It could be the frumpy, slightly unkempt, socially inadequate guy or gal in your IT department. An attraction so bizarre, that you keep it more guarded than R. Kelly at a Junior High dance, in fears of being placed on a government watch list or forced to register in whatever county you happen to visit.
Maybe it’s that one song, so embarrassing, so horrific, that if any of your friends found out you liked it--let alone had it saved to your iPod/PC…you’d forever be relegated to the butt of any and every joke (for the record, mine’s Shelly Duvall singing “He Needs Me”, so what?). Any future golf outings would involve the women’s tee, any football commentary would invoke the singing of such song, forever woven it into the fabric of your existence.
Most of mine are truly unmentionable, especially in this setting. The thought of airing them evokes images of federal indictments, subpoenas to all of you for reading this, NSA phone taps, and the ultimate fear; an awkward an uncomfortable silence when or if I ever get to meet a young Kirk Cameron (I still believe). One of the few I can share is my odd fondness of my old Seahawks.
Specifically, my losing Seahawks.
It’s an odd thing, the greater connection with a losing team vs. that of a perennial winner. Logically, it just doesn’t make sense. When my old Hawks would lose a game, just like the last game these Hawks played, I am clinically depressed for a day or two. A win by either squad would perpetuate the same euphoric high. The feelings are identical, except one provides more ups than downs.
For any pimply-faced, psych major, co-ed freshman, I’m sure this would easily be attributed to some deep-seeded insecurities. Said insecurities could only allow attachments to underdogs, similar to how I (hopefully I’m not alone) view myself, blah, blah, blah. But to me, it speaks more to the pain and suffering long time fans endured, and how others latched on only when the going was good.
On one hand I’m proud and giddy over Seattle’s new found love affair with its redheaded stepchild. On the other hand, I’m genuinely angry over bandwagoners reaping a reward off my decade-plus of utter despair.
I look around Qwest Field and can’t help but question how many of the attendees watched or even remember the number Rick Mirer wore. How many recall John Friez playing a half on a broken appendage? Do these people know who Michael Friar is? Did the dancing grounds crew at Safeco Field lose its luster?
All of it gives me an unhealthy contempt and bitterness towards any new fans. That’s not fair, right, or even logical since the team deserves all of its newfound adoration. But part of me yearns to go back to the uglier days, for at least one game. A game where the “stems and seeds” are removed and only true diehards remain. And of course, that game would have to occur in the forgotten place the Seahawks used to call home, a place where only the worthiest of fans dared to show up, Husky Stadium.
Going into their maiden season at Husky Stadium, 2000, the Seahawks were freshly removed from what then would be considered a fantastic year. In the beginning of 1999, the Seahawks had done the unthinkable and lured the best coach going, Mike Holmgren of Green Bay. And our newfound messiah didn’t disappoint by successfully backing my boys into the playoffs, via Joe Nedney’s right leg. Add those feats to the impending new stadium, the team playing two years outdoors at hallowed Husky Stadium, and Mike himself reminding us that “It’s Now Time”, and the franchise had some serious momentum going.
That momentum was obvious when the 2000 home opener, against the not yet despised St. Louis Rams, sold out. I had heard rumblings via local radio/the local paper that the Seahawks weren’t expecting much from an attendance perspective during their stint at Husky Stadium; apparently Seattleites didn’t like rain, driving on 520, or the overall difficulty of navigating to and from Husky Stadium…huh? I was proud that fans had proven the Hawks’ brass wrong by purchasing all the available tickets—err so I thought.
It took all of 30 seconds that Sunday to realize the sellout had little to do with Hawk fans, but all to do with Rams fans. You felt the uncertain and edgy calm of a game played at a neutral site. It’s cliché to say, but the crowd was legitimately divided 50/50. To me personally, that’s beautiful. The option of half a stadium to heckle, irritate, ridicule, and induce general restlessness, is divine. Sadly though, after that closely contested loss, not even opposing fans bothered to attend.
For the next two years all that remained were 30-40 thousand diehard fans who didn’t let rain, wind, 520, or frustrating on the field performances keep them from supporting the team they loved. And to me, those were the best two years I’ve ever had supporting a sports franchise.
