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The Elephant That's Been Here Since February

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You realize I've been waiting for the right moment to get this off my chest. I just needed an reason. I got two excuses this week, which to me equals one complete reason.

(1) The first excuse comes thanks to Eric Kay, a columnist for something called "SPiN," parceled out by CBS Sportsline, who writes about how referees are human and we should take that into consideration when discussing how to torture them.

(2) In the sub-zero percent chance you don't know where this is going, here's the second excuse: I met this guy the other day who asked me what I did for a living. I told him I'm a freelance writer. He asked what kind of things I wrote. I told him I did a music blog for a Company Based in Redmond, and record reviews for a local magazine. I also told him I ran a Seahawks blog.

"Oh," this gentleman says, "so -- you were one of the guys whining about the Super Bowl?"

I was, for a moment, flustered about how to respond. Before I could he admitted, "Sorry. Didn't mean to jab on you. I'm a Steelers fan."

At that point, I defended my position. No, sir, I most assuredly have not complained about the officiating in Super Bowl XL. I have not lowered myself into the undignified stance of a nasal crybaby. It was, in fact, constitutionally impossible for me to launch into an ill-advised tirade against a supposed "conspiracy" against the Seahawks, orchestrated by the referees in our nation's most illuminated annual sports contest. And there is no way I would ever have used this blog as a pulpit for my rage against them.

For one thing, this blog has only been up for a couple weeks. I haven't had the chance to wail on the refs yet.

But my new acquaintance raised an interesting query in my soul: Do people who aren't from Seattle, or who aren't Seahawk fans, actually think that those of us who are have been cloaking ourselves as embittered martyrs over what happened in SBXL? Have we really been whining all this time?

It's time like this, when the wounds of battle are healed over, but the scars of the scythe still visible, that I wonder how Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general who penned The Art of War, might have handled this situation. How would the architect of warfare, whose work is still referred to today by contemporary warriors and strategists, address the issue of disappointment, of the seemingly unfair and random intrusion of human logic quite beyond the control of the combatants?

It's only after much reflection, much enlightened rumination and analysis, do I realize the truth: I've never actually read The Art of War. I don't have a clue what Sun Tzu would do. I just now had to use Wikipedia to find out his name.

BUT, that's beyond the point. My historical feeling about complaining about officiating in any sport was always that, though undoubtedly mistakes are made by crews of umpires, to blame one's favorite team's loss on bad calls showed bad form. Champions compensate for adversity. A bad call should be tackled with the same damn-the-torpedoes approach as an untied cleat lace: Acknowledge it, fix it if you can, drop it, and move on to the next play. Whining about losing is for losers.

Then it happened to my team, in a major championship game. That'll throw your detached assessments of competition out the window, lemme tell you. Hey, it's great that your abstract ideals about fairness in game play have gotten you this far -- now let's see how you handle it, eh? Sucka!

All us Seahawks fans were steaming about the calls in Super Bowl XL. We all know what they were. We owned our anger about them. There's a pissed-off enzyme that activates in all of us when people mention SBXL to us. It must be the same feeling Britney Spears gets when somebody mentions her quickie Vegas marriage a few years ago (or reminds her who she's married to now, heh heh). It's the twitch Bill Clinton or Rafael Palmeiro gets when someone reminds them about how they wagged their fingers to emphasize their false statements. It's the tinge of distaste that everyone involved in the making of the movie Battlefield: Earth feels every day of their lives.

It's natural. It can't be helped.

But to be perfectly honest, I haven't heard a lot of Seahawks fans whining about it since two or three days after XL was done. I just haven't. I don't hit bars much anymore, so maybe they're doing it in there. But in the general, sober flow of things? I haven't heard a peep since February 10 at the latest. In a strange twist, the only people who have mentioned it are TV sports commentators from other cities, most of whom still support the idea that the Seahawks got jobbed in the game.

I'm not one of them. The Seahawks lost Super Bowl XL to a Pittsburgh team that had clearly earned their victory.

Seriously.

