I awoke to the smell of vomit.
And the feel of cold concrete on my cheek. As I struggled to push the planet away from my frozen face, I realized that I couldn't see. A viscous, murky cloud swam across my vision. I tried to push it away with my palms, but only managed to send a lightning bolt of pain into my skull.
Where the fuck am I?
An eternity later, my sight began to clear. And it didn't help at all. From the looks of things, I was in a cell. 12x12 with a steel door and a steel bench... and nothing else. Carefully, I pulled myself up onto the bench, snagging the corner of my Seahawks jersey on it as I did, nearly tearing the size tag off in the process. For a fleeting moment, I wondered to myself why they put those on the outside. And who the hell is gonna sew this back on for me. It's my Joey Galloway rookie and I can't have it torn and bloody for the playoffs. It's kind of my lucky.... wait.... bloody? BLOODY??? Why the hell is my jersey bloody? Why am I wearing my jersey? And again... where in the bloody fucking hell am I?!?
Jail, right? Its gotta be jail. But why am I in jail? What did I do? I don't think I'm drunk... or have been drunk. I can't actually see any puddles of puke anywhere. I see stains. This floor, the same floor where I just resting my face, is certainly stained with previous puddles of something. Something disgusting I'm assuming. It's then that I catch my own distorted reflection in the rough metal grooves of the bench. Is that even me? What happened to my face? Quickly, I move my hands back up to my head, and there's that lightening bolt again. And wait... is that? Thunder?
As the pain subsides, it leaves the remnants of fog at the edges of my eyes, but seems to take with it some of the shroud blanketing my brain. There's a memory... Something faint. It was this morning? No... this afternoon. CenturyLink field. Was I at the CLink today? Yes! Yes, I was! Holy shit. Today is game day! Saints. The playoffs. Home Field Advantage.... and there it is... slamming back into me with the white hot intensity of a cattle brand to the cerebral cortex.
I remember everything. Details have etched themselves into my brain so deep, that not even being knocked unconscious by an overzealous security guard could erase them.
The path that led me to this room started months ago... but I'll spare you all that. If you're reading this, it's a journey you probably already know very, very well... because like every 12 out there... and especially every hometown Seattle 12, you lived it with me. At least, you lived most of it with me. You lived the OTA's. Training Camp. You lived the scary season opener in Carolina... and the glorious destruction of San Francisco in the home opener. You lived the Russell Wilson track meet in Texas, and Richard "Shoeless" Sherman's pick-6 as it seemingly hit the auto-destruct button on Matt Schaub's career. You lived a defensive stand for the ages in St. Louis on prime time and a heart-swallowing comeback at home against the then-winless Bucs. You lived through Frank Gore's 51 yard run in the 4th quarter in San Francisco setting us up for a soul-wrenching 2-point loss. And later, even worse... you lived through the first loss at home in two years to Arizona... the first home loss of Russell Wilson's career.
At some point this season, as we've all ridden this train together, it's possible that we've all had the same thought... "Is this the greatest Seahawks team that's ever been assembled?" Well, it just may be. And if you're a Seattle sports fan like me, and you've found yourself thinking this way... and reveling in the pure unadulterated football joy that is watching one of the most dominant defenses in the history of football... then you've certainly followed it all up with that oh, so typical Seattle fan thought... "When and how will this come crashing down around us?"
All due respect to The Storm, but loving Seattle sports with all your heart has historically been a recipe for self-destruction. I won't go into the details... we all know them. But let's suffice it to say that if I hear the number 116, even in casual conversation, I instantly feel the desire to chuck a baseball at somebody's head.
Speaking of heads, my brain feels like it's expanding inside my skull. There it is again... lightning. and thunder.
Anyway, I guess everything sorta boiled over for me this week. Each day closer to the Saints coming back to town built my blood pressure that much more. My confidence level rose and fell with each new piece of news that slid by on my Twitter feed. Kam sat out of practice? The world is ending. Percy's gonna play? We can. not. lose.
