From that day at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, in an auditorium packed with anticipatory Seahawks employees, through the draft and the minicamps and the gray summer training camp, we listened to new coach Pete Carroll preach the gospel of competition.
The philosophy was sound and the belief Carroll was creating seemed palpable. Every player had to earn every minute of playing time, every day in practice.
There was no job security. Players had to earn the right to be in the locker room, week by week. There were no exceptions, whether you were Matt Hasselbeck or T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
There were no guarantees. Nobody was untouchable.
And as the roster kept turning over, as players came and went from VMAC as quickly as guests in some No-Tell Motel, Carroll’s philosophy seemed to be working.
This franchise had won a whopping nine games its past two seasons. Former general manager Tim Ruskell saddled first Mike Holmgren and then Jim Mora with unworkable rosters.
Carroll was here to clean up the mess.
He brought in players who were hungry, players like pass rusher Chris Clemons, running back Leon Washington and wide receiver Mike Williams.
Renton became the home for second chances.
And as opening day approached, Carroll had built a belief that belief was enough. If you believed in him, if you competed harder than the player across from you, if you limited your mistakes and capitalized on the other team’s turnovers, you could win now. Win forever.
Something good was happening.
The Hawks won their season-opening home game against San Francisco by taking advantage of coach Mike Singletary’s disorganization. And they beat San Diego at home on a pair of Washington kick returns and some strange Chargers mistakes.
Qwest magic and Carroll magic were working. And in the NFC West, the Hawks looked as if they could finish 9-7, win the division, host a playoff game and ride the Qwest karma into the middle of January.
It got better.
Carroll traded for running back Marshawn Lynch, and the Seahawks came off their bye week and won in Chicago. Lynch ran hard, and first-round left tackle Russell Okung handled Chicago pass rusher Julius Peppers as if Peppers were the rookie.
It felt like the season’s defining moment. The Seahawks were back.
The next week the Hawks carved up the collapsing Arizona Cardinals. The Hawks were 4-2 and, at the very least, they were better than all the league’s bad teams.
But then, slowly, the real truth of this team and this season began to emerge.
Turning over the roster couldn’t turn around the franchise. Competition Wednesday, the first practice day of every week, didn’t make the Seahawks more competitive on Sunday.
Qwest magic couldn’t bridge the talent gap between the Seahawks and the New York Giants or Kansas City Chiefs or Atlanta Falcons.
Eventually, all of the evils were exposed. The problems at cornerback. The holes in the offensive line. The lack of depth at wide receiver. And the slow fade of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The Hawks lost seven of their last nine and weren’t competitive in any of the losses. This year began looking exactly like last year.
Now, 15 weeks into its season, Seattle is a bad team, 30th in the league in total defense and 28th in total offense.
But at 6-9, they are a game away from a championship. A win Sunday over the Rams and the Seahawks are all in.
So why not “Believe Big?” Oh, I’m sorry — that was the Mariners’ slogan.
Why not believe in miracles? No, that thought belongs to Al Michaels.
OK — What the Heck? That’s this Sunday’s slogan.
What the heck, because winning for the Seahawks is better than losing. What the heck, because even though a win won’t hide the depth of the Seahawks’ troubles, hanging another championship banner at Qwest is a little needed sugar during this long, sour rebuilding process.
Ultimately, the Hawks aren’t better than they were last season. In fact, the Rams and even the 49ers with the right coach are further along in their reconstructions. They have more pieces in place than Seattle.
But Seattle can win a division Sunday. What the heck?
It’s Football Night in America. NBC, network of the show “The Biggest Loser,” is here.
The Hawks get to play in the final game of the NFL’s regular season. The whole country will be watching, or at least the part that hasn’t had enough Meineke Car Care, Chick-fil-A and Little Caesars bowls.
You can call this the Comedy Central Punch Line Bowl.
What the heck?
It’s a championship game. Enjoy it.