I don't know about the rest of you, wait, I think do... but the bye week was absolutely brutal for me, as I'm sure it was for you as well if you're reading this. After having watched our Seattle Seahawks soar to incredible new heights 11 weeks in a row since the beginning of September, we were forced to lay off the Blue and Green stuff cold turkey. When you wake up to the poster pictured above, it's kind of hard to just take a week off when things are in full swing and going greater than they ever have before. In years prior, I would have driven myself crazy by this point, probably because I would be watching the rest of the games around the league and hoping for various scenarios to play out in the Seahawks favor. I didn't have to do that this past bye week, but that doesn't mean the week was any less of a struggle.
With the 'Hawks off from work for a bit, I decided to do the exact opposite. I needed to work as much as possible in order to be able to live this dream and to continue to make it reality. So that's exactly what I did. During the bye week and the week leading up to the Saints game, all I did was work. That's no different from anyone else though, Seahawks fans tend to be a hard working and talented lot, so I'll keep the work horror stories to a minimum. Just know that I spent way too much time there for my own sanity, as I'm sure you have in the past.
So when one of the most mentally draining weeks of my life was finally over and it was time to fly out to Seattle on Monday morning for the biggest game of the season, there appeared to be a light flickering at the end of the tunnel. Despite the suspension of Walter Thurmond III and the possible suspension of Brandon Browner, I was still feeling extremely confident about this game. Back home, friends and family warned me that they thought it would be a hell of game. A nail-biter 'til the very end. I thought differently. This game was reminding me of the 49ers game on Sunday Night last season. Analysts and fans around the league alike were expecting an incredibly hard-fought battle between two of the best teams in the NFC West. What they got instead was to bear witness to one of the NFL's "glory franchises" being eviscerated on national television with no white flag from Tony "Duke" Evers in sight.
With a date with Monday Night Football in sight, I cabbed it up from my place in Brooklyn to JFK. I only mention it because my cab driver was absolutely topnotch. The dude was unflappable and efficient, and even told me a story about how he once had to stop in the middle of the road to protect a guy from getting run over by traffic. When he got to the guy, he realized that the dude had actually been stabbed by someone and thrown into the road. That kind of story will grab your attention, especially at 4:30 in the morning.
After the usual dreadful trudge through airport security (yes, they let me through) I was on my way to Phoenix on the first leg of my trip. I had wondered all week if my unbelievably good luck with flights would continue and it did as everything went smoothly. Then, fingers crossed, it was on to Seattle from Phoenix. As David Bowie once said, "somebody up there likes me", as that flight went as planned also. It was 1:30 PM and the $797 I threw down on plane tickets was not all for nothing. I was at Sea-Tac and the finish line was finally in sight. 2 weeks of work and 10 hours of travel was now finally in the rear-view mirror. A special thanks goes out to my girlfriend for putting up with the insanity that was the past 2 weeks and being supportive throughout.
I head downtown on the Light Rail, the next destination being International District/Chinatown, for the pregame ritual at Temple Billiards with my fellow 12th Man and .Net brethren alike. The vibes emanating from King St. and Occidental are already intoxicating. I'm high on life as I walk proudly through the streets, basking in the glory that is Seattle on Game Day. 'Since I've Been Loving You' by Led Zeppelin is blasting on my headphones, and I can't turn off Zeppelin mid-song because that's a sin, so I wait for the song to finish before heading in to Temple.
Familiar faces everywhere, and everywhere everyone is wearing a smile. Damon, Dave, It's a party atmosphere from the minute I step in the door, far removed from the feeling you'd expect to feel before such a huge game against such a great opponent. Not even the slightest hint of fear or shaky nerves exist, just people having a good time because they know that their squad will rise to the occasion. Oh, so this is what being elite feels like? You'll have to excuse me, I'm not quite used to it yet, but I think I got this!
