Without question, this Seahawks team is the best we've seen since the 2005 team that ultimately reached Super Bowl XL.
It's been a few years, but I still remember some of the highlights of what is arguably the best year in franchise history todate. It was the year that we finally got the Rams off our back, with that touchdown run by Shaun Alexander icing the second meeting between the two clubs. I remember watching on Monday night as the 'Hawks drummed a McNabb-less Eagles squad into submission. I remember being a nervous wreck during that Giants game, watching as they kept setting up for what should've been a game-winning field goal only for Jay Feely to miss again and again, and DJ Hackett's big overtime reception finally putting us in position to win the game.
In truth, that was the most nerve-wracking moment of the whole year. The rest of the way, either we were so far ahead of our opponents that the game was already wrapped up, or I had no doubt whatsoever that the Seahawks were going to overcome whatever deficit was in front of them. Late in the season when the Seahawks were trailing to the Tennessee Titans in the fourth quarter, I remember being totally confident that we were going to pull off a comeback win.
Even the playoff wins were pretty smooth. While the Redskins gave us some fight in the divisional round, we led the game the whole second half and held a two-score lead with the clock ticking down. All we had to do was not screw up, and we didn't. The NFC championship was an even bigger laugher, facing a vulnerable Panthers team that quickly found themselves down big and early, and the Seahawks cruised to their first Super Bowl in the team's 30-year history.
Yes, that Super Bowl. We could argue from now until the end of time about why we didn't win, but let's be honest - that was the first time that year that the Seahawks had truly faced adversity. We had had it easy pretty much the whole year, and all of a sudden the deck was stacked against us. As the penalties piled up, you could see that the team was struggling to find a rhythm, to get through the obstacles that were suddenly in front of the team which hadn't been there for a good three months. The 3rd & 26 conversion, Randle-El's option pass, penalty after penalty after penalty - the Seahawks were crumbling, and ultimately, failed to win the game.
Looking back on it now, it's pretty clear that the 2005 Seahawks had a pretty easy road ahead of them. This was the year that the NFC West began taking on its reputation as the weakest division in the league, and faced some pretty unthreatening opposition. (The Eagles without McNabb, a still expansion-quality Texans squad, A 49ers team in abject disarray, the Colts after Dungy's son had just been killed in a tragic accident). We managed to get through the whole year without facing any serious challenges. So when the Steelers came in and punched us in the mouth, we were unable to respond.
Fast forward to 2013. This Seahawk team may not have won as many games as the 2005-06 squad, but they have done something that the team from seven years ago was never really called upon to do: overcome.
Right off the bat, when Russell Wilson was named starter, they had to tamp down the possible controversy of leaving a handsomely-paid free agent on the bench while a 5'10" rookie struggled to find his way. They had to come back from 13 points down in the fourth quarter against Tom Brady and the perrenially strong Patriots. They had to go on the road for an early game in Chicago, and drive 177 yards in the waning moments to tie up and ultimately win the game. They faced suspensions for both their starting cornerbacks. And this weekend, they had to fly across the country to face a team that was practically a mirror image of the Seahawks offensively, and spotted them 14 points while trying to get their feet under them, in order to win their first road playoff game since 1983.
Let's go over that again: the Seahawks had to mount the biggest comeback in franchise playoff history, so that they could win their first road playoff game in thirty years.
And they did.
That alone makes me excited for next week. It's almost as if the old rules of Seahawk football no longer apply. "We can't win early games on the road." Wait, we just did. "We can't win playoff games on the road." That just happened too. "No way we come back from 14 down." Hey look, we did that too. It's liberating, because it makes the challenges in front of us less daunting. A Seahawk fan in 2007 would've cowered at the thought of going on the road for the second week in a row to face the #1 seed in the NFC. Now, we're jiggling in our seats impatiently, wondering when Saturday morning will just get here finally. The potential NFC Championship matchup against either the Packers or 49ers might've made us wince in fear of the revenge those two teams hope to exact on us, but now we're looking forward to going to their home stadiums and shutting up their crowds once and for all.
Will we pull all this off? Maybe, maybe not. But this Seahawks team is relishing the challenges put in front of them. Almost as though they're seeking out the highest degree of difficulty, because it will make the potential victory that much sweeter.
Had just one game - like those losses to Miami or Detroit, or the 49ers winning in Foxboro - gone the other way, the Seahawks would've been relaxing with a first-round bye, then hosting a home game against whichever Wild Card opponent was unlucky enough to have the higher seeding. Instead, they'll have to win three games on the road, against the best in the conference, to have the same Super Bowl berth. But after watching this team for 17 weeks, the way the 5'10" rookie quarterback runs out to block for their running back, how that same running back would rather bowl over a defender for that extra yard than make too many fancy moves, how our secondary will put opponents on their backs and punish them at the line, and how our receivers will give themselves up if it means running it in for a game-winning touchdown, it's clear that this was the way these Seahawks were meant to reach the top.
Why? Because easy ain't worth it, and it'll make the victory that much sweeter.