In the seven-and-a-half months since Denver's monumental failure in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos remade their roster and mortgaged their future in a desperate attempt to surpass the young and still quite HANGRY (That's hungry and angry for the uninitiated) World Champion Seahawks.
Even after that Herculean effort, the Broncos still fell short yesterday at Seahawks Stadium, and it was because their much-heralded and overhauled defense could not stop one Russell Carrington Wilson. The national media bobbleheads are agog today with blather of "Moral Victories" for the Broncos, but the brutal truth is that they hit the Emerald Empire with EVERYTHING they had and got nothing for their trouble but a mark in the loss column.
The national media narrative is, of course, that Peyton Manning gave the Legion of Boom a scare. The reality was that for three quarters, Manning looked like an exceedingly average and excruciatingly slow/limp-armed quarterback. He's not, obviously. But Seattle's defense has made him look mortal for 7 quarters going back to MetLife Stadium last Febuary, and it was only a spasm of late Seahawks mistakes (a missed field goal, a safety, and Wilson's worst throw of the season) that gave him the opportunity to salvage a bit of his reputation. In the end, Seattle's defense allowed only 18 points to Denver's fearsome, explosive offense. In the end, that might stand as the Broncos' lowest offensive output this season, and it's far from the "choke job" imagery being flung to the far corners of the internet today.
The Legion didn't just harangue, harass and hamper Manning; They also snuffed out the Broncos' ground game, allowing only 1.8 yards per rushing attempt. Despite Denver's furious late rally, Seattle's defense emphatically proved they are still the best in all of football. After surviving the Rodgers-Rivers-Peyton gauntlet, Seattle now gets a steady diet of middling-to-bad QBs like Cousins, Romo, Davis, and Eli in coming weeks. Cam Newton is the only QB anywhere near "elite" that the LOB will face until their trip to Santa Clara Thanksgiving Night (and Kaepernick's star isn't exactly blazing these days either).
Is it time to make Jon Ryan an honorary member of the Legion of Boom? His punts yesterday were certainly explosive enough to warrant induction. Ryan consistently pinned the Broncos deep in their own end and gave us all something none of us had seen before: A 79-yard kick IN THE AIR on the free kick following Denver's safety early in the 4th. With the lone exception of a missed field goal attempt, Seattle's special teams were flawless after shaky outings against the Packers and Chargers.
What is there left to say about the WolfBadger? Once again, he faced a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and outplayed him. Once again, given an opportunity to win the game in overtime, he delivered. The conclusion of yesterday's game was eerily similar to our win at Chicago back in 2012: The defense blows a late lead, Seattle wins the overtime coin toss, and Wilson marshals the Hawks down the field by any means necessary. Just like on that afternoon at Soldier Field nearly two years ago, RW3 got it done with his legs as much as his arm, scrambling to convert two key 3rd downs on the winning drive. Now Wilson is 7-0 head-to-head against the "Mt. Rushmore" of Rodgers-Manning-Brees-Brady, and only the most pig-headed Jaworskites among us would deny that DangerRuss is already a Top 5 "elite" QB.
Here's a question to mull: Is Marshawn Lynch the best running back in football? It's hard to argue against him after a day where he gobbled up 128 yards on 29 touches while scoring two touchdowns (including the overtime winner). The conventional wisdom that this is Lynch's last season in Seattle might get overturned by necessity. Lynch is integral to Seattle's offensive attack, and at this point it's hard to imagine Robert Turbin or Christine Michael easily replacing him. PCJS might just have to find the money to keep Beast Mode in College Blue and Wolf Grey for a few more years.
Now the Hawks roll into their (far too early) bye week 2-1 and as healthy as any NFL team could reasonably hope to be, and Twelves should be nothing but grateful and jubilant. As fun as all those ridiculous blowouts are, they're outliers in a league where most of the games are decided by one score or less. There will be moments where we'll need another Kam Chancellor pick or a 2-minute drill to win a playoff game or perhaps even a Super Bowl. It feels almost too good to be true that we finally have a team that we can BELIEVE in during those moments where tension and drama are greatest. In Earl Thomas III, we have our Ronnie Lott. In Russell Wilson, our Joe Montana. In Marshawn Lynch, our Roger Craig (Yes, part of the reason I made those comparisons was to troll Santa Clara fans).
So Denver fans can delude themselves into thinking this was anything but another crushing defeat (whenever they feel like taking a break from whinging about how unfair the OT rules are to Widdle Ol' Peyton), but us Twelves know the truth: They came at the Kings, and they missed. If these teams meet again in Glendale next February, Denver is doomed to complete an EPIC trifecta of failure. And they KNOW it.
