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100 Things Seahawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By John Morgan
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 John Morgan
All rights reserved.
The Russell Wilson Era
"Remember when" is the lowest form of conversation.
— Tony Soprano
Nothing's so morbid as nostalgia. Nothing cheapens now like constantly comparing the hot instantaneous to the baby blue confabulations of the past. Now Seahawks fans are luckier than most to have been so cursed, blighted, beaten up, and deprived. Entering the 2013 season, the twin peaks of Seahawks fandom were Laura and Maddy: massacred by an inhuman monster (the Raiders playing "Bob") in the 1983 AFC Championship Game and suspiciously wrapped by plot convenience in Super Bowl XL. This legacy is an acquired taste. Very Seattle.
There's no anchor in the past to cheapen by comparison the future, no perfect season or Steel Curtain Defense, no Bill Walsh, Bart Starr, no moldering glory days to haunt this franchise. I've a friend who relates with grief the day his voice changed. His life is a series of irretrievable losses. Say what you will about a Kurt Cobain childhood, it smothers nostalgia in the crib. Seahawks fans are optimists. Seahawks fans are futurists. They haven't a choice. First quarter in the roll or last in the pocket, this next will be their high score.
But a few years ago, during the ruinous transition from Mike Holmgren to Jim L. Mora, from the 16 megapixel photos of pinpoint slants and off-tackle run blocking as delicate as ballet to another early morning sprint up Tiger Mountain, from passing glory teased but never quite achieved to the mortal threat of incompetence with tenure.
A screaming comes across the sky
— Thomas Pynchon
Named Russell Wilson. First, though ...
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
— The Grateful Dead
During the winter of 2009, the Seahawks cleaned house, disposing both what was dear (Matt Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu, and Walter Jones) and what had rotted deep in the crisper drawer (Jim L. Mora, Tim Ruskell's stuff). For the second time in his role as team owner, Paul Allen put a dent in that towering vat of gold doubloons he swims in and spits out, all artfully (arcfully even) from his yellow duckbill and hired a big, fancy, high name-value head coach. This time it was Pete Carroll. Someone described Allen and Carroll's arrangement as Allen providing Carroll with a golden parachute. Impending and soon to be very severe sanctions were hanging over Carroll's former employer, the USC athletics program. A promotion and a pay raise is a nice way to jump ship. It's ridiculous how little I care about that today and yet how funny it still is.
Carroll developed a highly specialized defense, Carroll redacted those clauses in the Seahawks player acquisition manual which emphasized duty, rectitude, and Christianity, and scribbled in talent, talent, and talent.
But the team didn't really take off. It finished 2010 7–9 with an improbable and spirited playoff run. It finished 2011 7–9 with one Tarvaris Jackson starting at quarterback. (Two Tarvaris Jacksons, standing too close, are known to cause a singularity.) Carroll had stumbled into the same trap of their own making defensive-minded head coaches so often stumble into: he could build a great defense, but because of that great defense, his teams were too good to finish with a bad enough record to select a franchise quarterback. And, it seemed, his talent evaluation was not keen enough to find that franchise quarterback by some other means. See: every quarterback pre-Wilson.
This is hardly a new story. Since the turn of the millennium, 11 of the 14 Super Bowl champions have been defense-first teams. And those teams were all gifted an improbable talent at quarterback. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco were selected at 11 and 18, respectively. New York landed Eli Manning after Manning refused to play in San Diego. (That trade, by the by, landed the Chargers Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, and Nate Kaeding.) The Tampa Bay Bucs traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and eight million smackeroos for Jon Gruden and his amazing powers of quarterback necromancy. Brad Johnson went from Brad Johnson to Super Bowl champion Brad Johnson because of Gruden's unholy arts.
But how? How would Seattle beat the system? How would Carroll overcome this Chinese finger trap — by pulling harder? Surely by pulling harder. No. This would require subtlety. Some ability to see an inefficiency, talent where others saw only limitation. This would require some football taboo being broken. This would require new ideas, a new way of seeing the gridiron, a keen sense of what really and truly makes a great quarterback great.
This would require Matt Flynn.
A fluttering whirs incomplete.
Seattle signed Flynn to be their starting quarterback March 18, 2012.
A screaming comes across the sky.
And six weeks later drafted one Russell Wilson.
There's much in the rest of this book about what exactly Russell Wilson the player is, and there's more than enough choking the media about who exactly Russell Wilson the person may be. But let me explain why I call this, beginning in 2012 and extending onward to some time not yet known, the Russell Wilson Era.
