You young Seahawks fans, and new fans that joined in 2012, have your first taste of true frustration in terms of not knowing much about your team. Things you thought might be okay are not quite as solid as once believed, and after two impressive seasons, the team seems to just not know how to put games away anymore.
Some folks I've chatted with in the last month said this was it. Even veteran fans have called this one of the hardest seasons ever in memory, because of the weight of expectation. I began watching this team on a week-in-week-out basis in 2003. That year's team had everyone at ESPN on the hype train. A lot of the experts predicted a Super Bowl appearance. A young gunslinger by the name of Matt Hasselbeck had finally had the light come on, and the offense averaged 450 yards in five of its final six contests, and it had everyone, including me back at the football table.
The 2003 season was an amazing time to be a fan. A young offense really growing up before our very eyes. The defense lagged behind but had its moments in the clutch of a few games. It was strange, after a key win vs the Rams at home, I remember feeling like this was the most fun a guy could have.
The team was inconsistent though, winning only one game on the road and just barely losing by one possession in several contests. It came down to the final week: A beautiful opportunity to put the Seahawks' playoff hopes into the hands of the NFL tiebreaker scenarios. It was a road contest vs. the San Fransisco 49ers, at the time lead by Jeff Garcia and Garrison Hearst.
I had a pretty bad fever that day, so I don't remember a whole lot about that game, but one play I remember vividly was a Brandon Lloyd catch on the sideline -- one handed, diving, twisting behind him. What a catch. The only other thing I remember of that game was the closing drive by Matt Hasselbeck. While calling audibles twice to Shaun Alexander, Seattle ran the ball nine times for 57 yards, but as had happened previous games, the offense could only kick a field goal. The Seahawks were up, but they would have a chance to drop yet another road game.
The defense bowed it's neck and held there though, and all the drama ended with Seattle in a Wildcard showdown with the Green Bay Packers. This contest was graciously provided to us by the Cardinals, led by a young Josh McCown throwing a 4th down 24 touchdown to Nate Poole, giving me one of my all-time favorite football calls ever.
That play knocked the Vikings out of the NFL playoffs and gave Seattle its way in.
Those of us that were there will always remember the conclusion of an incredible contest with the Packers as one of the most sudden heart wrenching turnarounds in the franchises history.
"We want the ball and we're gonna score." -Matt Hasselbeck
On the next play from scrimmage, Hasselbeck threw a pick six, targeting the out to fourth-string WR Alex Bannister. Al Harris was immortalized by that play, and fans of Seattle were left with one more tough loss on their list of pain-filled history.
Maybe next year.
It's what all teams' fans say when their team doesn't win. It gives them hope but it's mostly said to squash the pain of today with the hope of tomorrow. Going into 2004, Seattle had several hurdles to climb -- including the fact that Matt Hasselbeck, Darrell Jackson and Shaun Alexander were having their contracts come up at the end of 2004. A lot of folks thought Matt might be franchised, but he wasn't. Next was the defensive changes with Reggie Tongue and Shawn Springs moving on, to be replaced with Ken Lucas for Springs and a converted rookie Michael Boulware. Now most of you won't even flinch when I mention that name who weren't here when he arrived. He was the brother of Raven's Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware, and believe me, the Seattle media rode that into the ground.
They also needed help with run defense. So the Seahawks, as they often did during this time, fixed problems by throwing money at them. Boy did they, signing away Grant Wistrom from the Rams for $14 million in guaranteed dollars. He was not a sack artist, but his run support was an immediate boost to this team.
Seattle survived the offseason and preseason. They then -- as often happened even in the 90's -- got off to a solid start, logging three consecutive wins:
At New Orleans, 21-7 -- Shaun Alexander had three touchdowns.
At Tampa Bay, 10-6 -- with the last offensive score for Seattle came with 14:25 to go in the 2nd Quarter. The key moment in this one was the play where Michael Boulware intercepted Chris Simms to end the game (twice). The first was nullified by penalty, then on the next play, he picked it off again and sealed the game.
Vs San Fransisco 34-0 -- the Niners had jettisoned all of their talent, including trading Terrell Owens to the Eagles, and Jeff Garcia heading to Cleveland in free agency.
Everything looked good for a matchup with the St Louis Rams.
The Wheels Come Off a Little Bit
17 points in just over six minutes. The Seahawks led the Rams 27-10 and it looked like another signature win at home over the overhype on turf. (Suck it Rams, your fade into obscurity pleases me every year.) St. Louis would go on to score 17 points in six minutes to force overtime, and then daggered the Seahawks' defense with a 52-yard pass play to Shaun McDonald.
I wanted to smash my television.
The Seahawks seemed to lose their stride on defense after this. Remember they had -- until those last six minutes -- surrendered only 23 points in four games. It was an incredible and perplexing turnaround and collapse.
The next week in New England, Seattle would squander another game on the road. Mysteriously, the Seahawks, a natural fast-start offense, didn't get anything going until the end of the 3rd quarter.
Key Play: Bethel Johnson made 1 catch, but it went for 48 yards.
Now a season that seemed so promising was fading away.
When Seattle faced the Cardinals the following week on the road, the defense was so bad that a 65-year-old Emmitt Smith scored a 23-yard touchdown. Are you with me so far?
Return Of The Number 80
The one thing I haven't talked about -- something that any fan of the offense during that era remembers -- is drops. Lots of drops. So many drops in fact, that NFL Network referred to the receiving corps as the best defensive backs in the league. Enter Jerry Rice, the other legendary Number 80 in the NFL. I remember the fans being less than ecstatic about the number being unretired, but excited for the hope Jerry Rice could teach these kids to catch.
The Seahawks were going to deal with the suspension of 2002 standout WR Koren Robinson for substance abuse policy violations, so it was a matter of timing. The Raiders needed to end their relationship with the then 42-year-old Jerry Rice.
