In the golden age of sports journalism, journalist and athlete, journalist and coach, were peers. Not cronies but peers, and while the relationship was not fully antagonistic, opposition, competition, a battle of minds was possible. In 2020, coaches and athletes are rich celebrities and journalists are lucky to have a job. Access is given those willing to play ball. A question which is even a little probing, a little tough, is met with anger and scorn. During press conferences Pete Carroll is in the habit of pointing out when he’s offered any information beyond what can be found on a carefully worded press release, and smiling in an indulgent and condescending way as if he slipped up a bit. As if he’s been had, a tiny, tiny bit.
Which is one reason blogs are often dedicated to criticism and analysis. It’s a role we can fill. Almost all of the copy, all of the airtime, all of the oxygen given to covering a team is hype and rationalization. Teams have in-house press, in-house reporters, in-house features, and even very insubstantial and partisan in-house analysis. No one ever lacks for Seahawks chauvinism. It’s funny to me how often people come to Field Gulls demanding more.
Criticism, analysis gives praise substance. I am perhaps irrationally worried about the direction of this team. 5-1 is 5-1. Advanced stats are only slightly more predictive of future performance than record. Record counts. Advanced stats are subjectively determined standards which are designed to objectively measure a team’s performance. They’re analysis, an opinion, and valuable, but they don’t decide playoff seeding. I think advanced stats are right. There’s a bit of rot in this team. Something not quite right which may spread and devour the potential for greatness, but that’s me worrying and bitching. I’ve never met a dedicated fan of a team who didn’t bitch and worry. It can still get old.
As can criticism and analysis which never becomes praise, which never finds good in that which it analyzes. Fan sites often run hot and cold. All hype after a win; all apocalyptic dread and panicky finger pointing after a loss—especially a bad loss. But I make a conscious effort to strain a bit against the current. It’s my opinion that hype doesn’t add much after a win. The win is awesome but the hype is like a come-on or a compliment which can’t help but sound like a passive aggressive insult. And it’s my opinion that after a loss, a little bit of positive spin, so long as it’s honest and founded, can be wonderfully ameliorative. In a less awesome country, Sunday’s game would have ended in a tie. It’s cool and awful feeling that the Seahawks got additional time to extend their choke job into a full loss!
But what I really want to write about is something Pete Carroll said about his knee. “My rehab was going really well and then, if you can imagine this, I overdid it a little bit too much.” Carroll overdid it a little bit too much. He could have overdone it properly, and he didn’t overdo it too terribly much, but in his pursuit of overdoing it the exact right amount he overshot just a little bit. I love that. I love how much that says about Coach Carroll.
The best medical advice I ever received was “walk it off.” My mom was a critical care nurse and my father was an auto mechanic. Dad worked through a back injury which could have been treated through spinal fusion. When he could, and when he wasn’t going out to play ladies’ man at the Candlelight, he would take muscle relaxants and peace out on the couch. We never talk about the need-for-opiates crisis, and thank God dad never went that route, but so many careers inherently and unavoidably destroy health and well-being. Mom was probably a little more calloused than the average mom. I remember nights spent enduring what felt an awful lot like pleurisy, and mom saying in a way which may kindly be called “dispassionate,” that I would be fine. And I was. And to this day I am gifted with health and pain tolerance. Resilience to pain, resilience to injury and resilience to the insidious influence of internal and external hypochondria. Thanks mom. Thanks dad.
There is no perfect coach or quarterback or musician or novelist or actor or anything. Each is only perfect insomuch that they are perfectly themselves and best when they are truest to themselves. Sometimes Pete Carroll’s exuberance is frustrating. Sometimes it even seems to harm the team. But it made this team. Not without help, but in his decade of coaching, I don’t think we’ve seen a single season in which the Seahawks were not the Pete Carroll Seahawks. Hopeful, brash, free, exuberant and always inclined to overdo it a little too much.
There’s this play, and I undermine the seeming finality of that last line intentionally, but there is this play from Super Bowl 49 which I think is mostly forgotten. I think about this play an awful lot, because it’s my salve for the terrible heartbreak to come. I’ve always thought with one play comes the other, that you cannot have only one, that with the same spirit the Seahawks nearly won the Super Bowl the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl.
This is that play.
Funny that weird mixture of elation and rage which men feel in moments of triumph.
Sometimes the hope which makes the win possible without any change at all but time and circumstance becomes the recklessness which ensures the loss. On this sunny and cold Tuesday afternoon it felt especially important to recognize Coach Carroll and the Carroll era of Seahawks football, the era of overdoing it a little too much, before that era’s over and praise becomes compulsory. Thanks for the worry. Thanks for the elation. Thanks for the celebratory rage. Get well, you’re gonna need to rip off your headset and punch the air wildly again very soon.