The Seattle Seahawks are the Big Lebowskis of the NFL

America’s Team for the 21st century: The Seattle Seahawks.

Anyone who’s ever had a rusty station wagon, a misdemeanor pot charge or owes money to bad people can appreciate the Seahawks.

As the first team with a losing record ever to make the NFL playoffs, they are the Big Lebowskis of the NFL.

The dudes abide.

Prevailing over the St. Louis Rams, hometown skeptics, national blowhards and the most examined booty since Beyonce, the Seahawks won 16-6 in the audio riot of Qwest Field and advanced to the postseason tournament with a record of 7-9.

What seemed distant thunder Sunday night was actually – thanks to the prime-time slot on NBC – millions of jaws dropping upon the fruited plain.

“This has never happened before,” said an almost giggly Pete Carroll, director of an opera goofier than anything Gilbert and Sullivan composed. “It may never happen again.”

Not only did they win the game, as champions of the NFC West (motto: “We’re all about three-and-out”) they will host the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Saints have no idea what they’re getting into.

In this inverted universe where left is right and night is day, all is possible.

When Carroll screams, “Release the Kraken!” out comes Charlie Whitehurst and Ruvell Martin, connecting on an opening-drive, 61-yard pass play that was actually poorly executed.

When Mike Ditka, pounding on the desk on ESPN’s pre-game show, growls, “The Seahawks defense . . . does . . . not . . .exist!” as he did Sunday morning, the defense holds the Rams to 184 yards and no touchdowns, and is led by Big Thrill Will Herring.

When Carroll draws analogy to 13-0 Texas Christian University’s claim to have won the Rose Bowl “for the little guys,” no one calls him out for overlooking the fact that TCU was good and the Seahawks, speaking generally, are not.

But for one game, they were good enough. And in the NFC West, all it takes is a good night. To those who say winning a weak four-team division is nothing, there is but one local retort: Tell it to the Mariners.

“I’m so proud that we hung together through a lot of messy games,” Carroll said, referring obliquely to the fact that their average margin of defeat in the nine losses was 21 points. “This is the first game that’s been close since I can remember. It was great to be in a game like that.”

Besides dramatic, it was also preposterous because they won it behind Whitehurst, the maligned backup who until this point had done little to persuade anyone that he was capable.

He was so apprehensive during the week that the starting assignment, given him thanks to Matt Hasselbeck’s pulled butt muscle the previous Sunday, would be taken back that Carroll had to remind him several times that he was The Guy.

“There were a few times during the week, (he said) ‘You’re going to play,’” admitted Whitehurst, who apparently took on the posture of an abused dog who won’t come out from under the bed.

But on the opening drive, he took on hunting-dog alertness, going Six plays and 87 yards. The big one was to Martin, normally a reserve pressed into starting duty despite having only four receptions this season. He was wide open way downfield but had to come back for the underthrown ball, thwarting an almost-certain TD. But the Seahawks scored four plays later on a nifty roll-right, throw-left shot to Mike Williams for a four-yard score.

“It calmed me down a little bit, honestly,” Whitehurst said. “It was great to start a game like that.”

A 7-0 lead is known, in the culture of the NFC West, as pouring it on.

That it held for the rest of the game was a tribute largely to a defense that after a season of ineptness, suddenly was ept. Herring, a reserve linebacker almost as obscure as Whitehurst and Martin, made the critical play late in the fourth quarter to protect a 13-6 lead – by just standing there.

A really bad ball from St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, the heralded rookie not so heralded Sunday, was thrown right to Herring, who put his hands up in self-defense and came up with the interception that ended the last, best chance for the Rams.

So concluded a remarkable few days of football hereabouts that began with Washington’s huge upset of Nebraska Thursday in the Holiday Bowl. The Seahawks’ win wasn’t so big a surprise, but the fact that they wave the tattered NFC West banner will be the stuff of, if not legend, then mirth.

Carroll was having none of the mockery.

“This is the system, I don’t give a crap about that,” he said Carroll. “We played it out and this is what happened.”

What happened is that for the first time in NFL history, there is a team in the playoff field (New England, 14-2) with twice as many victories as another playoff team.

Call it diversity. Or perversity. Losers of seven of their last 10 games, the Seahawks are kings of a small hill. To knock them off it, the Saints must come a ways as well as pass into an inverted universe to face Whitehurst, Martin and Herring.

None so far have survived to speak of it.