I've tried to think of the right words to say for days now. The haze that was the last three weeks (make that six months) hasn't even begun to wear off, and I'm okay with that. In fact, I want things to stay like this forever. It all just feels like a giant dream sequence, and I know for a fact that I'm not the only person who feels this way. Maybe that's just what happens when the universe steps in to help create something amazing. When people believe in something to their core and never stop believing. Make no mistake, this past 2013-2014 season was one of those magical, fairy tale stories in sports that we've always heard about as Seahawks fans; but never gotten to experience for ourselves. A year where everything seemed to break just right. Even the dreaded high ankle sprains of the past that ended many a season didn't seem to take as long to heal from. This year was all about fulfilling our destiny.
Coaches, players, and fans alike knew that this year was destined to be special. You could feel it in the Renton air during Training Camp on August 4th. Expectations were high and practices were efficient and precise. The scheduled team-autograph session turned out to be a dud for the legion of parents who brought their children to camp for a chance to snag some autographs. Instead of the likes of Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch greeting the fans, it was instead Darren Fells, Benson Mayowa, and Ryan Seymour who stole the show. Nothing against any of those guys, but many a child (and parent. More so the parents, actually now that I think of it...) went home disappointed that day. Aside from Doug Baldwin making a cameo, the rest of the team was too busy hitting the weights. This was a team on a mission. It certainly paid off big time.
Even my bus driver from Seattle to Renton was telling me about the electricity in the air in the city with regards to the Seahawks. It's as if it just took over the entire state. A clan of blue and green zombies who believed to the very bottom of their souls that the Seahawks were going to win the Super Bowl in 2013. That feeling that was in the air helped lay the foundation to a Championship season. It can not be overstated. Neither can the legendary work ethic and relentless preparation of the staff and players. The two, in unison, have proven to be an absolutely beautiful dynamic. What viewers from afar might consider a cheesy slogan like "we all we got, we all need", just the typical stuff you'd expect from a Pete Carroll coached team, has transformed a community. We actually believe these things. It's not just rhetoric or mumbo jumbo. That's what makes us special and unique as a fanbase.
Fast forward 6 calendar months and 18 games later and the Seahawks, much like I had a week earlier, were flying to New Jersey. My lady thought it would be cool if we went to Jersey City to the Westin where the team was staying to help greet them as they arrived. As we headed out there, the reality started to sink in that this was really happening. The Seahawks were going to be playing in New Jersey, in the Super Bowl! This is a moment that I had imagined when Matt Bryant's field goal split the uprights in Atlanta last January. What started as a simple idea, a thought, had now manifested itself into one of the greatest season's in team history and the chance for it not only to happen, but for me to witness it all unfold up close and in person. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I can hardly believe my eyes. There's a hotel, in New Jersey, covered in all things Seahawks. Talk about surreal. The thought of me ever seeing a Seahawks team hotel in Jersey never crossed my mind ever before. Now, here it was. That wasn't the only unbelievable sight though. Perhaps even more incredible was the crowd of Seahawks fans that seemed to form in a mere matter of minutes just around the hotel's front driveway. I've known all season that I live a charmed existence and that the god's of good fortune have smiled favorably upon me, but this was further proof. Immediately to the side of my girlfriend and I were old friends from Carlow East that I hadn't seen all season long. Despite the fact that we hadn't seen each other in months, there were hugs and high-fives all around as we all were overwhelmed by the most amazing happiness we'd probably ever felt in our entire lives.
You hardly realized you were standing in the cold when the buses pulled up and the team started to empty out. I looked around as everyone was losing their minds, amazed by what I saw. The 12th Man was being heard in Jersey City, and this was just for the team arriving at the hotel! Mostly everyone who was flying in for the Super Bowl hadn't made the trip out East yet. Still, the team felt the 12th Man once again as they made their way straight for the hotel lobby. Fans screamed and called out players' names, but this team remained laser-focused like they have been since the clock's struck zero on January 13th, 2013, in Atlanta. They went straight for the hotel doors and just like that, they were gone. I didn't have the greatest view in the world, so I didn't couldn't quite make out all the players coming off the bus, but it was cool. Just being there was enough. Hearing one kid walk away saying, "that was a life-changing experience, I was this close to Earl Thomas just now" was enough for me to know that this meant a lot to a lot of different people.
