What A Difference A Super Bowl Makes...

I have to admit, I'm in uncharted territory here as a lifelong Seahawks fan. I'm heading into the 2006 season expecting success, instead of praying for it. When I look into my crystal ball, I can actually see the upcoming season without the shortcomings, excuses, pratfalls and ‘disaster pieces' I had become so accustomed to.

Thank you, Seattle Seahawks version You erased three decades of tempestuous and soul-scorching memories with a gallant ride through the playoffs and into my Super Bowl dreams.

And now I stand on the doorstep of the new season, willing to knock it down and embrace the thought that we finally have a legitimate powerhouse nestled in the Pacific Northwest. The expectation of success has replaced nervous anticipation as my personal mantra.

I no longer wonder when it will be our time, now I know that I am living in it. Even though four months later I still can’t quite believe the Seahawks actually played in the Super Bowl – after reaching just one conference title game in their existence prior to last season – suddenly I’m on much sturdier ground.

Maybe even more telling is how I am received when other team’s fans acknowledge my license plate border, my antenna ball, my NFC Championship t-shirt. The incredulous looks of ridicule and face-wide smirks have been replaced by a silent nod or a “you guys had a great run last season” comment. I’ve heard everything from “Alexander made me win my fantasy league!” to “man your defense is going to be really good with Peterson”.

As I look at the current roster, I don’t envy the coaching staff that will have to whittle down the top to bottom talent and fashion it into a 53-man warrior tribe. The Seahawks might have more talent on their practice squad than some teams put on the field on a given Sunday,

Maybe some of you are brand new Seahawks fans, those trying to dodge the dreaded “bandwagon!” label. Do you wonder just what you have on your football team?

You have a team that has eradicated the things Seahawks fans lamented just a few seasons ago: dropped passes; the frustrating inability to finish teams off (cough cough ST. LOUIS 2004…cough cough DALLAS 2004…cough cough BALTIMORE 2003); the lack of an effective pass rush; a revolving door at linebacker.

Those days are long gone. Dead and buried.

You have the reigning NFL MVP, Shaun Alexander, who established the single-season record for touchdowns - and if the Seahawks didn’t routinely pull their starters in the second half after building big leads, he would have eclipsed 2,000 yards as well. Oh, by the way, he re-signed with the Seahawks for eight more years. I guess he wanted to stay in Seattle after all. I wonder why? Could it be that he recognizes how good his team is?

And how nice it is that people are talking about someone reigning instead of the raining when it comes to Seattle…

You have a proven quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, who started for the NFC in the Pro Bowl, led the NFC in passer rating, and also had the highest completion percentage in the conference among quarterbacks who actually played the whole season (sorry, Mr. Bulger). He is tough, consistent, and has become lethal at switching plays at the line of scrimmage. The chorus of boos he endured at Husky Stadium just a short time ago have morphed into the thunderclap of fanfare. You will even be seeing him in those “Chunky Soup” commercials coming soon to a TV near you. Soup IS good food!

He finally eluded his painful development process with a hook slide into the end zone against the Redskins in the divisional playoff game. If you looked closely, a big ‘ol blue and green monkey went flying off his back at the end of that play.

You have the best left tackle in football: Walter Jones. I don’t want to hear the name Ogden or Pace again. I think Big Walt makes them both look overrated. He’s probably pushing around a Greyhound bus as we speak, getting in shape for the new season. Escalades are SO 2005...

You have a receiving group that suddenly looks terrifying to opposing defensive coordinators. Darrell Jackson just keeps making plays, and he’s coming back healthy after knee surgery. New acquisition Nate Burleson has skills that the West Coast Offense was designed for. The little engine that could, Bobby Engram, will continue to make the same clutch plays all over the field. A healthy Peter Warrick is much more familiar with the dynamics of Mike Holmgren’s playbook. And downfield threat D.J. Hackett is in the mix as well.

Hey, all of you coordinators on the Seahawks’ schedule this season? Good luck. Get some heavy sleep, because you are going to need it.

The Seahawks have a defense that led the league in sacks last year.They have an elite linebacking corps, with two exceptional second-year phenoms (Lofa Tatupu, who should have been the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year; Leroy Hill). They have a Pro Bowl caliber stud, Julian Peterson, added to the mix. The recent draft yielded several more exciting young talents on that side of the ball, potential shutdown corner Kelly Jennings (Miami) and edge-rusher Darryl Tapp (Virginia Tech).

The defense jumped from #26 to #16 last season in yards per game, but more impressively leapfrogged all the way to the top of the league in red zone defense. Roaches check in, but they don’t score.

You have experience and depth embedded all throughout the roster. As this team proved last season during their remarkable 11-game winning streak, you can take the starter out of the line-up, but his replacement won’t look like a replacement. Lost in the afterglow during last season’s blitzkrieg was how the Seahawks maintained the wind in their sails while players like Ken Hamlin, Jackson, Engram, former OLB Jamie Sharper, and former CB Andre Dyson missed significant playing time.

You have a head coach with a brand a new extension. You have an owner and a front office committed to taking this organization higher and higher. You have a sold out stadium with a boisterous and game-altering fan base, a location that intimidates other teams and their players (ain’t that right, Steve Smith)?

Starting to get the picture?

The bar has been raised. I no longer hope we can win the division, or just make the playoffs, or just win a mid-January game. Now I gleefully entertain the notion that we just might bring the Lombardi Trophy back with us from Miami next February. Most fans entertain such delusions of grandeur as each new season emerges from hibernation, for hope springs eternal once training camps fire up. But in reality, very few should allow themselves the fantasy of picturing their team running onto the field under the white-hot spotlight of Super Bowl XLI.

The Seahawks are one of them now.

What a difference a trip to the Super Bowl makes.

Greg Renick writes regularly for Seahawks.NET. Feel free to contact him at grenick@cox.net.

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