He would be targeted 7 times against the Cardinals, but would have only 1 catch for 10 yards and as Seattle entered their contest with Carolina, the numbers wouldn't get any better, and he totaled 1 catch for 6 yards on 1 target. The Seahawks got out to an early lead with Shaun Alexander, and held on with add-on field goals by second year kicker Josh Brown.
At San Fransisco, 42-27 -- The listless offense , which barely scored on the Cardinals save for a late touchdown, which had been stopped for three quarters in New England and only added field goals after an early pair of strikes against the Panthers, finally had life.
Matt Hasselbeck had one of his rare clean games. He threw three touchdowns -- all of 20+ yards -- and Shaun Alexander added two short rushes to give the offense its best output since Week 4 in the OT loss to the Rams. Again, Jerry Rice had 2 targets and 1 catch for 5 yards. (I don't even remember this, but Pro-football-reference.com swears it happened.) This was all just in time for the team that had derailed them so thoroughly earlier in the year.
At St. Louis, 12-25
A game in which Shaun Alexander had 176 yards on just 22 carries should have yielded many more points than this, but on the other side of the coin, Matt Hasselbeck couldn't find any of his guys, ending the day at 15-36 172 and an interception. If you're curious, the Rams safeties could not tackle for crap in this game, and Shaun was laughing all the way until he realized they somehow lost this game.
Dilfer Finds Rice
Matt Hasselbeck was out for this contest with the Miami Dolphins with a deep thigh bruise. In his absence, Trent Dilfer -- though not able to find offensive consistency either -- did manage to find Jerry Rice in the offense, connecting with him for 3 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Shaun would add a TD by diving and reaching through a pile.
The game changing play for the struggling offense came on a pick six by none other than Michael Boulware, who picked off a wobbling duck and returned it 63-yards. However, Seattle still needed to finish the game and get a first down to drain the clock. They got it on a 3rd and 7 Dilfer scramble, which Holmgren later described as "taking an eternity."
Not Just Yet
After the emotional and physical victory over the Dolphins, Matt Hasselbeck returned, but so did the poor run defense with both Chad Brown an Anthony Simmons out with season ending injuries. Willis Mcgahee and the Buffalo Bills ran through the Seahawks for four touchdowns on the ground. The next week came the Bill Parcells revamped Cowboys who tore the crap out of the defense, nullifying Jerry Rice's 145 yards receiving (which added to his Monday Night Legend).
Here's a fun highlight though.
There was some controversy surrounding that game and whether or not Keyshawn Johnson had landed out of bounds on a late touchdown catch with just under 2 minutes to go. The replay went against the Hawks though, and Julius Jones would finish the defense with a 21-yard touchdown run over the weak side as Grant Wistrom was also out for the season with a broken leg. It wasn't pretty. Especially since Mike Holmgren elected to throw to try and ice the game.
The Seahawks started 3-0 and were now 3 -6 in their last nine contests, with two of those wins against bad teams with bad quarterbacks. If they were gonna turn this around they were going to have to do it versus the high powered Vikings, which featured Randy Moss and Daunte Cullpepper.
Guess Who! Who? You Know Who!
This game had incredible ups and downs in the first half. Everything lined up to be a shootout, and when Minnesota jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, it looked bad. Then, an offensive flurry from Seattle mixed in with a pair of answering drives, had the score 21-20 Seattle at the half.
These were their scoring drives:
So it's only natural when a game goes so well for the Seahawks that they come out an offer up only 6 points on two field goal drives in the second half. Unbelievably, the defense for Seattle was able to cover and defend the run in this game after half answering the bell and holding the Vikings to just 3 points.
The Vikings began a drive after Seattle makes it 27-23, and everyone in Seattle was clinching so hard. The Vikings were in the redzone, and I was dry heaving. I'm sick, I'm seeing everything fall to pieces once again, and this time it's for good. Then, as before, he comes in like superman to save the game. Guess Who? You Know Who!
I still get choked up even typing the words for that call by Raible, because it so encapsulated the relief we all felt and how it felt to be a Seahawks fan many times. We were just waiting to be let down. Though dramatic, the offense still was unable to muster much and the game ended on a confusing almost deep bomb that should have been a sack.
The Seahawks got out of Minnesota with a win thanks to Mike Tice's coaching and the defense not laying down despite early setbacks. Though this isn't the win that ensured the playoffs, it became the signature of the season. It's the one that's burned into my memory more than any other game that season, and more than the final two wins including one over Jim Mora's Falcons that actually gave us the Playoffs. And the Division.
A Heartless Comment.
The Seahawks would face off against St. Louis in the Wild Card round, and once again, though oh-so close, they'd lose in the closing moments when Bobby Engram dropped a tough pass in the endzone. Seattle had lost yet again to the Rams. Following the game, Torry Holt said in the lockerroom that "Seattle has no heart."
It's funny that Seattle would go on to beat Torry Holt's Rams for the rest of his pointless stat grabbing but meaningless f***ing career. Okay, okay, I'll calm down.
So, What's The Point?
When I decided to sit down and write this, I just wanted to express that hey, no season is worth throwing away, even if it's hard on you. I still reflect on the 2004 team as one of the guttiest teams ever. It's easy to be good when you're winning. It's hard to climb out of the hole when you're losing, but they battled and they fought, and a young man named Michael Boulware defined his short NFL career by being Johnny on the spot. This season defined so much during 2005 how much 2004 had hurt after what 2003 had promised. (Wow what a sentence.)
It's funny now, maybe this 2015 version picked up their season-defining win last Sunday against Pittsburgh. Or maybe, just maybe, they're getting ready to define it once again, against these Minnesota Vikings.