After a drink with friends, both old and new, we turn the page to Media Day. A lifelong friend of mine, Joe, bought the tickets weeks in advance. Prior to that, I never thought I'd have any interest in attending Media Day. It's an absolute circus and demonstrates how far sports journalism has fallen, but I figured this was the only time I'd ever go in my life, so why not. Predictably, it's about what you'd expect. You're sitting in a seat at the Prudential Center, watching these guys answer tons of questions, while you yourself are wearing headsets and cycling between the channels to catch different interviews. I feel bad for my friend as we arrive slightly late and he only gets to see a few minutes of Bronco interviews. It was a sign of things to come for him. After Marshawn let's the world know that he's just 'bout that action boss, we head for the Turnpike to start the trip home.
It's Friday before the game now and this is where things start to feel surreal again. I wake at around 6am and head for the subway to eventually get on the PATH train to New Jersey. I'm meeting with Mike Flood, the Seahawks VP of Community Outreach, and he's selling me a ticket for face value. $1,000 for one seat. Where? Section 340, Row 7, Seat 18. Just as amazing was the fact that my co-workers took up a collection for me at work. I was committed to earning my trip to the Super Bowl, to keep the same "earn everything" mindset that I had kept all season as to not do anything differently than I had been.
However, my family, friends, and loved ones were equally as committed except they were committed to sending me to the Super Bowl. And they did, as they raised over the $1,000 needed for the ticket. All I could do was shake my head in disbelief and just think of the fact of how blessed I truly was all season long. From Mike Flood looking out for me, to my loved ones hooking it up for me, I was almost sure of the fact that this was all really just one giant dream sequence. I was bound to wake up back on that bus to Renton, with the bus driver waking me up and telling me that I had to leave. I keep waiting for that to happen, but it still hasn't yet. As torturous as that would be, I wouldn't even be mad. I couldn't be. This past year would make one hell of a dream!
To make the day even better, a few of my friends were making the trek out to New York City to help take in the festivities. Jordan and Leif would be crashing at the "Seahawks Hotel" in Brooklyn, which was fitting because they did the same for the Seahawks/Giants game back in December. The picture at the top is of all of us who went out for that game. We were on our way back home, feeling all victorious and what not, when we saw the poster. We all tried visualizing being back in February and finding that same poster and taking a picture in front of it after the Super Bowl as well. In fact, a large part of the experience of the Giants game was conceptualizing the team using the game as a "dress rehearsal." Much in the same, we wanted to learn from what we could have done differently, and perhaps better, back in December. It's the type of mentality we figured the team would have, so why not us? Why shouldn't we do the same?
With the stage set for the most memorable weekend of our lives, we hit the town on Friday night, first stop being Carlow East of course! The place is an absolute madhouse, with everyone packing in like sardines to join the party. It gets even more insane and even more crowded when Blue Thunder decides to crash the party! Just like they do at Temple Billiards before every game, they rocked the roof off of the place! My mind can't wrap around the fact that Blue Thunder are actually inside Carlow East, along with hundreds of other 12's. You couldn't have scripted this any better in my mind. After we somehow make our way out of Carlow, we hit up Old Prague in Astoria, Queens to wrap up the night and show New York how the 12th Man gets down and to show the 12th Man how Queens gets down!