There wasn’t a game at Husky Stadium where I didn’t leave with soreness in my cheeks or stomach stemming from laughter. It didn’t matter that the team was run by a coach and general manager who temporarily lost sight of his reality, that Kitna’s out patterns looked more like punts than throws, or our run defense was looser than Paris Hilton at an Oscar party. All of us diehards understood that the team was rebuilding, it wasn’t “Now Time” and we didn’t have a “Championship Caliber Football Team”.
Instead of allowing the usual feelings of disappointment and frustration consume the experience, we chose to amuse ourselves.
I’m yet to fully explain how such a rare phenomenon occurred. A group consciousness allowing laughter in the face of what’s deserving of misery. Maybe it was the lack of peripherals (i.e. casual fans), the fact that for the first time ever Seattle watched games outdoors (the way Muhammad intended it), the magical boat that sold booze on the lake, or a validation of Edward Lorenz’s Chaos Theory; order came from the Seahawks’ ticket offices random filling of the east bleachers. One thing’s for certain, it wasn’t the product on the field.
We all stood helplessly as Holmgren dismantled a team that reached the playoffs the year or two before. Sure the stumble into the postseason wasn’t epic, nothing Seahawks ever is, but at least it was a pulse, something, a reason to be excited.
I loved Sam “Big Poppa the Show Stoppa” Adams and his dance, despite the occasional play or two he loafed—what? Sure Jay Bellamy was a bit reckless and expensive for a Safety, but his resemblance to Tupac allowed an occasional blurting of lyrics and laughter, him too? Certainly the release of Darryl Williams was a typo, he knocked out a Raider—one of the best hits ever, him? No more “The Cantyman Can” tunes in everyone’s best Sammy Davis voice? Who was this outsider systematically dismantling a team that had finally achieved the unthinkable, a 9-7 record?
After all was said and done, the only thing you could do is grimace and trust that he was making the right decisions. Regardless of what media, marketing departments, ignorant fans would have you believe…deep down we all knew that it was a bumpy road ahead, specifically heading into those two years at Husky Stadium. With all of our known and beloved crusaders of mediocrity, now playing in “Seahawks South”, New Orleans, new heroes and shenanigans were sought to ease the pain of losing.
It’s against human nature to find the good in things, look no further than today’s newspapers, local news broadcasts, or talk radio. However, Seahawk fans possess an unmatched ability to turn any negative into a positive. Bring up Dave Krieg, we’ll say “Hall of Fame”, Bosworth? We’ll say, “he wasn’t that bad, he had a bum shoulder.” Bring up the 1992 squad, and you’ll get, “That was one of the best defenses ever, if they had even an average offense they would’ve made noise”. So it shouldn’t be surprising that new icons quickly arose from Holmgren’s purge.
The first name that jumps out is Charlie Rogers. Even an NFL virgin, like my then girlfriend, could appreciate the positionless return man from Georgia Tech. Charlie was a true showman, equipped with an under-appreciated ability to spur energy from a crowd regardless of the weekly monsoon weather conditions or an unfavorable score. He’d illicit chants of his name, even if it meant he had to do it himself. Charlie understood that one of the greatest features of a college stadium is the proximity to fans, and was not above leaning over the railing towards us fans in the east bleachers forcing a chant of his name. Ego driven, self-serving, unsportsmanlike?
You betcha, but no one cared.
Trent Dilfer became a hero in those bleachers; but not for anything he ever did on the field. The consistent and ignorant chanting of his name became fodder for parodies, lampooning the blind that wanted to give up on Hasselbeck so soon. Lindell miss a field goal? Someone would immediately shout towards any known Dilfer Chanter in the area and say “Dilfer would’ve made it!” Christian Fauria drop a rare ball his way? “Dilfer would’ve caught it!” (caught balls by Mr. Fauria coaxed my rendition of Sister Christian by Night Ranger, however). Shawn Springs pull his annual hamstring? You guessed it “Dilfer would’ve stretched more!” It was stupid, sophomoric and odd, but got laughs from all of us.
Jeff Feagles’ and Alex Bannister’s appearances on the field usually called for an “MVP” chant. For Mr. Feagles, the MVP chant isn’t really funny because it’s true. He was the most consistent performer on that team in 2000. The only thing more disparaging than that tidbit is the fact it was the second time in Hawks history that a legitimate argument could be made for a punter being our MVP.