I meet 3 12's from North Dakota. They've made the trek out for their annual pilgrimage to our version of Mecca. It's an annual tradition they've created to get closer to their team. When they're not in Seattle, they're back home watching in the Seahawks man cave that one of the guys has turned his basement into. One of the guys, whose name sadly escapes me at the moment (if you're out there, say hey, you know who you are), tells me that he might be stuck in Seattle for a few days because of the blizzard that was sweeping parts of Idaho, Colorado, and the Dakotas. He doesn't care though, he just wants the Seahawks to beat the Saints. He generously buys me a beer and we exchange stories of traveling to 'Hawks games over the years. Nothing beats these moments.
The trio heads to the game ready for what the night has in store for them. I head over to the crew of usual suspects. Todd and Jordan are holding it down and there's cameos from old friends Jon, Bart, Steve, and even Walt from back in New York! The agony of a grueling work week no longer exists in any way, shape, or form. It's then that I know that I'm still on the right course. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be at that moment in time.
All of these people hold a special place in my heart. From giving me a place to crash in Arizona like Steve did, or even insisting that I take the cash he was giving me like Bart, I can't say enough about my fellow Seahawk brethren. This week, I was meeting my friend Jon from back in New Jersey. Jon used to own season tickets and he was able to acquire some tickets for a beyond reasonable price. We met at Carlow East last season before the Seahawks/49ers game on Sunday Night Football and kept in touch over the offseason, discussing big happenings from the PNW and life in general. We share the rare East Coast 12 bond, so it was great to finally be able to watch a game together in person. And not just any game, but the game of the season.
Russell Wilson would have been proud to see what happened next. Jon gave me my ticket and wouldn't let me pay for it. He said that "he wanted to be a part of this." An unbelievable gesture that sums up the type of person that he is in a nutshell. No doubt that I will have to hawk it forward in the future after receiving such a generous gift.
We down some Jameson for the occasion and then meet up with Steve and his son Zack to head down to the CLink for the game. Just good people all around ready to watch their team kick some ass. Blue Thunder finishes their usual rocking of Temple, and we head down to Touchdown City. First, Steve buys everyone hot dogs like the champ he is. We all get the Largent Dog and for the first time ever, I try a hot dog with cream cheese on it. I'm all about crazy stuff like that, as my hair situation would suggest, so I wasn't too surprised when I discovered that it's one of the greatest things I've never experienced before.
The first thing we see upon entering Touchdown City is Seahawks legend Walter Jones. He's just sitting there, signing autographs. The line around him isn't even as enormous as you might think it'd be, probably because it was about 50 minutes from kickoff and everyone was likely heading inside to player intros. We all remark that he looks like he could still go out there and suit up today and be a monster. We tell him he's the greatest of all-time, and that we'll see him in Canton, and we part ways as it's time to head to our seats. A special thanks to Steve for the $20 he slipped me for beers for Jon and I. If you're reading Steve, you're the man!
Before I start running the risk of sounding like a weepy Dick Vermeil over here (if I haven't crossed that line already up to this point), it was time for business. All the blood , sweat, and tears that the Seahawks and the 12th Man had endured during the bye week were for the moment that was now upon us. Finally, kickoff was here! Hell, even before player intro's you could tell that the 12th Man was in rare form and ready for blood. As Steven Hauschka got set to kick, everyone wondered who would be the one raising the 12th Man flag. Which Seahawks luminary had been chosen by the powers that be that decide these types of things to sound the opening to what was hopefully to be a memorable performance from the home side. Names such as Mike Holmgren, Walter Jones, and even Leonard Weaver (no wait, that was just Jon asking why there wasn't a Leonard Weaver dog at the hot dog stand) were brandied about as possibilities.
Of course, the Seattle Seahawks do things differently. Let this be a small yet prime example. Out comes Fred Couples to raise the flag and bring everyone to their feets. The ultimate curveball and one that Felix Hernandez would certainly respect. And boom, the crowd goes wild! Don't get me wrong, Fred Couples is one of the great Washington state athletes of this era. I just didn't think we'd see him raising the 12th Man Flag before the Monday Nighter against Drew Brees and company.