The next day, we awake in Brooklyn with the phrase "do things better than you've ever done them before" fresh in our minds. After the Giants game, our group had wanted to check out Di Fara Pizza, a legendary pizzeria in Midwood, Brooklyn. I guess you could say the old man who still tends shop here is like the Chuck Knox of Pizza. Just an old school dude with a fundamental approach and a time-honored way of doing things. Sadly, Di Fara last time. This time, we were going to make sure we had some of this pizza. No doubt about it, it's worth the trek and it's worth the wait. I simply refuse to believe that you can do pizza any better than Di Fara's in Brooklyn. With our stomachs filled with goodness, we head to Broadway to finally check out the Super Bowl Boulevard.
Unfortunately, apparently so did everyone else in the city of New York. When our group of 5 arrived at 34th and Broadway, we were engulfed in a sea of humanity. Absolute pandemonium ensues as we attempt to navigate through the awful crowd. Forget about getting to see the Lombardi Trophy, the line to get in was seemingly hours deep and impossible to tell where it began. We finally bowed out, fed up with the fiasco and ready to get to more laid-back surroundings for a change of pace. That came in the form of a few beers with Eli, another 12 who had made the trip from out west for the big game. Eli was actually cool enough to gift me his extra ticket to the Rams game in Week 17. Not only that, but he was selling his extra ticket to the Super Bowl to my friend Greg and not gouging him in the process. As they'd say in the mob, he's a stand up guy.
After a few brews we part ways and our group heads down to Gramercy to check out McSwiggans. With Carlow East acting as "Hawks Nest East", McSwiggans was "Hawks Nest South." We figured we wouldn't even be able to get in to Carlow the night before the game. It was a good call as there was some room to maneuver at our new watering hole. Drew, who I met at Temple Billiards before the 'Niners game in September, was also in attendance. Old buddies Norbert, Ben, and Kevin would also come down to prefunk. There were good vibrations all around and all anyone wanted was a good time It was truly astonishing to see the number of people who put down everything to come to New York City and New Jersey to take this all in.
The night of partying would end at the Double Down Saloon after one too many shots. After a pitstop at the legendary Katz Deli, we made the trip back to Brooklyn to somehow attempt to get some sleep the night before the Super Bowl. We'd done an excellent job of distracting ourselves and keeping ourselves busy over the past 2 days, but now it was real. The whole reason why we were all even brought together in the first place was just a few short hours away. I felt an odd sense of calm, mixed with nerves that absolutely would not let me go to sleep. As my friend, a Merchant Marine, heads back to port, I hand him a green and blue, Seahawks version of the flag of the United States of America. One of his shipmates is also a huge Seahawks fan, so I know that the flag is going where it's supposed to. He folds the flag up as small as possible, leaving only the 'Hawks eye symbolically visible. It's an amazing coincidence, and one that fills us all with hope as he sets out on his journey.
I wake up and realize that I was actually able to get some quality sleep. Not much of it, but it was pretty good in quality, especially for the eve of the Super Bowl. Not everyone was so lucky, however, as Jordan was forced to sleep in our bathtub due to the incessant snoring and loud-breathing of some of his fellow 12th Man. Judging by the result of the game, it appears Jordan's new Super Bowl eve tradition must be to sleep in the bathtub. Sorry bud. We can't mess with what works. As the morning coffee brewed, there was no more avoiding the giant elephant in the room. The day of reckoning was upon us and it was either going to be one of the greatest or one of the worst days of our lives.
Once we arrived at Penn Station, we started to see how crazy this crowd was going to be. The lines to buy tickets for the NJ Transit were deep, and picking people out of a crowd was almost impossible unless you were of the taller persuasion. Still, we made it to Secaucus-Junction in a breeze. This is where things started to get a little crazy as there were thousands of people trying to make their way down one hallway, with two doors at the end of it. To make matters worse, the trains to the Meadowlands were delayed. Chants of "Jersey sucks" and "Christie sucks" rang through the corridor, with the crowd getting sweatier and angrier by the second. One guys nearly gets his head beaten in when he decides to smoke his e-cig. The people around him, thinking it was an actual cigarette, were ready to take care of business. Finally, the trains arrived and the crowd started to move before things got too crazy, but it was definitely a botched job by the NFL and the state of New Jersey. I could care less as all I cared about was watching the Seahawks beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl at MetLife.