Bannister’s foray into MVP-dom was a joke, initially. He’s a guy that looks awkward, goofy, a bit off, not right, and generally uncomfortable in football gear. Why wouldn’t you make light of it? Then on 10/14/01 he blocked a punt securing a win against the cap-manipulating heathens from Colorado, establishing himself as a Special Teams terror. That Sunday he earned any and every MVP chant, sarcastic or not, for giving me the indescribable high that is beating the Broncos. The fact that he made Denver coach Mike Shanahan say, “That’s the most embarrassing loss I can ever remember” afterwards, is why he currently has a restraining order against me.
Jon “Rudy” Kitna was able to amaze and frustrate at the same time. He would wow you with one of his clumsy, slow-footed scrambles, leading to a completion…and on the next play, loft a 15-yard out throw that only Ray Guy could admire. Always good, but never quite good enough, Kitna embodied what it was to be a Seahawk. Like those Seahawks, I’m sure opposing teams and coordinators still look at Kitna as a guy they should easily beat, but only if they play at their best leaving it all on the field, because he will.
Ricky Watters was, simply put, beautiful. His willingness to go from perennial winners San Francisco and Philadelphia, to the then-laughing stock of the AFC, Seattle, was groundbreaking. Watters’ habit of knocking you down and offering a description of the knockdown vs. the standard helping hand up, elicited what can only be described as arousal from me. More importantly, he was the first player in a long time that was proud to be a Seahawk. His unwavering pride in the uniform was the first shove towards the Hawks’ present and future winning tradition.
There are many others, but my recollection of the actual football played those two years is secondary to the atmosphere in those the bleachers. The fact I remember the specific laughs or antics over football plays shouldn’t be taken as a slight against those teams. They battled every game, providing many great moments. The overlooking of them speaks to my self-centered nature and not those teams.
However, there are specific games that even 5 or 6 years and excessive paint huffing can’t delete. The most prominent of which being 12/16/00, against the Oakland Raiders.
Of course, any game against the Raiders is memorable to me. It was the one time of the year where even that sometimes uppity, easily offended, whiner seated near you would excuse all indiscretions. Even those individuals understood the importance of Raider week. It wasn’t merely the Seahawks vs. Raiders, it was a way to quash all that is wrong in the world. A Seattle victory would help eradicate illiteracy, bubonic plague, poor oral hygiene, child obesity, because we knew that anything negative in the world could, in some way, be traced back to Al Davis and his Oakland/LA/San Jose/San Diego/Irwindale Raiders.
The significance wasn’t lost on the Raiders fans either. Trailer parks across the state would be eerily vacant, abandoned 1976 Chevy Novas littered the streets, thousands of trails crafted from crushed Budweiser tall-boy cans would lead directly to Husky Stadium.
It was larger than the pawns on the field, larger than the NFL - it was The Raiders.
This game, like every other Hawks game in that stadium, was played in what can only be described as apocalyptic/biblical weather conditions. In today’s context, some of those Sundays would require an evacuation to the Tacoma Dome, while we waited for FEMA’s Mike Brown to rescue us. Or maybe we’d hear Dennis Quaid implore all of u, “Stay right there, I will come find you” over the PA.
The weather for this one was particularly horrific. It rained literally an inch or two for those three hours, with wind gusts so strong that Jon Gruden's play sheet was hoisted from his hands and went 20-30 rows behind him. Unfortunately, the recipient of the gift was either a Raider fan or inhuman, because it was returned. The horrific weather factored into, as it did many times, a player pulling one for the ages.
On a typical run play, Ricky Watters broke free from the initial line of scrimmage, made a few jukes, and had a straight and clear path towards the end zone. While I don’t recall the specifics, I know it was late in a close game, a point in which this certain touchdown would seal a win for the Seahawks and everything good about humanity.
Typical of any breaks those Hawks could expect, Ricky was caught from behind, with the Oakland defender desperately attempting to strip the ball. Brilliantly, Ricky, armed with the knowledge that the Raiders average IQ inspired such hit films as I am Sam and Son in Law, made a decision never made before or since. He allowed the defender to strip the ball, knowing that a Raider defender would of course fumble the ball likewise. Watters also realized that given the distance from, the Raider fumble would then be recovered in the end zone for a TD.
To everyone in my section and me, that’s how it happened…and it could’ve only happened at Husky Stadium.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of "The Best Two Years Everyone Else Forgot".
Known very well to friend and foe as "pehawk" in our fan forums, Ryan Davis will be providing a fresh voice on the Seahawks, Seattle sports in general, and life in a nutshell. Feel free to send your thoughts, recriminations and mule sniffs to Ryan here.