On the last day he’d stand on the Qwest Field sideline as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Mike Holmgren wasn’t able to enjoy a perfect sendoff.
A perfect sendoff for Holmgren would have found the division-champion Hawks closing out the home half of their schedule by winning the game that improved their record to 15-0. Come to think of it, a perfect sendoff for Holmgren would have meant fewer snowballs hurled from the stands, and more confetti wafting through the stadium lights during the NFC championship trophy presentation.
Perfection is demanding like that.
But given the imperfect circumstances associated with the penultimate Sunday of a season where ambitions of a January playoff seed long ago were replaced by hopes for a prime slot in the April draft, the coach known as “The Big Show” participated in a show he’ll always treasure: A 13-3 victory more fit for The Weather Channel than ESPN Classic.
It began with the 60-year old in blue workout pants following his uniformed players through the makeshift chute installed for the player introductions.
Pro football coaches are almost never included in pregame introductions. Pro football coaches are meticulous about preparing for every last detail. Mike Holmgren, in other words, was sweating the small stuff.
“I couldn’t see anything because of all the smoke and all the stuff they shoot off,” he said. “I thought, I hope there is not a door at the end of this thing, so I don’t run into something”
Bumping into a smoke-obscured door, in front of 50,000 of his closest friends (although 68,181 paid), was a concern.
So was pumping his fist, set to exchange high-fives and back slaps with well-wishers who weren’t there.
“I told the players before the game: Don’t leave me hanging,” said Holmgren, recalling the time he led the 1996 Packers to the Super Bowl. “They introduced the coach last. Our guys with Green Bay were so happy to be there. They called ‘Coach Mike Holmgren,’ and I’m supposed to run out – and they all left. I couldn’t high-five, I couldn’t do anything with anybody.
“So I kind of just crept over to the sideline. That was my big moment in the Super Bowl. Today, before the game, the final thing during the pep talk was: Don’t leave me hanging out here. It was kind of funny.”
Funny turned into poignant when the franchise’s version of a First Lady – Holmgren’s wife Kathy – was called upon to raise the flag representing the Seahawks’ 12th man.
Once the lump in his throat subsided, he was ready for some football.
More specifically, that peculiar kind of football played when the athletes’ mobility, traction, dexterity and self-esteem is compromised by a snowstorm. This kind of football produces fumbling, bumbling and stumbling, not to mention dropped passes, imprecise routes and blown coverages.
On the other hand, snow has never seemed to faze Brett Favre, the former Packers quarterback Holmgren molded from Atlanta draft bust to future Hall-of-Famer.
Last time the Seahawks played in the snow – during the second round of last season’s playoffs, at Green Bay – Favre put on an exhibition.
“It’s always on your mind,” Holmgren said. “We were playing the Jets, he’s on the Jets, and it was snowing. It was like it was too much. It was just unbelievable.”
On the game’s first possession, Favre led the Jets on a dink-and-dump drive that took them to the Seattle 2-yard line, where they settled for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
This concluded Favre’s contribution to the highlight package. He began a potential game-tying drive at his own 12, with 3:06 remaining and the Hawks holding a 10-3 lead. But Darryl Tapp tackled him for a 7-yard sack, and after three incomplete passes, Seattle was assured of its first two-game winning streak of 2008.
As for the long-goodbye lap around Qwest Field that was supposed to culminate the Holmgren tribute? The scene was moving – and I mean, really moving. The coach didn’t have the luxury of stopping, as his entourage became an inviting target for knuckleheads throwing snowballs.
“First time in my life,” Holmgren said, “that I enjoyed having snowballs thrown at me.”
Before the triumphant exit turned ugly – how do you think a snowball striking Holmgren on the head alters his perception of his wonderful day? – the coach was under cover, on his way to the locker room to congratulate the Seahawks.
“You think about opportunity lost,” he said. “If we could have done that a couple more times …
“But I’m not going to get greedy. As I have told you before, I am one of the lucky ones. I will never forget this day, a very special day for me.”
In hideous weather, the Seahawks gained some revenge over the quarterback who bounced them from the playoffs last season, and rallied behind their head coach during his final public appearance in Seattle.
But perfect? No, it wasn’t perfect. It couldn’t have been perfect.
Perfect was extracted from any discussion about the 2008 Seahawks almost four months ago.