They did it.
Now the hard part begins.
Now "Win Forever" is truly put to the test.
Gravity in the NFL is a peculiar beast. The higher you climb the harder it pulls. Even now, as the Seahawks parade through downtown Seattle and look out on endless horizons as champions of the national football league the gravity of the league has already begun to try and tear them down, replace greatness with mediocrity and reinstate the parity that the league has made its calling card for the last 30 years.
Most champions cannot withstand the crushing combination of schedule and draft penalties when combined with the insidious limits imposed by the salary cap. Indeed many great teams never reach the summit of the NFL because ‘parity' reaches out and snatches them from the ranks of the contenders before the final ascent is made. Are the current editions of the 49ers or Broncos such teams, teams that look to be a whisker from immortality one week only to be reclaimed by the remorseless grind of NFL digester in the next season? Or will the Seahawks succumb first? It is too early to tell, but Seahawks fans know how quickly the worm can turn, especially when aided by a poison pill clause.
Our Seahawks looked invincible for one afternoon in February against the greatest offense in the history of football. But that was just one team. Now the offseason begins and the Seahawks must face down thirty-one other teams determined to rip them from their pedestal. Our Seahawks have a formidable task in front of them, but so do we, as fans.
I was born in Seattle in 1980. I moved to Michigan in 1990 but returned every school break to visit my father here in Seattle. My heart never left the northwest and I still claimed it as my home even as the scale of years began to tip in favor of naming other places as home. As if the concept of "home" was as easily defined as what zip code you officially reside in for the majority of your life. If I can't wake up and look south to Rainier, west towards the twin peaks of The Brothers in the Olympics and east to the grasping granite height of the Cascades then I am not home. My wife even mocked my definition of Seattle as "home," until we moved out here again in 2005. Once here I think it made more sense to her.
While away from the northwest at school I was lucky enough to have my university (MSU) win the NCAA basketball tournament. Much as with these Seahawks you could sense that something special was building in the seasons prior to achieving the championship. In a further parallel those Spartans also faced their toughest challenge on the road to the championship in their regional final and the final four became a coronation, leading to euphoria.
The Seahawks first Superb Owl certainly came with more than one dose of euphoria. The way the super bowl played out we all had time to understand, appreciate and savor the victory as it was happening and that feeling when I rushed onto Grand River Ave in East Lansing MI as a twenty year old flooded back and suddenly I was hanging out of car windows as my brothers and I drove through the city, screaming "SEA-" (or "HAWKS") at the top of my lungs, flashing "12" signs at pedestrians and basically acting like a twenty year old again instead of the staid father of two I have become. The waves of celebratory excitement mixed with various alcohols and slowly the celebration wound down as I prepared to go to work the next day.
In truth I've been walking on cloud nine since Percy took back that pooch-kick. I've devoured every laudatory article, podcast, chicken scratch or hieroglyph on the Seahawks and their tremendous victory that I could find. And, I'll admit it here in the safety of fellow 12s, took some slight voyeuristic pleasure in the cantankerous misery that was so palpably emanating from the cities of Denver and San Fran.
However, today I woke up with a bittersweet taste at the tip of my tongue. It began with a realization that my journey with this team was complete. Not with the Seahawks, but with those Seahawks. For the first time I understood that I, we, will never see the team that walked off that relatively balmy field in New Jersey as Champions of the Universe ever play football together again as a complete unit. And frankly, there is a little part of me that is just about ready to ball my eyes out about that. These guys were so much damn fun.
We talk about "rooting for laundry" in professional sports, but of course it is even more true of college sports. The 2000 MSU National Championship team, as well as every school or collegiate team I participated in had a built-in expiration date. That's part of the deal. People graduate and move on, they can't keep playing no matter the bonds formed. This, my first pro sports championship comes with some baggage that I didn't expect: the eventual necessity of cutting ties through choice rather than systematic turnover.
Why is this a big issue? It happens every year in every sport. PC and JS unceremoniously incinerated and scattered the ashes of Seattle last superbowl team over the NFL garbage heap in their feverish desire to lay the foundation for this championship and I barely spared a thought about the evisceration of that once almost-regal corpse. For the first time I understand why those season capsule videos that si does about every championship team in every league sell so well. Its not just nostalgia, or to fill space on a shelf, those video tap into the desire to trap lightning in a bottle, to embalm and preserve a specific edition of a team that we as fans developed such a treasured relationship with. Three payments of 19.95? After years of mockery that suddenly seems a cheap price to pay.
Of course our Seahawks are luckier than many champions. We have a young team and the cap space that goes with it. Most of our team should be back and recognizable next year, which is something that most of the recent series of one and done champions could not claim however they won't be the same. Already the LOB has likely seen the departure of a founding member (I will hate the NFL league office for eternity for what it did to BB this year). Who knows whether Tate will be back. I know I'll miss Miller more next year than I think I will right now. And what about our furiously churning D-line? Bennett will you come back? My brother grew a shaggy beard and razored his hair in imitation of you! Don't tell me we have to cut bait with Clem too!? Good lord, people are talking about Big Red as a possible off season cut too? Rice has basically been written off as a cut for three months but his TD catch vs. the Patriots last year may end up begin one of the plays that defines any burgeoning Seahawks dyn.... No too early.
Think about this: would people be shocked of the Seahawks cut the superbowl MVP during the preseason next year? Malcolm Smith had a terrific year, making play whenever and wherever he was given the chance. But if he loses a step or two or doesn't put in the work do I have any doubt that the ruthless shears of PC&JS will leave him on the cutting room floor come next August like BMW and (briefly) M-Rob before him?
I'm finally beginning to understand the reality of the Win Forever concept.
Accepting that the merciless side of its precepts apply to champions as well as the woebegone might just be the Hardest Part for me.
But, you know what?