Security was similar to airport security but it was actually a pretty quick process. Once we breezed through, we made our way to the area behind where the NFL Network was stationed. The giant XLVIII right nearby greets all as if to say "you're at the Super Bowl now!" After some pictures and some more pregame predictions, the group heads separate ways. Jonathan and Ryan, two life-long Seahawks fans from New Jersey, head off as they get set to witness history right in their own backyard. The pregame vibe is confident, as we all feel that we've got more than a fighting chance against the "Greatest Offense of All-Time." Everyone respects the Broncos, but none of us fear them. One Broncos fan wearing a #18 tells me "I've got two words for ya, Peyton Manning", to which I responded with "He's just one man. One man can be beaten. The Seahawks are a team, and a damn good one at that!" As we make our way to the escalators to head in to the stadium, we all realize that "damn, we're at the Super Bowl!" Most of us hadn't known anyone that's ever been to one before. I have a friend, Will, who has but that's about the only person I know of. I never even really planned to ever attend one, to be quite honest. It kind of just happened for all of us that night.
We walk around some until it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Leif, Greg, Eli, and I part ways and I make my way to Section 340. We agree to meet there at halftime. Not to watch Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but instead to discuss the first half. I don't even think the halftime show was on any of our minds. We just wanted to witness something amazing for the Seahawks. As I head to my seat, my eye trains on my seats from the game against the Giants in December. On this day, I would be sitting right off the 50 yard line. Thanks again, Seahawks, and especially you Mike. I'm still oddly calm and holding it together at this point. That is until the military flyover after the awesome rendition of the National Anthem by Renee Fleming. That's when I started to think back about the entire season and how important this game truly was. That's when the magnitude of the moment washed over me.
Section 340 is packed to the gills with 'Hawks fans. As Steven Hauschka gets set to kick off the proceedings, I look around and can spot only 2 Broncos fans in our entire section. They appear to be a couple and they seem to be nice people, but you can tell that they were regretting their seat selection for the evening. Regardless though, they were there to witness one of the greatest beat downs in recorded history. I stand in sheer amazement as the game's opening snap sails over Peyton's head and starts rolling towards and eventually into the end zone. My mind can't process what's happening, but I think I'm happy when Knowshon Moreno dives on the ball and the referee signals safety. Seahawks fans all across the world lose their collective minds as the game gets off to an absolute dream start. At that moment in time, MetLife Stadium feels like CenturyLink East, as 12's make sure to be heard loud and clear.
And thus marked the beginning of one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on a football field in my entire life. It's apparent from the early going that nearly everyone suited up for the Seattle Seahawks is locked in and ready to perform on the game's grandest stage. Kudos to Pete Carroll for being the model of consistency when it comes to preparation in the NFL. His team took on his personality when it truly mattered most. Pete does always say, "it's not how you start, but how you finish." He must have felt like a proud father watching his team achieve greatness the way they did.
The defense, led by criminally underrated safety Kam Chancellor, was out for blood. They are flying around the field at all-time high levels. As they make play after play, it starts to become apparent that Peyton Manning might not have an answer for this tough riddle, at least not in a 60 minute contest. Conversely, Russell Wilson has no trouble moving the ball on the Broncos defense, which admittedly did a great job of stopping Marshawn Lynch. That was about it though. The Seahawks not only seized the lead after only 12 seconds, but they seized the game's momentum early on and the Broncos were unable to recover. To make matters worse for Denver, Russell Wilson is absolutely unconscious on third downs and the Broncos can't get the Seahawks offense off of the field. Malcolm Smith's 69 yard interception return for a touchdown follows a Beast Mode 1 yard touchdown run and somehow, against all odds, the Seahawks lead the Greatest Offense of All-Time by a score of 22-0 in the Super Bowl.
