I still very clearly remember the day I knew that Russell Wilson would lead the Seattle Seahawks to many wins for years to come. It was his rookie season, Week 13, at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Seahawks and Bears had battled all game long, but Seattle was down 14-10 late in the fourth – and that’s when Wilson started one of his now-famous comeback drives. It felt like every snap on that drive Wilson was keeping the ball on a read-option and running for eight yards, nine yards, or a first down. That drive was capped off by a Golden Tate touchdown, and Seattle later won in overtime. I began completely believing in Russell Wilson that day, but I didn’t start believing in “Seahawks magic” until a couple of years later.
Maybe I’m cutting Wilson and his teammates short by saying it wasn’t until the Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks NFC Championship Game that I fully understood the kind of energy this team had surrounding them. There were many incredible moments that preceded that game; Marshawn Lynch picking up a fumble and rumbling for a long gain against the Washington Redskins during that first playoff trip; the incredible comeback in Atlanta; the entire bulldozer-to-destiny season of 2013; the tip; Kam Chancellor’s pick-six in the NFC Divisional round; Too many moments to list, but the Seahawks and Packers grudge match with a Super Bowl trip on the line had a different kind of aura around it.
It’s no easy thing for me to get down to a game. There’s a boat ride, a border crossing, several hours driving, a bus trip, then a wide-eyed wander through downtown Seattle to the incomparable Occidental Avenue and CenturyLink Field. It’s a several day event I try to limit to once a year. There was the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, the Soundgarden concert/NFL kickoff night following the Super Bowl XLVIII win, and there was the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, a game that we all know by now was as torturous and ugly for the first 56 minutes as any Seahawks game in Wilson’s career.
The real story begins in an insane monsoon swirling that was through the area surrounding CenturyLink Field on gameday, but for the sake of your entertainment – sorry for the preamble – we can start this story at halftime. Alice In Chains was rocking the stadium, and I was a moping fan with his chin in his hand, sitting in his seat. A 20-something year old kid in a Steve Largent jersey, just hoping for Wilson to quit throwing interceptions, and for Seattle’s offense to start holding up their half of the deal.
And I’ll be damned, my prayers began to get answered.
Jon Ryan, true to Canadian form, helped a friend in need. There are no better five seconds than the five seconds where you go from thinking, “Shit Jon Ryan bobbled the snap!” to thinking, “Oh My God, that guy in Red Bryant’s jersey just caught a touchdown!” And like the Seattle horizon just before kickoff, some sunshine began to creep into the bleak outlook. But somewhere between Garry Gilliam’s touchdown and Morgan Burnett’s interception in the fourth quarter, that pesky sunshine began to hide, almost impossibly, behind the bland flatlands of Wisconsin. Wilson was clutch, but surely the deficit was too large, the time remaining too little.
Then we were reminded why since mid-2011, you should never doubt these Seahawks.
Somebody forgot to tell the Packers that, and it hit them in the face like a Steven Hauschka onside kick. Anybody with a block of cheese on their head knows what happened at the end of the game, but it still seems surreal. Hauschka’s onside kick and Brandon Bostick’s blunder. Lynch’s rumble into the end zone. Wilson’s bordering-on-insanity triple pirouette twenty yards backwards before heaving it into Luke Willson’s grateful hands. It all seemed impossible. How can a franchise so snakebitten for so long suddenly seem to have destiny on its side, motioning out wide and leaving Jermaine Kearse one-on-one with no safety help?
My rollercoaster ride of emotions nearly came to a disastrous end, when Aaron Rodgers ran 12 yards and earned my respect for life. The will and determination pouring from the one-legged MVP as he hobbled for a first down truly made me forget everything that had just happened, instead resetting to: “Damn it, we’re really going to lose this game.” Of course, I shouldn’t have thought that. For it wasn’t just the Packers that forgot to never doubt Seattle, but often it can be their own fans who reel in self-doubt at any sign of a potential loss.
A few plays, a big first down to Doug Baldwin, a game-winning touchdown to Jermaine Kearse, and the Seahawks were heading back to the Super Bowl.
I remember at the beginning of overtime, the friendly folks in my aisle asked me about playoff overtime rules. I remember embracing each and every one of those new friends as Kearse hurled the NFC Championship-winning ball into the stands. I remember a gang of players and staff mobbing Kearse as I crouched down and began to tear up at the sight of a truly unmatched football organization celebrating the most incredible victory of their lives.
The 300-level was too far to see Michael Bennett commandeer a police bike, or Wilson bawling his eyes out, or any of the other madness happening below me ... not that I would’ve been able to make any of it out through my misty vision.
I stayed standing at my seat until the stadium began to look as empty as the look in Rodgers’ eyes, surveying the stadium, the field, and shaking my head in disbelief. The Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl, and that seemed impossible an hour ago.
As I leisurely strolled down the concourse grinning like an idiot and repeating “We won” to nobody in particular, I gazed out at the sea of blue and green below on the road that was in the same state of shock as myself. “Seaaaaaaa! Haaaaaawks!” rang out, but it was more like a sigh of relief than a battle cry. I smiled and soaked it in. My stroll through the magnificent, deafening concrete park continued as long as it could; I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want that moment to ever end.
Maybe it was the actual once in a lifetime comeback I had just witnessed, or maybe it was the thousands of Seattle fans marching in a mass of disbelief, or maybe it was the feeling that I couldn’t shake - the feeling that I saw something nobody was supposed to witness – but I really dug in on everything Pete Carroll, Wilson and the whole team had been preaching for years that day. There was an energy, a magic about this team that’s unmatched. They can be outscored, they can be outplayed, they can be outclassed; but Carroll and Wilson’s Seahawks will be out of reach.