of Harry Houdini in the 4th quarter when he evaded pressure from Washington's front and was somehow able to float a pass to a waiting Marshawn Lynch in the flat.  That play defied the laws of physics, and summarized in one single play what makes Russell Wilson so special, and us Seahawks fans so lucky to have him.

As the Seahawks killed off Washington's final attempts at a rally with a Steven Hauschka field goal, our motley crew turned our attention towards the exit's and getting home.  The last train back to the bus station was set to leave at just past midnight, and it was nearly just past midnight.  I don't normally leave games early, but with the Seahawks up 27-17 and less than a minute remaining, this time I did.  It was a race against time to get back to the train, but we hustled like Russell and made it to the train on time because things usually have a way of working themselves out.  Of course, we made sure to trash-talk DC a little bit more on our way out the door.  As Jazz said, "it's constructed nicely, but it's not made for people!"

The 2AM bus from DC to Baltimore and then back to New York City might not have been the ideal trip home, but it was necessary.  Like Russell had said earlier in the week on Huffington Post Live, it's about that work ethic.  All of us had to get back to work, although we had the whirlwind memory of an odd, but ultimately interesting day spent in the nation's capital.  Much like the Seahawks victory, this trip might not have been pretty, and it might not have gone exactly according to plan, but at the end of the day it was a success and we all had fun.

There was no time to sleep, though, as an unexpected challenger loomed in the distance seemingly ready for a showdown.  Could it be true, that the Dallas Cowboys were finally for real?  I guess we'd soon find out.  Although, I must say that I'm a skeptic.  In the mean time, it was back to work.  Suddenly, things were beginning to feel a little bit like they did last year.

Friday, September 26, 2014

It's the size of the fight in the dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A giant slice of humble pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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