I'm surprised by the frequency with which I've been asked that question lately. The short answer is "Fuck no," but the underlying reasoning that impels me to keep watching is much more complex. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that being an NFL fan has left me feeling more than a little sleazy lately. Institutionally, it's clear that the NFL is rotten to the core, operating with no motivation other than avarice (it's telling that the Vikings changed course and sent Adrian Peterson away only after the NFL's corporate sponsors started voicing their displeasure). While the vast majority of NFL players are decent people, there are reprobates on every roster, and their misdeeds are largely tolerated as long as they produce on the field. In addition, despite a continuing (and positive) social evolution, the league is still severely afflicted with misogyny and homophobia. Finally, the concussion crisis looms over the sport like a pitch black storm front.
So why do I keep watching? One reason is that the game itself is still RIDICULOUSLY entertaining. Once the 1 pm games kicked off last Sunday and I immersed myself in NFL Red Zone, I forgot about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Roger Goodell, and was swept away by the unfolding drama being played out on gridirons from Buffalo to Minneapolis. In a tangible way, the game is addictive (even more so when you add fantasy football and/or gambling to the mix). That's not enough, though. College football can be equally compelling/dramatic on TV, and I couldn't possibly be less invested in that action.
So why do I keep watching? I keep watching because despite ALL of the misdeeds and missteps of the NFL, I cannot bear the thought of abandoning my beloved Seahawks. They're why I found myself yet again in a noisy, overpriced sports bar on a Sunday afternoon. I have to admit that if I was a "casual" fan, I would probably be more likely to drift away from the NFL.
But I'm not. If you are reading this, you probably aren't either. Last night I went to a speech given by transgender icon/Emmy nominee Laverne Cox. What she said was raw and real and heartfelt, and I'm a huge fan of hers. But while I listened to her story, I was struck by how DIFFERENT it was from my personal experiences as a trans woman. That's understandable (and totally OK), but it underlined something that's always been an issue for me: I always have felt like a bit of an outsider. Even as a trans woman, I often feel like my experiences and perspectives don't really line up with everyone else in the group. It reminded me that I've felt my strongest emotions of belonging, and my most intense feelings of community and identity, as a Seahawks fan. Before anything else, I am a Twelve.
I don't want to be a mindless drone. I don't want to be the type of person who would wear an Adrian Peterson jersey and bring a switch to a tailgating party. I want to be a thoughtful fan, an intelligent critic. I also know I don't really want to be faced with the dilemmas Vikings or Ravens fans are wrestling with right now. Every time a new story of NFL misconduct pops up, among my first thoughts is always "Thank God he's not a Seahawk." I hope that this darkness doesn't touch MY team, because I know that would lead to intense psychological discomfort. How would I react if Marshawn Lynch was the one who beat his kids? Or if Earl Thomas was caught on tape punching a woman? I'm squirming in my seat just thinking about the possibility, because I hope that I never find out how great my capacity for hypocrisy really is. I think about the women in Baltimore who were wearing Ray Rice jerseys to the game last week, and I wonder "How the fuck can they do that?" As implausible as it sounds, I've been wondering what I'd do with my new Russell Wilson jersey if I found out he'd committed some heinous offense. Would I grope for an excuse to keep wearing it, or would I just be very happy I have a #12 jersey as my back-up gameday gear?
The good news, as Will Leitch pointed out, is that as craven as the NFL is, it DOES respond to public pressure. My fervent hope is that the culture shift in the NFL will accelerate, its leadership will change, and I won't have to keep apologizing for following the team (and the game) I love. If I need to stop watching the NFL because of Rice/Peterson/Goodell, soccer fans should stop following their beloved sport because of Sepp Blatter and Qatar. Basketball fans should abandon roundball because of the pervasive racism in NBA front-offices, and so on. We live our lives negotiating our way through contradictions, simply hoping those contradictions don't become too sharp for us to bear.
On the field I'm not concerned about the Seahawks. It took a combination of a perfect game from Phillip Rivers and a subpar afternoon from our defense for San Diego to beat us, and that's going to be very difficult blueprint for 90% of the NFL to replicate. I couldn't be more excited to see the Broncos coming to town. With our aura of invincibility punctured, the Legion of Boom will be primed to prove they're the same unit that shut down Manning and company in XLVIII. In front of 67,000 howling Twelves, they will. My pick? Seahawks 30, Broncos 20.
I am POSITIVE that for three hours this Sunday, the Seahawks will remind me why I'm hopelessly addicted to this game.