We can analyze the blown calls till we're blue in the face and our eyes turn neon-green. Many of those analyses will be logical. I mean, come on: Hasselbeck did not throw a low block, and even Ben Roethlisberger admits he didn't think he got the ball across the goal line. We can make academic cases for those positions all night long.

But we need to drop it, now. In fact we needed to drop it a long time ago. For me it was two days after the game. It took a lot of self-denial and restraint, but I did. I had to. For these reasons:

(1) It takes away from Pittsburgh's accomplishment last season, which was pretty astounding. They beat the elite AFC teams in the playoffs -- including one game against Indianapolis where a bad call went in favor of the Colts. The refereeing was not the Steelers' fault.

As a football fan in general, I was quite fond of the '05 Steelers. I liked Big Ben, and I liked Hines Ward, and that crazy long-haired freak they have on defense. Jerome Bettis, like Walter Payton before him, represented the absolute best character an NFL player can possess, with no obvious lack of integrity. People like him should be rewarded.

(2) There's one group of people into football in Seattle that haven't complained once about the officiating in XL -- not for such a sustained time that they're unhealthily haunted by it. This group of people is commonly known as "Seahawks players."

Have you heard one ref-blasting tirade from anybody actually on the team? If you had, it was probably in response to a reporter's question, and their response probably didn't last long. Even if they're eaten up by the whole situation, they've kept it in the clubhouse. And they're probably over it by now. Their basic party line to the rest of us is that they have "unfinished business." They do not mention anything about the refs having interfered with their business.

Now, we know Holmgren has. Once at the post Super Bowl rally at Qwest Field, the other time when members of the NFL officiating committee paid him their annual visit to discuss new rule changes for '06. It was expected, maybe even necessary, that Holmgren try to bring it to their attention.

Since then? Nothing. From Coach or anyone. If they've gotten over it, we most certainly should have as well.

(3) Yes, several of the calls sucked the momentum from the Seahawks and broke their spirit. But they didn't overcome them. The opportunistic Steelers took advantage of them. That's what champions do. To paraphrase David Mamet, that's why they call 'em champions.

The Hawks made some bad decisions in Super Bowl XL. Remember the horrid clock management towards the end of the first half? There's one big clunker for you right there. Everyone and their brother, and half of their sisters, makes errors. We lost poise, the Steelers maintained it.

(4) The NFL will not give the Seahawks a voucher in 2006 in atonement for the bad calls of the refs. It's a new year. You can't carry karma over in football. What's the point?

(5) I completely agree that NFL officiating has gotten progressively worse. I'd always said it was a matter of time before the referees would become a championship game's MVP because of their faulty interpretations of the rules. I believe this should be addressed. But I'm not going to call it a conspiracy. It doesn't help.

(6) And that's pretty much how I feel going forward: Complaining about the refereeing in Super Bowl XL doesn't help. It doesn't help to build support, it doesn't help the Seahawks' game plan or mission, it doesn't help us win games. Theoretically, it could even give people a back-end excuse not to work harder. Sure, there are always things beyond your control. You have to plan how to mitigate those factors as best you can. You have to leave open the possibility that they might happen, and you have to build contingency plans if they do.

In a roundabout way, complaining about the Super Bowl sells the Seahawks' potential short. It's fatalism. Being Seattle pro sports fans, we tend to have this inbred fatalism anyway. None of our sports teams have won any kind of championship since the '79 Sonics. So we expect, and even occasionally cater to, the worst-case scenario.

Let it go. It was constitutionally required that we let it go as soon the grieving period was sufficiently over. That was, by the most generous of timetables, late February. So it should be all over with now. It's a difficult thing to do -- which is why I was surprised how so many Seahawks fans have been good at letting it go. Maybe I'm not going to the right places, but the whine factor amongst the common Seattle fan base has been astonishingly minimal.

For those few who haven't let it go, though, your time's way up. It's time to let the guys on the field get started with their preparations. You can't let the mental clutter of past judicial miscarriage interfere. You just have to get on with sacking the next town.

After all, that's what Sun Tzu would do. Plus he'd go after some sweet endorsement deal with Reebok or Wheaties or something.