This was my 2nd Seahawks Monday Nighter, the first being a 42-0 laugher against the Eagles in Philly nearly 8 years prior to the date. Man, time flies. That game was never in any doubt and all week I had a funny feeling that this one wouldn't be either. After Steven Hauschka's opening kickoff sailed through the end zone and the Saints were shut down on their opening drive, me and everyone else wearing blue or green in that stadium's confidence grew. The offense did it's part by leading a solid drive to open the scoring.
Then, with the Saints offense sputtering, Drew Brees faced a 3rd down that he and his offense needed in order to quell the momentum that was brewing inside the building. Instead, he fueled the fire when his arm was hit by Cliff Avril forcing the fumble that landed perfectly in Michael Bennett's hands. Two of Seattle's biggest off-season acquisitions (Such good additions in fact, that I almost forgot to mention that Percy Harvin was scratched from this one, but you knew that already) combining to create an emphatic play on defense. Bennett followed the lead block of Jeremy Lane in to the end zone and the crowd went absolutely ballistic! So insane that we took our Guinness record back from Kansas City within minutes of the game starting. The Saints fans sitting around us look stunned. This was not how this was supposed to start!
Only, that was just what it was for them. The start. It would get worse, much worse. As the rain began to fall, almost as if the Gods knew it was Monday Night Football and the Seahawks were playing so rain was a must, the Saints spirits fell with it. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans' outstanding tight end who dominates mostly all, suffered the same fate as Jason Witten and Vernon Davis before him. An early big hit to jar a ball loose that surely gave them a case of alligator arms for who knows how long after. New Orleans was getting buried by the avalanche, and even when they did things right and scored a touchdown to make it 17-7, Jimmy Graham had to go and dunk the ball through the goal posts and go rile up the Seahawks defense and the home crowd even more. That's just not smart, Jimmy!
The Seahawks, on this night, were a freight train barreling through a sleepy town in the Bayou, and the Saints were a beat-up pickup truck that was stuck on the tracks. There was just nothing the Saints could do to get out of the way and before they knew it, it was too late. Russell Wilson made outstanding play after outstanding play. Picking up blitzes with ease, making passes with his mouth guard still in his hand, and just being an all-around wizard. The force is strong in this one, that much is known and has been known by us all for a while, even if the dreaded national media is just now catching on.
What was most impressive about this one was that everyone was making plays. Byron Maxwell was outstanding, KJ Wright was phenomenal as well. Darrell Bevell, to his credit, called a masterful game and seemed to put together a better gameplan than even the great Sean Payton was able to. Everything was coming up Seahawks, despite the absence of their secret weapon, #11. The atmosphere in the stands was that of a party, much like it was before the game, further proof that when this team and it's fans work as one, magical things tend to happen.
After sitting through the entire beat down and and witnessing the utter humiliation that the Seahawks had dished out, it was time to celebrate! High fives are everywhere and Saints fans dejectedly hang their heads in shame. What we had all witnessed was not a game, it was the systematic destruction of one of the NFL's best teams. They were torn to pieces by the Kings of the Jungle and left there for the Buzzards and Hyenas. All that's left now is for the Panthers to finish off the rest.
The group from earlier reconvened at Temple afterwards. We had told one another that, if things went well, we'd meet up for a drink (or 3) to celebrate. If not, well, we'd all understand. Luckily, we didn't have to cross that bridge. We told tales of the Seahawks greatness and wondered about the amazing possibilities of the future. Anything seemed possible at that moment in time when it came to the Seahawks and that feeling has still not washed away. Now, it's time to go to San Francisco and keep that feeling alive in what is a very important ball game and one that will have both teams chomping at the bit all week as they prepare for it. There is no love lost here, not between the players, coaches, or the fans.
After the festivities at Temple died down, Jordan and I decided to hit up a bar in Pioneer Square called "The New Orleans", just for fun. Saints fans truly are a great lot, for the most part. Despite the shellacking, most were in great spirits, drinking and dancing the night away without a worry in the world. The way life should be if I were to be idealistic for a minute there. We took in the atmosphere and even got to watch a monster of a man, I'm guessing 6'5 and 260 pounds, knock right out and crash in to a table. He was out cold for a minute before finally getting up like nothing had happened. It took 3 or 4 grown men to help get the guy back up and on his feet. He was surely drunk from excitement. Yeah, that was it.
And just like that, as if my body had run out of adrenaline, I fell right asleep once Jordan and I got on the bus to Ballard. Down I went, as well as a hot dog bun from 7-11, and I would have fallen straight out of my seat if not for the handrail breaking my fall and almost my face. I was exhausted and could take no more. I tried staying awake to watch the replay of the game to get another look at the beauty, but I was no match for the jet lag. The next morning though, I woke up and watched the game in it's entirety, as well as the talking heads trying to pick up pieces of their dignity that had been blown to smithereens over the course of the night. Trent Dilfer playing both sides of the fence and now talking about how great the Seahawks are, Ray Lewis calling Marshawn "Marshel Lynch", and Stuart Scott still referring to the Seahawks as a team that "struggles on the road." You know, the usual that we've come to expect as Seattle fans. All I could do was laugh because none of that matters. What matters is that Seattle is 11-1 and the best team in the NFC, without a doubt.
My flight home to JFK wasn't until Wednesday, so I had a day to hang around Seattle and bask in the taste of sweet victory. As I walked past bars and restaurants, all of the TV's were set to ESPN and the NFL Network, with highlights of Michael Bennett and Russell Wilson playing everywhere. There wasn't a place in the world I'd rather be. I headed to Pike Place Market, bought some things for my girlfriend and my little sister, and headed down to Temple to catch a Happy Hour before heading to Sea-Tac for the night. There, I got to talk Sounders with Steve and Rob, two of the main guys behind the Emerald City Supporters. It was interesting change of pace after having nothing but Football Americano on the brain. The lasting impression I got was that people from Seattle, no matter which team they support, are some passionate and dedicated people and the teams of the city are lucky to have their support. It was a nice way to wind down my stay in my home away from home.
And just like that, all good things must come to an end. I hopped on the last Light Rail headed to the Airport for the day and prepared to spend the night there before hopping on my flight early the next morning. Not the comfiest of confines, but who cares, and I'm used to it by now. I woke up and took the same route home that I had taken to get there. First stop in Phoenix, with the next one being JFK. It's funny, the flights don't feel as long or as grueling when it's after a win. Luckily, that's happened quite a lot this season so far. Not so lucky if you're the Saints, who hilariously had their plane break down and were forced to spend some extra unwanted time in Seattle. Apparently, they struggled to even find hotel rooms for their players. Can you imagine Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham trying to share a bed, stealing the covers from one another before Brees finally audibles and tells Graham that Jimmy will now be sleeping on the floor? I can, and it's hilarious!
On my way home I sat next to a gentleman named John who worked for the airlines. We had a good chat about football in general, he mentioned that he's a Bruce Irvin fan because he's a Mountaineer and he loved Bruce during his time there. A Bruce Irvin fan is always fine by me. That guy has gone through a lot to get to where he's at right now. This man, upon hearing about my journey, then told me about how he had some extra buddy passes that his wife and daughter hadn't used that he'd love to give to me so that they "go to good use." We'll see what happens with that, but even for him to so much as make the gesture is pretty cool in my book. He owes me nothing, so I expect nothing from him, as the great conversation helped make the plane ride feel much quicker.
I finally made it home at around midnight to a hero's welcome from my girlfriend and one of my roommates. It felt good to be home, but it felt even better to be 11-1. What can I say, life is pretty great right now. With the 49ers game in the distance but appearing closer and closer by the second, all I have to say is, who's got it better than us?