The Alpha Match-up

After years of training his alpha dogs (and acquiring Grant Wistrom to add to the mix), Mike Holmgren takes the Seahawks to the field in a pivotal matchup against the St. Louis Rams. Don Christensen says there's more than the division at stake.

When the Seahawks last faced the Rams, it was in St. Louis with Grant Wistrom and Matt Hasselbeck on the field at the same time, but on opposing teams. Matt had thrown a deep ball to Bobby Engram who had his eyes on it for the winning catch of his life. While concentrating on taking it in, back judge Greg Steed, who must have assumed that Matt was incapable of making such a play, stood near the flight path of the ball and tripped Engram, claiming that he was trying to get out of the way. Yeah, right.

While Engram was glaring at Steed (a Rams fan dressed like a zebra), Wistrom was busy slapping Hass upside the head for $5,000 which is mere pocket change when you consider that there was no immediate unsportsmanlike conduct call.

Wistrom was on a mission to show Matt that he was the “alpha male.” Matt knows full well that Wistrom does not hit like a freakin’ girl. Wistrom and Hasselbeck may not have been friends on that day in St. Louis where the battle for the NFC West division title was hotly contested, but today they share a common vision to put the Seahawks in a place they have never been before – 4 and 0 with a 2 ½ game lead on the division.

Just as the Seahawk sword is double-edged with Hasselbeck and Wistrom working together on each side, the importance of this game is double-edged. If Seattle loses, the Rams would regain an advantage as the Hawks face New England on the road the following week. Not only would two losses in a row be a momentum killer for Seattle (assuming a win in New England is not a sure bet), the Rams could regain the lead and the conference edge. With lowered confidence and a rough trip behind them, the Seahawks would face the Rams again on Nov. 14, but this time in the A.G. Edwards Dome with Nelly overlooking from his $9.000 a game booth, “tiltin’ his head back.”

Naturally, Holmgren is concerned about the speed of the Rams’ offense whereas Martz is concerned about the speed and proficiency of Seattle’s defense.

It is a match-up made in heaven where only alpha players will prevail.

Games between the Rams and Hawks are beginning to feel like the old Denver and Seattle rivalry where there was a neck-and-neck struggle to be the alpha team for the division.

By analogy, where Elway did not always fare well in the Kingdome, Marc Bulger is yet to win a game at Qwest Field.

True, Bulger is no John Elway, but he is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes while sporting a 96.2 rating--third in the NFC, trailing only Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb.

Seattle’s defense of the past did not always stop the McNabbs, the Culpeppers and the Bulgers of the league. Enter Ray Rhodes, who helped bring improvement from worst in the league to middle of the pack defensive rankings by the end of last year.

Sunday’s game will justify the reputation of the burgeoning Seahawk Defense. Their objective will be to get the Ram’s offense off of the field and clear the way for the Seahawk offense to produce consistently. For the offensive-minded Holmgren, Ray Rhodes’ defense becomes a part of the offensive strategy--a similar service that Tom Catlin’s defenses performed for the Seahawks of the 80’s and especially the contribution that Fritz Shurmur made to the Pack in the 90’s.

Rhodes has built a defense that will take advantage of field position and make things happen in the turnover category. This is clearly an aspect that Holmgren has not enjoyed consistently since coming to Seattle.

On a recent telephone conference interview, Holmgren was more than philosophical about his good fortunes in finding talent and helping the Hawks develop as a contender. In summary, he told the media, “We know this is a huge game for us and a big measuring stick for where we are as a football team.”

Martz himself has no dispute about who has the upper hand between Seattle and St. Louis at this point. "This team is growing,” he said of the Rams. “I don't know what we're going to be . . . . There is no question that Seattle is the team to beat. There's no question about that."

Ken Lucas stated it with insightful urgency, "How can you call yourself the best if you never go against the best? You become the best by competing against the best."

Tomorrow’s game becomes a test of championship proportions, symbolized by the movement of Wistrom from the Rams to the Seahawks. He is the alpha man for the next alpha team, handed over like a torch from the old Champs to the new ones in the making.

Don Christensen writes for Seahawks.NET. You can reach him at Top Stories