A remorseful goodbye

As the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers on Monday, they also packed what-could-have-been feelings that linger from Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Bears in Chicago.

What a 24-hour turnaround it has been for the Seahawks.

Sunday, they were in Chicago playing the Bears for the right to host the NFC Championship game. Monday, they were back in their locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center cleaning out their cubicles and still agonizing over what could have been.

“The season just ended so abruptly for us,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I think a lot of us in the locker room expected to win that game and really expected to have the opportunity to come back and host the NFC Championship game – which would have been an awesome opportunity.

“That’s probably one of the most disappointing things about this year is knowing that we had the opportunity to host that game – and it would have been a great opportunity for our fans and for us – and we just let it slip away and didn’t get it done.”

A series of improbable events had to fall into place for the Seahawks to even have a shot at making the playoffs, let along host the conference title game. One by one, that’s exactly what happened. The Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams in their regular-season finale to capture the NFC West title, and playoff spot that went with it. Then, the Seahawks would have to beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs. Then, the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers would have to knock off the No. 3-seeded Philadelphia Eagles and top-seeded Atlanta Falcons.

Done. Done. And done.

But when it came time to complete the final step, the Seahawks could not get it done – falling 35-24 to the Bears at Soldier Field.

“It’s tough, just seeing the opportunity that we had if we had won that game,” veteran defensive tackle Craig Terrill said. “That’s probably the hardest part of it. But I know everybody realizes the work we put into it and I think that makes it gratifying.”

Now, the Seahawks not only face an offseason they were able to delay with their back-to-back upsets, they face the uncertainty the looms because the CBA is about to expire.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” defensive end Raheem Brock said. “Hopefully they figure it out sometime soon. I can’t imagine life without football. I don’t think anyone can imagine life without football.”

But, to an obvious lesser degree, that’s where the Seahawks found themselves Monday. Rather than the glowing feeling that would have accompanied gathering to prepare to host the Packers this week, they were left with what veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy called “a cloudy kind of feeling.”

It’s that what’s-next sensation that followed cleaning out their cubicles in the locker room and meeting as a team one last time in the 2010 season that spilled into 2011.

As Hasselbeck said, there was a lot of talking and listening involved in the departure-day process – and it was all against a backdrop of disappointment, which also had a layer of accomplishment.

“It’s tough, because we lost a game,” he said, after offering a heavy sigh. “Any time after you lose a game there’s a real negative vibe.

“And yet, there was a lot of positive talk today – just about what we accomplished this year based on what our goals were, what our goals are.”

Goal One from the day coach Pete Carroll walked through the door last Jan. 11 was winning the division title. The Seahawks did that, even if it was with a 7-9 record.

Goal One now that the Seahawks have accomplished that first goal is to make sure it’s the first of many NFC West titles.

“The direction of this team – based on Pete Carroll and what he said from Day One – is he wants to own this division,” Hasselbeck said. “He wants to win it year after year after year after year.”

Hasselbeck is one of the few players remaining from the stretch when the Seahawks did just that – winning the division four consecutive seasons (2004-07).

“For those of us who were here when we were doing that, we know how great that it and how important that is,” he said. “That’s why getting that first one this year was so important. So there’s a sense of accomplishment in that regard, but then there’s also a lot of uncertainty.”