“Ethics cannot be based on human nature because, as evolutionary biology tells us, there is no such thing.”
I can’t tell you the right or wrong way to watch the Seattle Seahawks.
I mean I, for one, hope Seattle wallops the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in such a way that the beating resounds in all corners of the NFL. I hope it makes such a stir it tussles the wind chimes outside Bruce Arians’s childhood home in Pennsylvania, and whips an unnatural ripple on the Susquehanna River that runs by his high school. I hope the Seahawks emerge a frightful dark horse, a legit candidate to claim the Super Bowl championship as the first sixth seed to do so since the Green Bay Packers in 2010. I hope also, of course, that the way for them to enter the playoff field gets cleared by the Carolina Panthers, so that there will be no NCAA-type wonder about the path not traveled by the last or best team excluded from the 2017 tournament (no one outside Seattle will wonder this).
To want to win should not be controversial—we shall not entertain here Machiavellian debates about draft position or coaching staff fallout. I’m just not going to get into that today.
But I am also a deviant and I do want to talk about a joy the Seahawks give me that has nothing to do with winning.
When I mentioned before that Seattle will become a dark horse if they win on Sunday and if the Atlanta Falcons lose to help them into the playoffs, I misspoke, because the Seahawks are a dark horse already. Indeed, although we talk about this idiom most frequently in the sense of an unexpected challenger upsetting the field of favorites, its original meaning in horse racing was just a horse you don’t know much about. The darkness of the horse comes not from the shade of its hide, but this shadow of information, this uncertainty—a lack of “visibility” in the data: the unknown.
The dark horse provokes fear among the favorites, or really among the bettors, because they don’t know how it should alter the odds. They just don’t know.
And this is an element I cherish. There is an old silent movie, called The Unknown, with Lon Chaney. Chaney plays a carnival trickster, a charlatan and fugitive who hides his identity by posing as an armless man throwing knives expertly with his feet. This feature happens to endear Chaney’s character to the daughter of the circus owner, who has an unusual (though given the behavior of so many men then as now we might say understandable) extreme fear of men’s arms. They fall in love, and of course this puts Chaney’s mountebank in a literal bind because he can’t make love to the woman without her discovering his arms (bound behind him by a cloth). So, at the risk of spoiling a 90-year-old film, Chaney arranges to travel to the South of Spain for an operation to actually remove his arms—which sounds bad enough, but has unintended and even more unhappy consequences.
It’s a grotesque twist on an even older tragic fable—getting what you want often means giving up what you have, and even that brings no guarantees—and it reminds me in some sense of the situation with the Seahawks lately. Of course we do have plenty of data and Seattle still wins more often than not, and yet every week we never seem to know if the Seahawks will be any good. Many fans, at least the ones who express themselves most ardently online, hate his. They seem like they would give anything—even their arms—for a little certainty. O but certainty is such a curse!
The specialness of winning evaporates when victories come merely with a sense of relief or expectation, like the collection of a balance due.
I’m not saying I don’t also relish the high standard of success Seattle has maintained over the past half dozen years, or appreciate the pressure that comes with that. Always compete, and so forth. But when enjoyment of football comes only squeezed though the shape of a certain kind of result, it doesn’t feel like enjoyment of football at all. It just feels like cutting cookies.
Winning isn’t the only thing. It’s just one byproduct of a collision of two clubs, a fusion really, that produces so much more.
“Is this space of our couple of hours too dimensional for you, temporiser?”
The uncertainty reactor that is Seahawks football spins off new, unnamed elements nearly every week. And these pieces of surprise are really what I’m here for.
We spent all offseason, for example, turning ourselves in knots over Richard Sherman’s relationship with Pete Carroll or Russell Wilson. Wondering whether rookie Shaquill Griffin or veteran Jeremy Lane could adequately fill in on the opposite corner, or when DeShawn Shead would be healthy enough to play again. We scrutinized pronunciations of Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Pierre Desir.
None of us—not you, not me, not anyone on Twitter or in the comments—can claim you ever heard of a guy named Justin Coleman before September 2, when Seattle traded a seventh round draft pick for him, presumably in a throwaway move for depth in case the organization decided to ditch Lane’s contract, or to make room on the New England Patriots roster for Cassius Marsh or whatever it was. And yet here was Coleman, providing probably the signature moment of the season against the Dallas Cowboys a week ago. And that was only his second interception touchdown on the year.
I was looking over some of my favorite Field Gulls articles I wrote this year and both this 2016 season wrapup I composed following the loss in the playoffs last January and a 2017 season preview speculating on the shifting future for the Seahawks, though appropriate bookends to the offseason, seem marvelously unrecognizable after the few short months since. Beside Coleman, who could have seen coming Sheldon Richardson? Or Duane fucking Brown? Remember Dwight Freeney? Thinking about how stable was Wilson’s stature at the end of last year, or the turbulent status of Sherman, seems quaint at the dawn of 2018. How about Bradley McDougald substituting for two Hall of Famers back to back? We discover storylines nobody would have desired or requested, but they turn glorious independent of win total or depth of playoff advancement.
And the above paragraph is really only a list of names. What’s more exciting are the happenings.
But also the fusses and the feuds. Some people disapprove of Seattle grappling with opponents or bickering with teammates after a loss, but I support the spirit of it, both from the competition angle and also the I-don’t-have-to-be-what-you-want-me-to-be defiance.
Then there are the plays. Even in losses, the Seahawks always uproot some performance that makes you scream or giggle. I’ve written in the past about the magical feeling that courses below this organization, a “secret beauty buried underground by jealous gods ... a beauty so abundant that it keeps leaking out anyway.” Much of that witchcraft is defined by miraculous moments in victories, sure, but I don’t mind telling you I witness it even when it fails.
Remember when Nazair Jones, the 304-pound rookie with the rare nerve disorder, playing in his first professional game, scooped an Aaron Rodgers pass out of the sky and huffed and puffed 65 yards for a touchdown? I tell you it doesn’t matter after all that Seattle lost the game. It doesn’t even matter that the score and much of the return got erased by bogus penalties. That play, that memory, still happened. You don’t have to swallow that joy. You don’t have to forget it. Shout it from the stadium seats; shout it to your lover late at night if you want to.
And now Jones, unfortunately hurt, gives way to one of the most exciting prospects of the Seahawks’ 2017 class!
With any luck, we get to watch Tyrone Swoopes play football today, win or lose. I’m hoping Swoopes fuels with diesel an 11,000 gallon petroleum tanker’s worth of expectation for his potential in the new year. And when the playoff run is done a month from now we will have all offseason to discuss Seattle’s new goal line weapon of the future.
Like Kenneth Arthur said when he wished a “thank you” to the Seahawks for their long string of success following the Los Angeles Rams loss a few weeks ago, I don’t intend this post as a goodbye to the 2017 season. I really don’t expect it to be that. I just want to offer, instead of making your heart clench and teeth rattle during this Cardinals game or any of the games afterward, another way of watching football—an expression instead of dread, of reckoning with possibility.
No matter what uncertainty the Seahawks bring, they always leave something to believe in.