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Observations from Seahawks-Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott is the truth, Russell Wilson is (still) a nerd, and my first Seahawks game in 20 years

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Powell and Sowell and the ’85 Bears! Oh my!

Thanks to my dad, who gave up his ticket, I attended my first ever game at the “new” Seahawks Stadium on Thursday night. (And thank you to my brother, for going with me despite leaving for Ethiopia a few hours later.) It was a delightful experience—even if it was just the preseason—that must already be familiar to many of you. I’ll get to my impressions of the environment after some observations more related to the upcoming season and impending roster cutdown:

  • Earl Thomas looked like he was lined up at strong safety or at least rather close to the line of scrimmage during most of the Dallas Cowboys’ early possessions, with first Kam Chancellor and then Kelcie McCray as the deep safety. I don’t watch enough all-22 film to know exactly how unusual this is in the Seahawks’ scheme (typically I don’t see Earl before the snap in the broadcast sideline view while Chancellor is often highly visible up in the box) but my understanding is that it’s not at all the norm, and then Seattle switched back to the expected positioning later in the game.

I have several theories why this might have been so: Perhaps Kris Richard wanted to give McCray first-string reps at both spots since he seems to be the top replacement for both safeties, and moved the other guys around accordingly for versatility’s sake; maybe this has something to do with Brandon Browner’s double secret role, because I also saw Browner in both jobs late in the second half, as well as in the nickel; it could be part of Pete Carroll’s “master’s course” to give his most trusted veterans alternate vantages of the field to deepen their understanding of the sport; or possibly it was just gamesmanship or a ploy to “spy” Tony Romo that remained a vestige of the playsheet even after Romo went down (objection: “they don’t gameplan the preseason”) or I just didn’t read the alignment correctly. Can anybody explain this or suggest more ideas?

  • Two weeks ago I put Tanner McEvoy on the outside of the roster but now I think he’s likely making the 53-man team. Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith have shown me absolutely nothing since then, while McEvoy demonstrated he’s good for one long completion or pass interference drawn a game—which might be more than you really need from the fifth receiver spot. I’ll admit McEvoy looked a little lost on special teams duty—I thought I saw him commit an uncalled hold on punt return and he missed a tackle on coverage, although he did help contain the runner—so he’ll have to get better there to secure his job. But oh my! That catch! Here’s my narration to my brother during McEvoy’s 43-yard gain that turned into a plea to the Seahawks quarterback: “I see McEvoy in there. Oh he’s playing tight end. Yep hand in the turf. Oh and such a wide release! Now he’s open across the middle. He’s wiiiiide open. Wilson, look at McEvoy! Look. Looook at him. Throw the ball, Wilson, throw the ball throwtheball. He’s still uncovered outside—oh yes, HAULS … IT … IN!”
  • Ezekiel Elliott is a man. “Zekie,” as Rob Staton adorably calls him, was frightening running at the edges of Seattle’s defense. From my distant vantage he looked squeaky fast and then there was the powerful part when he Kam Chancellored Kam Chancellor. However he and the celebrated Dallas line didn’t particularly test the interior of the Seahawks front, the way Christine Michael did so explosively over and over to start the second half.
  • I also couldn’t perfectly pick out everyone’s number on every play but it seemed like Tyvis Powell was active a lot with the third defense yet not very much a difference-maker either in run support or in the kicking game, and I believe he was in coverage (as a corner?) on the late Rodney Smith touchdown that Carroll tried to challenge. Maybe Powell is more on the bubble than we suspected. Speaking of that challenge, the couple sitting behind me forgot that you can’t challenge a touchdown and thought the refs penalized Seattle purely to shame Carroll for how many kinds of foolish the challenge attempt was.
  • After Bradley Sowell got whistled for a personal foul during a pass to the left flat, drawing two separate penalty markers, Russell Wilson went and collected both yellow flags and dutifully handed them to the ref. What an absolute nerd.
  • Another thing being in the stadium gave the opportunity to see was Michael Bennett running off the surface into the locker room with medical trainers early in the second half. I haven’t found any mention of this in the news reports, but Bennett never returned to play as Cassius Marsh took his place. Did the television broadcast mention this or does anyone know if Mike B is okay?
  • Everyone in the stadium was sure K.J. Wright had intercepted Dak Prescott’s underthrown touchdown to Jason Witten. Repeatedly my brother pointed out that Prescott’s worst decision of the day had been that scoring toss, apart from which the “rated rookie” was 16-22 but for only 99 yards and 4.5 yards per attempt. Also, for what it’s worth, about 80 percent of the Cowboys jerseys I saw were Wittens.