Worried about the Seahawks losing their season-opening game against the Packers? Fuck no. Even though Green Bay jumped out to an early 7-3 lead they were as hopeless as the procession of poor schmucks Rocky Balboa pummeled during the opening montage of Rocky III. No. I was worried about becoming one of THOSE fans... Someone who lamented their team actually, FINALLY winning a Championship.
When I got to Washington State last week, I was gobsmacked by how totally my home state had reached the level of complete Seahawks Saturation. From Kennewick to Bellingham to Seattle, the Evergreen State was EVERY bit as batshit crazy about the Seahawks as Columbus is about the Ohio State Buckeyes (even more so, perhaps). My reaction to this new reality was... odd. I realized that a non-trivial portion of my Twelvedom is rooted in my pathological desire to be contrarian. Even though I bitch and moan about it, I kind of like being a "unicorn" Twelve out in Ohio. Back home, I suddenly no longer felt special. I felt... common. Yuck. It wasn't just geography, either. I was a Twelve back in The Forgotten Years. I remembered being mocked for wearing a Galloway jersey when all my friends were wearing Griffey or Kemp. I remembered TV blackouts (and driving outside the blackout zone to watch home games) and a half-full Kingdome. I remembered the team almost bolting for Los Angeles. I remembered people throwing around the moniker "Sea-Chickens" in reference to MY team, and now many of those same folks were striding about in #12 jerseys. Before last Thursday's opener, I found myself strangely deflated.
When we got to Seahawks Stadium, I felt like a doddering old lady. It was too crowded! Soundgarden and Pharrell were too loud! It was too hot! Mehhhhhhh! Who the fuck WAS I? I retreated into routine and headed down to the Seahawks tunnel like I do before every game. I was in a dark headspace. Was my Twelvedom ruined by success? I started having some truly unpleasant thoughts along those lines. What kind of a fucking douchenozzle had I become?
Then, kickoff. I roared. I bellowed. I howled. It was the exact same way I've acted at Seahawks games for 30 years. Something was different, though. It wasn't me, or the crowd. It was the guys clad in Seattle uniforms. Holy shit. There was no doubt about it: These guys were MARAUDERS. This was the best team I'd ever seen (or I ever would see). My negativity dissolved, replaced by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Had I ever seen a player as fast as Percy Harvin? Nope. Had I seen a defense as dominant as the Legion of Boom? A Seahawks quarterback as good as Russell Wilson? A running back as ferocious as Mashawn Lynch? No, no and no. Yes, the trappings of success had knocked me off track briefly, but I was jolted into a broader perspective...
I was at the summit, and I wouldn't stay there forever. Eventually, the Seahawks will slide back into mediocrity (I know it seems impossible, but even the Sun will run out of fuel someday), and I'll still be watching and coming to the games. The increasingly ancient Seahawks Stadiuim might not even be full for every game, and the memories of these moments would degrade into something less than high definition. If I didn't savor EVERY FUCKING MOMENT of The Emerald Empire, I'd never forgive myself. I had earned this. WE had earned this. A Wilco lyric drifted into my head...
And if the whole world's singing your songs And all of your paintings have been hung Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on And that's not wrong or right But you can struggle with it all you like You'll only get uptight The struggle with success HAD made me uptight. As I watched our boys systematically SLAUGHTER a popular presesason Super Bowl favorite and the best quarterback in the game, I reached irrational heights of delirious joy. This wasn't just the best Seahawks team ever. This wasn't just the best team in the NFL today. This might end up as one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport.
Is that idea THAT irrational? Someone else mentioned on Twitter that the NFL was on schedule for a new dynasty to rise. The 60s had the Packers, the 70s had the Dolphins and Steelers, the 80s had the 49ers, the 90s had the Cowboys, and last decade had the Patriots. Why not us? The last two teams to finish a season undefeated were the 1929 Packers and the 1972 Dolphins. There were 43 seasons between those unbeaten campaigns. It's been 42 years since Miami went 17-0. We're about due for an undefeated season, don't you think?
Why be uptight when your team isn't just chasing glory, but immortality? On Sunday, I flew back to Ohio, but a week touring my home state left me refreshed and newly reconnected to my Northwest roots. Oh.. And three hours of screaming last Thursday left me sounding like one of Marge Simpson's sisters too... But I flaunted my hoarse, scratchy voice as a sonic badge of honor. And from now on, I intend to relax and enjoy the wild toboggan ride 2014 is sure to be.
So we'll plan on reconvening again in January for the playoffs, Seattle?