After failing to convert on a crucial 4th down attempt, the Seahawks are content with walking to the locker rooms up 22. I run to the concourse and soon the pregame crew is back together, trying to make sense of what we just witnessed. Once we concluded that we weren't dreaming thanks to the loudest fireworks we've ever heard going off right near us, we tried to stay focused on the task at hand. A Super Bowl championship was just 30 minutes away and it was well within reach. This wasn't the time to gloat or to stop working. No, this instead was the time to fulfill our destiny! We confidently head back to our seats, knowing that nothing can stop us now. Not even the Greek Gods themselves.
And that's exactly what happened. Almost immediately upon returning to my seat, Percy Harvin brings everyone to their feet and grabs everyone's attention with an opening kickoff return for a touchdown to start the half! Bedlam ensues as random strangers high-five and hug one another. I am convinced at that moment that this is the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life. Much like the Seahawks on the field though, we still did not lose our focus in the stands. Even up 29-0 and then 36-0, everyone remained focused on the task at hand. Which was making as much noise as we possibly could, every time the Broncos had the ball or when the Seahawks scored or had big plays, and watching the Seahawks hoist the Lombardi Trophy. With every bone-jarring hit, the crowd grows more and more ravenous. The couple standing a few rows behind me wearing Broncos gear head for the exits early, although truth be told they were good sports about everything.
As fate would have it, also in attendance on this fine evening were Dale and Frenchie. Fittingly enough, they were also at the season opener in Charlotte. So we got to open the season together and we got to end it together. You couldn't ask for it any other way. I couldn't have even scripted this better if I tried.
Soon, as the clock continues to haunt the Broncos, the realization sets in that the Seattle Seahawks are about to be crowned Super Bowl Champions. And they deserved it and earned it. There's an elderly gentleman a row in front of me wearing an old school Seahawks Starter jacket. He tells me that he's been a fan since the team came into the league in 1976. I congratulate him on finally getting to witness this moment. He's giddy as a child and is the first person to give a high-five after any of the plethora of Seahawks big plays from this one. With the game no longer in any doubt after a masterful performance from one of the greatest defenses of all-time, I meet up with Greg and Eli and we head down to the lower level to check out the postgame ceremony. After some typical hassling from stadium security, who wouldn't even let Richard Sherman's father down on to the field at one point instead forcing him to go to Guest Services, we found a spot to watch the confetti rain and the Seahawks celebrate. The energy is fantastic and I think back to when I was at MetLife Stadium for Wrestlemania not too long ago. I thought of Russell Wilson being out on that field and hoisting the trophy as he looked to his father above in the heavens. It felt right. Now, here I was, witnessing it from only a few feet away.
Afterwards, the entire pregame crew gathered outside by the same Super Bowl XLVIII sign. Hysteria had definitely set in. You've never seen a happier group of people. The wait was finally over. This is what winning a Super Bowl felt like. I could get used to this, that's all I remember feeling. This felt like the way it should feel. As we rehashed every little minutia from the game the realization set in that this could never be taken away from us. These memories were ours forever. The Seahawks were champions.
Once again, the NJ Transit was a disaster heading back to the City. No way it was going to dampen our spirits though. A few hours later, we finally arrive at Carlow East to celebrate the biggest win of our lives. The place looks like the lovechild of New Years Eve and St. Patrick's Day at an Irish Pub. There isn't a care in the air, as beers flow all night to help commemorate the occasion. It's 4am and time to head home but I'm convinced that I don't ever want to sleep again. I guess that's something I have in common with Russell Wilson. After watching the Seahawks win it all at MetLife, I'm sure of the fact that it's activated a part of my brain that I'd never used before. Yeah, probably not, but it sure feels that way.