The most valuable baseball player of all time is, you guessed it, Frank Stallone. That is to say, Babe Ruth. At his peak, Ruth was worth about 13 wins a season. That's about 1/12 of a baseball season. Absurdly valuable but not enough alone to make the Yankees consistent World Series champions. Baseball's like that. According to three different methods picked because value in basketball is still somewhat controversial in its determination, LeBron James peaked at 20–30 wins. That is a quarter to more than one- third of a season, and this is why having a player like James or Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or Larry Bird or Bill Russell, etc. is pretty much a guarantee of contention and, most likely, of one day winning a championship. Not always, but probably.
Football stats do not allow for this kind of precision, but a quick analysis by statistician Brian Burke allows us to ballpark the value of someone like Russell Wilson. Comparing Aaron Rodgers and his longtime backup Flynn, and using the simple metric of adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) (which is: yards + 10 x TDs) + (-45 x INTs / attempts), Burke determined Rodgers was worth about four wins more than Flynn. Flynn may or may not be "replacement value," but he's close enough for our purposes. That, too, is a quarter season's worth of wins. (And if Flynn is above replacement value, which he very well may be — no shame in losing out to Russell Wilson — Rodgers too may be worth five or more wins, a third of a season!)
Which is to say should Wilson eventually develop the kind of value of Rodgers, Seattle has its very first MJ: that player so incredibly valuable, he alone makes his team a perennial contender. Were he paid a baseball-equivalent wage ($5 million to $6 million per win above replacement and those wins one of 162), Wilson would be worth $200 million to $300 million a season. Maybe you think that's crazy. The Seahawks franchise was valued by Forbes at $1.08 billion, which is why a great player is often called "the Franchise." Four wins take a below-average team and lets it squeak into the playoffs. Four wins take an average team and turns it into a potential No. 1 seed. Four wins take an above-average team and turns it into a young dynasty.CHAPTER 2
Your 2013 Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks
I fell back first to the couch, rapt in maniacal laughter. It was over. It was over. It wasn't over, but it was all over but the crying. The discouraged tears of the crushed. The sweet sadness and relief of the victorious. The Seattle Seahawks would be Super Bowl champions. The Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl champions. The Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl champions but for 34 minutes of play clock. The Seattle Seahawks, my Seattle Seahawks, our Seattle Seahawks, the city of Seattle's often embarrassing, ever discouraging, always hope inspiring, Seahawks would become the 48th Super Bowl champions.
Seattle wouldn't win a great Super Bowl. Not a Super Bowl for the ages. The Seahawks would not win on a last-minute drive or by preventing a fourth-quarter score. There would be no iconic tackle, catch, or fumble. The Seattle Seahawks would score on a safety 12 seconds into Super Bowl XLVIII, the earliest score in Super Bowl history, and never relinquish that lead. No team in Super Bowl history had ever beaten a team so quickly as Seattle beat the Denver Broncos.
It was a blowout.
The blowout is all that is right and good in sport — not because we seek blowouts, not because a closely fought, last-second win would not have been more exciting, more engaging throughout, better for Denver fans, better for neutral fans, but because without the blowout, the late rally that comes up short, the grinding affair that's close but boring without the possibility that our expectations can be disappointed, our expectations cannot be fulfilled.
The blowout is dangerous. The blowout is radical. The blowout is Bambi starving after his mother dies. The blowout is Luke missing the exhaust port. The blowout is Walter White succeeding, surviving, and living happily with his family, unpunished by the angry hand of his creator, a living testament to the earthly triumph of evil. The blowout is casting a 12-year-old in the role of Lolita. It doesn't pre-screen its results or seek approval from its producers. It doesn't negotiate with Peyton Manning's agent. It's not approved for younger audiences. It begins. It progresses. It becomes Cinderella for one, Kafka for the other.
Oh oh oh, except one slight detail, one little deviation — Kafka starts low and bottoms out almost immediately. There's almost mercy in Gregor dying, eh? There's no flatline, no variations on a theme of otherwise undifferentiated suffering. No toying, no bullying, no sadistic but sanitary, safe-word forgotten, period of divine domination. Nope. Nope.
We need to win and be beaten. We need, even experienced vicariously, the sensation of glory, of having our hearts ripped out, and desolation, and piqued hopes dashed, and damn right that surge of hope answered — our hopes fulfilled! But were every win or loss close and down-to-the-wire and decided at or near the final play, it would quickly become tedious and stagey and render most of the game irrelevant. No we need the purifying blast of a whoopin.' Given or received and Lo! these are Pete Carroll's Seahawks: given.
As little by little all is swallowed by some corporate entity, and the regressing pull of the mean renders sensitivity and true oddness and sophistication taboo, sport defies the market-driven need for all to be content and no one happy.