The Seahawks fans’ jerseys were much more varied, and although the vast majority were from the contemporary fashion set several fans’ throwback and vintage games were on point. I noted a kid wearing a Jim Zorn-numbered sweatshirt in the original colors, a lady in a spectacular Shawn Springs number 24 (curiously, perhaps, not many people I saw opted for the Marshawn Lynch 24), and one or two Cortez Kennedys and even a Rick Mirer. A guy a few rows in front of me wore a Bobby Wagner training-camp jersey replete with “Bing” patch and autographed numerals, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where he had got it because it was certainly way too small to have ever been worn by Wagner.

Then there was this chap on the ramp to the upper level.

I really hope he received that in some kind of giveaway and didn’t order it custom.

Does the ramp walk give anybody else Kingdome flashbacks? Going up the ramp I heard one fellow try to start a “SEA-“ “-HAWKS” call and response routine and get left hanging. There was an awkward silence and somebody else called, “Marco?”

I had been to a few football games at the Kingdome when I was a child. I even got to go to the Mariners’ first homestand at Safeco Field back in 1999—which inexplicably opened after the All-Star break, not at the beginning of a season; even more weirdly, that day I got my hands on a foul ball hit directly to me in the third-base side upper deck (n.b.: I refuse to say CenturyLink Field, or for goodness sake “Clink”, because that’s just a sponsorship and I’m not a paid broadcast partner. The same rejection doesn’t apply to Safeco because it never had another name.)

But in the years since I mostly lived “abroad” from Seattle so the last time I saw the Seahawks in person came on my birthday in 1996, in Detroit—or rather Pontiac, at another now-defunct stadium. That day I arrived bearing a handmade sign: TODAY’S FORECAST: REIGNING IN SEATTLE, FRIESZING IN DETROIT. Unfortunately Seahawks quarterback John Friesz damaged his knee midway through that critical matchup with the Lions and it tanked Seattle’s season—and ultimately, step by step, year by year, the once-promising Dennis Erickson era. Friesz, who was in the midst of a tiny personal renaissance going 4-1 as the starter, was also never the same in his career.

None of this has any importance to the 2016 Seahawks, but I was hoping to avoid that kind of jinx Thursday. Turns out it was the opposing quarterback who got broken.

This photo from one second into the game was nearly the last time we saw Romo at all, because the pass rush immediately did its impression of the Buddy Ryan Chicago Bears by eliminating the fragile Dallas signal-caller. When Romo went down my first impression was that he had landed on his troubled collarbone again. Then on the replay it looked like an ankle but (as I learned later and you know already) it was just a sore back. It meant Seattle’s success came without having to defend Romo or Dez Bryant. But hey, the Seahawks didn’t have Jimmy Graham or Thomas Rawls so fair’s fair.

Speaking of fair, when I ordered a hotdog before kickoff I got served two hotdogs. Is that a thing there or was I lucky?

Free hot dog, gifted ticket; as a whole the new Seahawks Stadium was a treat. The old lightbulb scoreboards in the concourse preserved with the stats from the 2013 NFC Championship game is a brilliant touch, and the views of downtown from the south end zone were spectacular. Once it got dark my brother even pointed out a television screen in one of the residential towers opposite the stadium so big that you could watch game action on it, clearly and intelligibly, from my seat in the stands a quarter-mile away.

I wasn’t nearly as far from the actual field of course, so even though our tickets were pretty high up there was no problem seeing the plays develop (aside from the details like, uh, whether Witten or Wright caught the ball in far end zone). It’s cool that the stadium can feel so expansive and so intimate, legitimately without any bad seats in the house. Of course it helps that the product is so good, and I’m pleased I got to see live Seattle’s offense finally perform as the multi-tentacled creature it can be.

Plus feel, moreover, a part of it.

I had been somewhat nervous being around so many Seahawks fans at once might dilute some of the mystique of the infamous crowds. I’m not here to make fun of this team’s support system, obviously, but I tend not to enjoy the mass mindlessness of such gatherings. and because I’ve lived outside the city so long I’m used to connecting with other Seattle fans in a Fight Club-ish way of recognizing we’re private traders in an undertaking the surrounding muggles don’t understand. I was worried being in a party of 70,000 might flip that dynamic and cause my core individuality to struggle against that crowd.

For no reason that makes sense to me now, I also didn’t expect the team to do elaborate player introductions at the start because it was just a meaningless preseason game. Nevertheless, as flames blasted from their rocket-torches on either side of his path, the first person announced out of the tunnel was Doug Baldwin. Baldwin obviously was in fire of another kind this week after clashing with Richard Sherman at practice, among other verbal scuffles with teammates. Yet as Baldwin ran out there was Sherman, first to give him a flying body bump—so I guess they’re good.

I see you Doug. It takes a long time and it’s a struggle, but you’re a piece of something.