The next day, Leif and I rewatch the game with my roommates. The replay confirms what we had already suspected. The Broncos got absolutely dismantled. It was an exhibition in it's purest form, a clinic on how to play defense in the game of American Football. The tape of this game should be saved in a time capsule so that we can be sure to teach how to properly play NFL defense in the future. Back in NYC, a snowstorm was about to hit so Leif made it out to Las Vegas just in time. Now, I began to wonder if I would be able to make it out to Seattle for the parade. I had always told everyone all season that the season doesn't end in Jersey on February 2nd. It ends in Seattle at the parade!
It wasn't until Tuesday at 1PM that I decided to get on a 5PM plane headed first to San Francisco, and then to Portland. I would then take a bus from Portland to Seattle at 6AM and arrive in Seattle at 9 for the 11:00 parade. My flight, leaving out of Gate 12, was perfect but bus tickets had now sold out! When I arrived in San Francisco, ironically enough at Gate 66 (Welcome to Hell!), I was able to secure a flight from San Francisco to Seattle instead, so danger was averted. It meant spending the night in San Francisco dressed in all Seahawks gear, but nobody could take this moment from me. When I woke up, I hopped on my flight and arrived in Seattle at around 9. This, my 12th trip to Seattle on the season, would also be my last. It was a sort of slightly bitter, mostly sweet symphony considering the circumstances. I thought I'd breeze it downtown by way of the Light Rail but it turns out there was about a 2 hour line just to get from the Airport on to the Light Rail! This parade was going to be insane! Hell, it already was!
I wasn't about to fly out to Seattle for nothing though, so I jumped in a cab and paid the $45 to drive downtown instead. I'm glad I did. We got there quickly and I was right by CenturyLink. I headed to Temple Billiards and met some awesome people before I was set to meet up with my old friend Steve to get in to the Stadium for the stadium celebration. Unfortunately, due to all of the people, none of my calls or texts were going out or coming in, so I was in no man's land. Content with the fact that I was still amongst the masses for the parade, I was resigned to the fact that I probably wasn't going to be able to get in. Until I heard "David!" and turned around to see Eli standing a few feet away from me! Not only that, but he had an extra ticket for the celebration as well. Once again, Eli came through in the clutch phenomenally.
As we waited in the stadium for the players to arrive, we watched as Marshawn Lynch threw Skittles at fans and banged on a drum. We saw unbelievable shots of downtown Seattle that looked more like something you would have seen at Woodstock instead. This city was ready for a champion, this team delivered, and the city and the team's fans responded. Truly inspiring to be able to witness and be a part of something so great. After an amazing video that detailed every game on the season, the players began to enter on to the field for one last curtain call. As Russell Wilson walked on to the field, carrying the Lombardi Trophy, being sprayed with champagne by Marshawn Lynch, the place lost it's mind. What an awesome sight and I still had to rub my eyes to make sure this was still all really happening.
Steve, Jordan, Dom, and I had some beers at Temple afterwards as the city continued to party. We all spoke of how proud we were of the team, the coaches, Paul Allen, and the fans. We also spoke of the future and how this doesn't have to be the only Super Bowl that this team wins in the near future. If expectations were at an all-time high before this past season, what about next? Sure there are some question marks as far as free agency is concerned, but the core of the team remains under team control. The 2014/2015 season could end up being a bigger season than 2013/2014, if the team continues it's outstanding progression. Undefeated anyone? All I know is that if I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on a rePETE, that's for damn sure!
Finally though, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to call it a night and in affect, call it a season. As I walked near King Street Station headed for the Light Rail, I caught one last peak at CenturyLink Field. I had been pretty well kept together throughout the season, and especially after the Super Bowl, but it was here that I almost lost it. All the memories, great friends, and amazing games and experiences started to rush back to me. Rather than get down about it though, I dug deep, stayed strong, and kept going towards the airport and to my flight home. I eagerly asked myself one key question before my final journey back home from my home away from home.