So the Seahawks won. The Seahawks won! And many were disappointed. Many a Super Bowl Sunday was ruined. There would be no "The Catch." But I gotta think, I gotta, gotta think Seahawks fans wouldn't have it any other way. It was fun. It exorcised the demon of XL. It was unique and fair — a true battle of skill and talent versus immeasurably greater skill and talent. Even perhaps the beginning of a dynasty — who knows? But most of all, it was ours. It was this team, our guys, whooping Broncos ass for 60 minutes without a second of letup, until that Lombardi Trophy couldn't be torn away by ten Bill Leavys and a black hole.CHAPTER 3
Blue Hypergiant: Walter Jones
A star floods space with photons. Stars of sufficient luminosity and that are sufficiently close can be seen, some even in the tangerine and mauve of the sky above the urbs. The closest visible star in the night sky, Alpha Centauri, is 4.37 light-years away. For us to be able to see Alpha Centauri, it must put out photons in every direction, filling a theoretical sphere 2,054,976,356,000,000,000,000,000 square miles in volume. And despite the vast amount of space traveled and the incomprehensibly vast amount of space infiltrated by Alpha Centauris light, the star is then only visible to the naked eye if it is sufficiently bright. Those photons, over four years old, emanating from a giant but relatively small point 25.7 trillion miles away and growing ever more diffuse as the tiniest divergences in angle are magnified billions of miles by billions of miles, had to have been so numerous, so densely packed, as they emanated from that distant star (stars, actually), to be spread across the cosmos yet still sufficiently dense to be seen from Earth.
The modern usage of "star" to mean "lead actor, singer, etc." originated in 1824, 14 years before Friedrich Bessel first measured the actual distance of a star from Earth. It's not hard to understand the intended analogy. But as the word becomes steeped in cliché, cheapened by overuse, and the once strikingly apt metaphor is forgotten, and "star" becomes synonymous with celebrity, it has become easy to forget what it means to be a star. It is an incomparable acknowledgment of magnificence, significance, and grandeur.
A pop celebrity like Justin Bieber is not a star. A better analogy would be: Bieber is a virus. He is a terrestrial phenomenon. Of the set of all people that know of Bieber, the subset of people that know and like Bieber is dwarfed by the subset of people that know and dislike or just don't care about Bieber.
Walter Jones is a star. While everyone that knows of Jones may not equally appreciate his extreme luminosity, few could ever dislike him. He achieved his status not through infiltrating the memories of the unsuspecting and adulterating normal human impulses for his own gain but by simply doing his job well. Doing his job with such grace and power, such proficiency and ease that it was something to behold. Somewhere on some Earth-like exoplanet, the light from his 2004 season is just reaching the eyes of some barely sentient race. And they are awed.
Jones spent two seasons at Holmes Community College in Mississippi before transferring to Florida State. There are people that call themselves "humble" and there are the truly humble, who carry the foundering insecurity of rejection and the scars of their hard-scrabble ascension for the rest of their lives. In his acceptance speech for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jones said he wanted to make it into the NFL to "play in this game to say I could play in this game." That's humble.
Jones only played one season of Division I football. Typically, that makes a player seem risky. No analysis I know of has ever tested the supposed risky versus safe distinction assigned to NFL Draft prospects and so I am most dubious. Aaron Curry, for instance, was said to be safer than Ralph Nader's car, a real surefire talent. Some players bust. Curry combusted. But whatever the truth, the semblance of risk still seems to matter to decision makers. And safer talents like Mike Williams are drafted higher than head-cases like Randy Moss.
Luckily for Seattle, Dennis Erickson, Randy Mueller, and Bob Whitsitt were interested in big action and bold moves. And Jones was proving himself a workout warrior. He ran a 4.75-second 40 at the 1997 NFL Combine. That became a kind of suffix. He wasn't the best offensive tackle of his class. That was Orlando Pace, who went first overall to the St. Louis Rams. That designation of second-best became a kind of prefix. Second-best left tackle prospect, Walter Jones, who ran a 4.75/40 in the 1997 NFL Combine, was drafted sixth overall by the Seattle Seahawks.
The sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft is hugely expensive: both in salary and what's called opportunity cost. In the late '90s, rookie contracts hadn't exploded, but the salary cap was commensurately smaller. A top 10 pick is a vital resource granted only the lowliest of teams. Bad teams build from them. Bad teams are sunk by them. Good teams have built from them. Their ranks are a who's who of great all-time players: Peyton Manning, Bruce Smith, John Elway, Kenny Easley, Eric Dickerson, Lawrence Taylor, and on and on.
Excerpted from 100 Things Seahawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by John Morgan. Copyright © 2014 John Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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