Could we win?
I mean, could we? Was that allowed? Could the Seattle Seahawks, a Seattle sports team, win it all? Or were we doomed to whatever infernal caste into which Vishnu cast the Buffalo Bills? A first-class fanbase forever hoping for that second place finish, hoping this loss wouldn’t be too disillusioning, hoping for a noble struggle in defeat, as our guys, our team, our franchise, our city serves the needs of somewhere bigger, somewhere more important, somewhere ... else.
A Pittsburgh, a Steelers, if you will, and by extension Detroit, Jerome Bettis, a fragmented and discouraged nation deep in the throes of too many crises to name, an established winner, an orthodox winner, and I did I mention Jerome “The Bus” Bettis?
Click that link and you will hear Bettis vocalize the deepest feelings in the souls of every Seahawks fan February of 2006. I’ll transcribe for those incapable.
That team gave me a swaggering confidence. I knew we would win. But we didn’t. And the 2005 Seahawks lost in the most painful way imaginable. The game became a show trial, and of Seattle’s execution by quartering Michel Focault might write: “Not only must people know, they must see with their own eyes. Because they must be made to be afraid; but also because they must be the witnesses, the guarantors, of the punishment, and because they must to a certain extent take part in it.” We, as Seahawks fans, must know we could not win, must know it was arrogant and befitting of punishment to think our team could beat an Old Money team like the Steelers, and if we were to avoid future beatings, we must learn to cower before the master raises his hand.
And I did. Hell, before Super Bowl 48 I had a cannabis-assisted panic attack which sent me speedwalking two miles around our home. I felt like an agoraphobic staring out at the naked cosmos from the surface of the moon. The possibility of winning filled me with dread. It wasn’t just XL. There was this.
Which makes the circus of timely flags which defined Super Bowl XL look positively legitimate by comparison.
I had become self-protectively pessimistic of all things Seattle sports. Our history, our legacy as a sports town felt an awful lot like Michael Jordan forcing a big, arrogant, phony laugh at Gary Payton in a documentary okayed by Michael Jordan and aired on ESPN. Here was our dude, one of the very best to ever play in Seattle, one of the best to ever play, saying something factually supported and humbly phrased, ridiculed without any chance to respond. Jordan shot 22 of 60 in the three games Payton was his primary defender, but ESPN had little time for facts in its hagiographic portrait of a man with the profound insecurity and desperate need to rewrite history in his favor of Stalin.
We would lose. We would be cheated. And after we lost, after we were cheated, we would be laughed at. If we refused to lose, losing would be thrust on us. If we tied the record for wins in a season, we would be routed in the playoffs. If a title could be claimed, that claim would be disputed. If one team actually managed to win an undisputed title, that team would be taken from us. Any team at any time could be taken, it seemed. This nauseating mix of Chicago pessimism, West Coast paranoia and Rust Belt fatalism defined the experience of the Seattle sports fan, I thought.
But it didn’t. I don’t wish to commit to the eminently trite and quasi-ecumenical attitude that all reactions to XL were valid and how one reacted to Seattle’s loss in Super Bowl XL reflected the internalized biases, values and beliefs of the person, but, uh, surely most reactions to XL were valid and how one reacted to Seattle’s loss in Super Bowl XL reflected the internalized attitudes, values and beliefs of the person.
Field Gulls’ first editor, “Shrug,” wanted Seahawks fans to get over it, quickly. Eventually his anger was directed (or maybe simply displaced) at a group of opportunistic mongers of merch. He didn’t want Seahawks fans to be known as “whiners”—remember that? Accusations of whining are often wielded by bullies. Something of a “The beatings will continue until morale improves” kind of tactic, in which complaint over injustice itself signifies weakness and debasement of character. Old as I am now, I see that Paul’s attitude is probably “healthier.” Old as I am now, I have never gotten over that loss.
However any one of us handled it, I doubt many of us ever really have. It left a mark. There are infinite permutations to how one might handle trauma, even the mostly inconsequential but symbolically horrifying trauma of XL, but if you cared, if you loved that team, if you were gonna give yourself to ecstatic celebration if the Seahawks won, you can’t deny that it hurt very, very badly when they didn’t. How they didn’t, the cold, hollowing sensation of how it happened, amplified that pain tenfold. I didn’t think we couldn’t win Super Bowl 48. I thought we would. But I believed, somehow, we couldn’t win. My gut, my intuition, bracing as if it were a beaten dog.
Over the next few weeks I am going to revisit the greatest season, and in particular, the greatest game in Seattle sports’ history. To some extent, I am simply looking for an escape from constant fear mongering, and in that pursuit I hope to give some of y’all that escape too. To quote Bill Hicks “Hey it’s all gonna work out. Here’s sports.”
Here’s sports, and, if you’re anything like me, here’s the day sports taught me I’m not cursed, I won’t always lose, good things happen for no reason at all, and it’s okay to write “we” when referring to your favorite sports team. I haven’t a clue yet how to justify that final assertion, but we have weeks, and somehow I know it’s true. Don’t you?
Tomorrow: The Making of the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks.