Tuesday, March 4, 2014

One, Two Seahawk Thoughts

by Dan Cunneen

I have some serious issues with the NFL.

The National Football League makes billions of dollars every year and the league doesn’t pay any taxes. Because the NFL is considered a club or organization, they’re exempted from anti-trust laws as well.

Then there are the boatloads of taxpayer’s money that the team owners extort from cities in order to get public financing for stadiums.

The NFL also has a stupid rule that forbids cities or large groups from owning teams. (The publicly owned Green Bay Packers are the grandfathered exception.)

Not to mention the over the top military flyovers and the near constant “support the troops” jingoism at the games.

And of course, the game is way too violent.

All that said, you might think it’s odd that I was over the moon when Seattle Seahawk strong safety Kam Chancellor laid out Demaryius Thomas in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII, thus setting the tone for the Seahawk dismantling of the Denver Broncos.
In many ways I’m the typical latte-sipping liberal Seattleite that has voted for every tax hike and openly disparaged professional sports. The very idea of reading the sports page when I was in my twenties was as ridiculous as me checking the stock market. While it’s hard to remain immune to the lure of sport when it’s fairly shoved down your throat by the local media, the professional sports teams in the Pacific Northwest haven't exactly been championship caliber for some time.

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I had a pre-teen blush of NFL infatuation in the early 1970s. Since there was no Seattle team yet, my brother and I had a bitter rivalry over the San Francisco 49ers and the (then) Los Angeles Rams. My LA Rams replica helmet and team pillowcase lasted a couple years, but went away long before the Rams went to Missouri.

Fast forward to the Portland Trailblazers and their NBA championship win in 1977. Like other Portlanders, I watched the final game with excitement and then disappointment when CBS cut away from the on-court victory celebration to cover a golf match. Despite the Clyde Drexler years of the late 80s and early 90s, the Blazers have yet to win another championship.

I moved to Seattle in 1991 and within a few years came the Mariners and their all too short playoff run in 1995. Next up for the Ms was their record-tying 116-win season in 2001. That year, after defeating the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series, the Ms were kicked to the curb by the hated New York Yankees in the AL Championship series. No fan can ever forget those magical 1995 and 2001 seasons because the Mariners management won't let them.

There were the venerated Gary Payton-led Seattle Supersonics teams of the 90s, but with its seemingly prearranged outcomes and crooked referees, the NBA felt, to me anyway, like it was one step above the fraud of professional boxing. Besides, they’re in Oklahoma now.

We mustn’t forget the Storm, Seattle’s WNBA team that won two championships in 2008 and 2010. Perhaps unfairly, there will be a lasting asterisk next to the Storm’s impressive achievements indicating that the WNBA is not a “major” sport.

As a proud American, I cannot in good conscious consider Major League Soccer a major sport because opposing teams rarely even score a combined 5 points during the games.

This brings me to the Seattle Seahawks.

Founded in 1976 and originally majority owned by the Nordstrom family, the Seahawks had the typical ups and (mostly) downs of any young NFL team. Some respectable playoff runs in the 1980s followed by a dishonest owner’s attempt to move the team to Los Angeles in the dead of night in the 1990s.

A white knight in the guise of a billionaire Paul Allen rode to the rescue and bought the Seahawks in 1997. After forcing an election to implode the dated Seahawk’s home turf, the Kingdome, Allen and we taxpayers replaced it with a state of the art reverb chamber now called Century Link Field. A sprinkling of division championships followed in the early aughts, capped with a Super Bowl appearance in 2005. But, borrowing a page from the dubious NBA, the Seahawks lost that game to the Pittsburgh Steelers through an apparently predestined conclusion -- or as the Seahawk’s head coach Mike Holmgren put it, “I knew it was going to be tough going up against the Steelers. I didn’t know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well.” Although they could have, the NFL did not fine Holmgren for his remark.

Exit Holmgren and enter Pete Carroll in 2010. A former USC coach and national championship winner, Carroll was previously a two-time loser as a coach of the Jets and Patriots in the NFL. In Seattle, Carroll jettisoned his second-guessing and built the NFL team he wanted. Carroll’s approach was to make his players compete with each other on the field and allow his charges to let their freak flags fly off it. Carroll’s boyish 62 year’s young enthusiasm rained down on the team like so many of star running back Marshawn Lynch’s trademark Skittles. Carroll’s detractors said his college style wouldn’t work in the NFL. They were wrong of course. With their Super Bowl win the Seattle Seahawks have finally brought a NFL championship to this long starved city.