Each new meme. Each sound bite. Each dismissive comment on SportsCenter. Each and every tiny trickle of information brought me closer to cardiac arrest. And early this morning, I came to the realization that my biggest fears weren't coming from being so close to greatness... but from the knowledge. The absolute, unequivocal, assuredness that this team is great. But even a great team can slip. Even the greatest of teams can give up their edge at the wrong time and all of this, every glorious minute of it, could slip away. I realized that my greatest fear was that these guys also knew how great they were. That they were the better team. And that, that information would be enough to lift the chips off their shoulders and make them forget how they got so great in the first place.
So I decided to do something about it.
I won't go into too many details, for fear that I might lay out a blueprint for other fans that find themselves in my state of mind. But this morning, I managed to get myself past a few security guards and into the Hawks locker room. It was before warm-ups. Some of the guys were still in street clothes... some were already in pads. I looked around as I turned and locked the main doors. I spotted all the players... Earl, in a fitted compression shirt with one sleeve hacked off. Russell, applying eye-black as he seemed to almost sense my presence behind him, smoothly turning to see who had infiltrated the space. Irvin, sliding into shoulder-pads that look much, much too thin to offer any real protection. and even Marshawn, although his face was hidden behind a veil of dreads and an oversized hoodie pulled down to his nose.
Everyone was there. And before I knew it, they were all looking at me. It happened fast too... even before people started screaming outside and pounding on the doors. No one made a move though. They just... stared at me. And I knew this was my moment. My only chance to say what every Seattle sports fan like me wanted to say to this team... It went like this:
I haven't got long guys, so lend me your ears.
I was born and raised in Seattle, and I've been a Seattle sports fan all my life. I've been to countless Seattle sporting events, all with varying degrees of magnitude. I've experienced the elation that comes with a Super Bowl berth, and the catastrophic disappointment that is losing the game when we were the better team.
I've ignored SportsCenter and thrown out the sports pages for a six month stretch because the sting of defeat was so strong. I've avoided all websites, blogs, and radio shows that discuss the "failure" of losing a Super Bowl, and I've taken jerseys, sweatshirts, and hats and placed them out of sight so I didn't have to remember what could have been, only to pull them back out come August when a new season starts.
For me, and for a lotta folks like me in Seattle, even when things are going well and the arrow is pointing up, the pain remains.
You guys have a chance ahead of you, to create experiences that not only you will remember and cherish forever, but an entire city will. A city that gives you every ounce of energy that they have. More energy than any other sports team has ever received. A city that stands by you through thick and thin, good and bad. A city that's waited a lifetime to experience the kind of euphoria that other cities take for granted, and a city that would go to any lengths to give you an advantage no other sports team on Earth has.
Feed off of us today. Take what we give you and add it to the chip on your shoulder. Turn that chip into a boulder, and don't give an inch. Fight for each other, fight for every minute, every second you’ve spent on the football field in your entire life, and know it has all led up to this.
Fight with every ounce of strength that you have, and look across at the other team... and at any other team that dare follow them... and know, KNOW, that between the 11 of you out there, and the 12th man cheering you on, that this opportunity, this city, and this moment are once in a career.
Enjoy it, live in it, and don't let ANYONE take it away from you.
Just go 1-0.
When I finished, no one moved. I'm not even sure anyone was breathing. They all just stared back at me in what had become stunned silence. And then I saw it... Marshawn. It was so subtle, it could almost have been imagined. But now I could see his eyes... and that ever-so-slight nod of acknowledgement.
That's when the pride hit. My chest filled with it and a smile grew large on my face. And Richard Sherman himself gave me a golf clap, before pointing behind me. I turned to see what was there, an army of security people standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Pete Carroll and the rest of the coaches. I shrugged and managed a quick "Always compete, right?" before the big security dude on my right destroyed my face with his fist.
I have no idea how long ago all that was. But now here I am in some unmarked cell, probably miles away from the CLink and presumably in the middle of of the storm they said might be coming. They mentioned the rain and 50mph winds, but I don't remember the call for lightning.
And that's when realized it... this last thunderclap... it isn't going away. It's building. And I don't just hear it... I, I can feel it. It's rumbling. Shaking the earth around me. This isn't thunder at all... This is an earthquake. I'm somewhere below CentruyLink itself... and the game is happening above me.
Relaxing back onto the that same steel bench, I take in the moment. If 70,000 12's above me are cheering for our beloved Seahawks with so much intensity that they've created an earthquake, I am most definitely not in jail. I'm in heaven.