A Moment Of Grace And Warmth Amid The Cold

WRAPPING UP A year of astonishing developments, some good but mostly bad, sports and nonsports, local and universal, the Seahawks and their fans shook the snow globe Sunday to briefly make a cruel time seem warmer.

When they should have been sprinting to cars to get out of the way of another weather uppercut, fans upward of 40,000 lingered at Qwest Field to end the Mike Holmgren decade with a rare face-to-face farewell.

Coaches almost never go out with a group hug on the field of play. They get fired, they get pirated, they lose the big game. Some go quietly, some controversially. But almost never do they win the last home game and immediately engage their followers in an uproarious sendoff.

As Holmgren passed them postgame in a circle of the field, fans crowded the rail, cheering. From the suites level, they yelled. From the top row of the upper deck a hundred yards away, backlit silhouettes could be seen in the fading light waving arms over heads.

Revived by an unexpected 13-3 win over the playoff-contending New York Jets and quarterback Brett Favre — the guy primarily responsible for ending the Seahawks’ previous season in a Green Bay snowstorm — fans easily overlooked the disarray of a 4-11 season to salute a body of work that restored the franchise’s pride and civic stature.

“I joked that the only people who would be here would probably be my family and my coaches’ families, and you guys have to be here,” a smiling, watery-eyed Holmgren said later to reporters, referring to the number and volume of customers who ignored the inclemency and irrelevancy. “It looked like we had a pretty good group here. I was glad they braved the elements. They made it that much more special for me.”

Sentiment was not allowed a complete triumph, however, as a few dozen snowballs hurled during his stroll, surrounded by a media and security scrum, served to remind that the supply of knuckleheads in Seattle and America is one natural resource that is truly limitless.

Missed by the missiles, Holmgren deftly made light.

“That was the first time in my life,” he said, “that I enjoyed having snowballs thrown at me.”

The day also was one of the few this season that was enjoyable by fans for its football. In fact, when Holmgren’s tenure is reviewed, Sunday has to qualify as one of his top 10 wins.

Against a team led by the legendary Favre that had a winning record and suffered not a single game lost by an offensive starter to injury this season, the Seahawks won using a second-string offensive line and backups at quarterback and wide receiver. To coach up this disheveled outfit to consecutive wins, with a decent shot at a third one in the season finale Sunday against the fading, division-champion Cardinals in Arizona, will be little noted nor long remembered by NFL historians. But among the faithful, the feat will be writ large.

The quarterback, Seneca Wallace, who was profoundly grateful for Holmgren’s faith in his ability to be an NFL quarterback, viewed the win as a near-peak experience.

“This was probably one of the biggest games of my life,” he said after outplaying Favre. “It meant a lot. We’re down, we’re nicked, but we all came together, battled through and won the game.”

While players readily acknowledged the emotional significance of the game, they are trained to be reticent to admit they get more geeked for one game over another.

C’mon. This was a meaningless game that nevertheless was meaningful to any player with a lick of professional pride. Defensive tackle Craig Terrell put it best.

“No way could we let him lose his last game at home,” he said.

Holmgren returned the sentiment. Acknowledged as a game-day sideline tyrant and a practice-day bear by many who served under him, Holmgren in his final Seattle days has gone out of his way to salute his last Seahawks team for valor in the face of trying circumstances.

“I can tell you how proud I am of this group,” he said. “They did a marvelous job. Today was a great team effort. You think about opportunity lost, but I’m not going to get greedy.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. I will never forget this day.”

It was indeed a rare moment for all in Seattle sports. The absence of home-team playoff implications, and his predetermined departure, meant the day could focus on the man, his legacy and even his family.

His wife, Kathy, normally a reluctant participant in public Seahawks matters, was persuaded to join the traditional pregame ceremony in raising the 12th Man flag. His daughters and grandchildren were present, owner Paul Allen offered a rare pregame embrace, and Holmgren was talked into coming out of the tunnel after the team, amid fireworks, into a teamwide hug on the field.

If all of that for a coach seems a bit much to a casual observer, well, maybe so. But Holmgren and former University of Washington coach Don James were the best at their craft that the Northwest has ever seen. They helped generate thrills, a sense of community and feeling of sports pride.

Super Bowls and Rose Bowls are hard feats. A return, viewed through the cracked prism of this season, seems ever more distant. So it would seem a shame to pass on a chance to say thanks, however frozen the day and forlorn the circumstance.

Upon exiting the American sports stage, grace is a virtue far more rare than victory. Presuming he doesn’t get hit with a snowball in Phoenix next weekend, Holmgren, the Seahawks and their fans will part with mutual honors.