The current crop of Seahawks bandwagon jumpers – of which I am a happy member – surely swelled at the end of the 2012 season. A win against the Washington Racists in the Wild Card round of the playoffs that year brought the Seahawks to Atlanta for the NFC divisional game on January 13, 2013. After a being down by 20 points in the 3rd quarter, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led the team back to a 2 point lead, only to be thwarted by a Falcon field goal in the final seconds of the game.

I was watching that game with some friends in downtown Seattle at the now shuttered “Fox Sports Grill” (where I half expected the server to ask for my birth certificate or green card to confirm that I was an American citizen before I would be served). After some brief dejection following the loss, I thought to myself “I can't wait for next year.” Apparently I was not alone. The anticipation for the 2013 season seemed universal in the Pacific Northwest.

During the off-season, the local media religiously kept up with the Seahawks personnel moves. Of particular note was the acquisition of Percy Harvin, the fastest man in the NFL, for the princely sum of 67 million dollars. This purchase made a nasty dent in the team’s NFL’s parity producing salary cap (socialists!). But since the team was built on a well vetted group of lovable misfits consisting of castaways, unrestricted free agents, overlooked draft choices, the boys in the front office had the room. With their coach’s guidance, the Seahawk players, with their high-round, low respect “boulder on my shoulder” attitude, would embitter themselves to greatness.

Two great and contrary examples of that spirit are quarterback Russell Wilson and cornerback Richard Sherman.

Wilson, a third round draft choice out of Wisconsin was passed over in early rounds because, at just under 5’ 11”, he was considered a veritable little-person. In time Wilson won the starting job over a higher priced veteran and soon endeared himself to the fans with his on-field play and his old-fashioned off the field antics.

You don’t have to have pink skin to be white-bread and Russell Wilson is a fine case in point. As soon as he hit town (after first finding a place to live) Wilson looked for a hospital to regularly visit in order to cheer up the kids. (“I spent a lot of time in hospitals when my Dad was sick, so I’m comfortable in them,” he said.) While his do-gooding is plainly the real deal, I do have a slight problem with Wilson’s overt Christianity.

I know that turning people on to how awesome it is being a Christian is one of the prime directives of the religion, but Wilson is just a King James shy of Tim Tebow in wearing Jesus on his jersey. Not only have I seen Wilson knelt in prayer on the field before a game (with opposing players no less!); I have heard him thank God for his wins too many times to count this season.

Forgive me as I digress (and if you’ve heard this line before), but if Jesus wanted Wilson and The Seahawks to win the Super Bowl, did he want the Denver Broncos to lose? Did Peyton Manning have impure thoughts the night before the big game that led to his shitty performance? Or, taking this silliness to the next conclusion, were the Broncos in league with Satan?

The Monday after the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win, Wilson was interviewed on The Late Show with David Letterman. Engaging, inspiring and funny, Wilson did quite well. But the whole time I was anxiously waiting with trepidation for him to drop another G-bomb. (He didn’t, thank God.) Then on that Wednesday there was the victory parade through downtown Seattle followed by a packed rally at Century Link Field. I heard the festivities live on the radio and again waited for Wilson to wax prophetically about the help Jesus had given him. Mercifully there was no mention of Jesus (or his dad) during Wilson’s speech. Maybe someone clued Russell to the fact that even some Christians are squeamish about religion.

Unfortunately before Wilson hit the podium, Seahawks General Manager John Schneider did bring up the guy in the sky during his speech. The first words out of his mouth were a throaty “God is great!” Where the fuck are we, Saudi Arabia? To be clear, I no more want to know your choice of religion than I want to know your mother’s favorite sexual position. Let’s just keep it to ourselves, shall we? We’ll all be better for it.

Plainly Wilson isn’t one of the snake-handling Neanderthal “the Earth is 5000 years old” weirdos though. He’s more of an open-minded urban mega-church “gospel of success” type of Christian. To his great credit, Wilson even praised Michael Sam for his courage to come out as gay before the NFL draft. “When I step into the huddle for the Seattle Seahawks on game day,” Wilson said, “I’m not worried if a guy’s white, black, if he’s Christian or Jewish, or whatever the situation is — where he came from. The only thing we’re focused on is winning football games.”

So I quibble. Russell Wilson is a great athlete, a great leader and he genuinely seems like a good guy. I won’t hold the tenets of his religion against him. But you can be sure that if Wilson played for the San Francisco 49ers I would. (By the way, Colin Kaepernick is a brainless punk.)

In the other corner stands cornerback Richard Sherman. Brash, cocky and chippy (NFL-speak for a trash talker), Sherman went from straight outta Compton to straight A’s at Stanford, and then ended up going in the 5th round in the 2011 NFL draft -- much to his chagrin. His NFC Championship game winning play and post-game rant broadcasted his special brand of magnetism to a much wider audience.

When I first saw Sherman’s boastful tirade, I thought, “Uh oh.” I guess he and the Seahawks public relations staff did too. Almost immediately we were told about Sherman’s charity work and his rags to riches story. Sherman was then dutifully marched out for interviews and, no surprise to any Seahawk fan, he nailed every one. It doesn’t hurt when you’re as charming, smart and handsome as Richard Sherman. Within a couple days Sherman and the Seahawks PR flacks had spun the rant into pure gold and created an even shinier star.

The Seahawks have a bad-ass team with real character. They’ve even made watching defense fun. They actually seem like a family – albeit one great big mercenary family. Sure, there isn’t an actual seahawk in nature, but even their uniforms are cool. Face it, you and I both know the Seahawks are fucking awesome.

I really struggle with that though.

Why should I care about a team consisting of just one player from the Puget Sound area? (Jermaine Kearse, Lakewood, Washington) For that matter, why should I care if a bunch of rich guys win a giant gaudy ring? Whenever I nervously watch a close Seahawks game, I have to stop and ask myself, “Why am I so worried about this fucking game?” I am not a gambler (or a co-owner of the team), so I have no financial stake in the outcome. As a taxpaying citizen of the City of Seattle, I didn’t receive a check or tax credit when they won the Super Bowl, so why do I care? Where does this hometown cheer-leading come from?

Living in South Alaska, it’s easy to forget just how far away we are from the media centers of the east coast and California. (Just look at a map!) We just don’t get that much attention up here. Hailing from Portland, just about the only attention we received on the evening news was the occasional ice storm or mass murder, but every city has those (mass murders I mean).

I think that’s why I follow local sports teams. I just get a kick out of seeing my town’s name up in lights, mentioned on the news, or in a joke in Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue. For me it isn’t really that the city I live in is better than an opposing city’s team. I just like to see me town get a little respect, ya know? I am not one of those fans that hates on teams from other cities – except the San Francisco 49ers.

I’m pretty cynical by nature, so a lot of this rah-rah hoopla stuff is foreign to me. Even though it tasted strange at first, I ended up drinking the Seahawks blue Kool-Aid by the bucketful this year. I looked forward to every game and (briefly) lamented each loss. I even started reading the sports page. In addition, by the tail end of the season I ended up listening to sports radio. (Blue 42 with Brock Huard and Danny O'Neil on 710 ESPN is my favorite show.) Most amazingly, I actually punctuated several conversations with complete strangers by saying “Go Hawks,” -- much like a Hawaiian would say “Aloha.” My Seahawk love affair was finally complete when I bought a lime green throwback stocking cap on EBay.

The 2013 Seahawk season lived up to all the hype and expectations of course. The lopsided Super Bowl win -- which I guarantee you, no Seattle Seahawk fan thought was boring -- culminated in an estimated 700,000 fans streaming into downtown Seattle for the victory parade on a cold sunny Wednesday in February.

On the morning of the parade I got on the bus for my regular commute into downtown Seattle and noticed a lot more people than usual. At one of the stops a working-class mom and her three sons got on the bus with bustling excitement. As the bus continued to fill up, the boys would call out “Go Hawks!” to the many riders sporting Seahawk colors. A professional looking couple in their late-twenties sat directly across from the family and since they were both wearing the blue and green, they got some conversation along with their salutation. One of the boys asked the couple if they were going to the parade, “He is,” she said with a smile, pointing to her man, “But I have to go to work today.” The mom made no bones about keeping her kids home from school. “This is a once in a lifetime thing,” she said and no one disagreed.

Soon the conversation turned to the Seattle Public Schools. The mom started talking about the ever-changing school starting times for her kids. The young woman sitting across from the mom was sympathetic. With just a tender whiff of indiscretion, the mom then asked if the couple had children. The woman perked up and gleefully announced that she just found out she was pregnant. We all heard this of course and a hearty round of congratulations promptly sprang up from everyone within earshot.

What had begun as three scruffy kids rallying support for their team ended with total strangers on a bus sharing the joy of childbirth. Yeah, I still have some serious issues with the NFL, but it's not so bad.

Go Hawks!

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