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Frank Clark’s folly and other oddities of the 2016 Seahawks schedule

Fun with football fortune telling, a fear of flying, expansion franchise faceoff, and fact checking Frank: The NFL schedule offers so much more than matchups!

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Remember when Cam Newton fumbled in the Super Bowl and Frank Clark posted a special edition replay of Newton’s aborted lunge with his own commentary track added as gloss? "Made the decision it wasn’t worth it in the Super Bowl," Clark narrated. It’s a fascinating document of voice over. You can practically hear Clark’s head shaking with displeasure. "Can’t wait to play his punk ass," he said.

While Clark continued picking on Newton’s toughness ("no respect") and even appetite ("he want grapes") in a string of derisive tweets, he at the same time did everyone else a favor (or is it a curse?). With the season’s final game winding down, the otherwise gossipy animus helped build a bridge of anticipation across pro football’s dreaded dry season toward the fall of 2016. Can’t wait to play! But then Clark went and made it even more real.

Because of the NFL’s standard formula we knew the NFC’s West and South are bound by conference rotation to play next year, and we even knew Newton’s Carolina Panthers would visit Clark’s Seahawks in Seattle when they do. But the details of the lineup, the dates—the schedule part of a schedule—were still, in February, a secret. I mean, the Super Bowl was live on TV! The 2015 season wasn’t technically over yet.

So when the big defensive end circled a date with his (since deleted) provocation, some observers asked if Clark and other players were privy to the league schedule in advance. After all, the schedule was not due to arrive in public until April 14. What do you call a schedule when it’s ahead of schedule?

But Clark got it wrong. The schedule arrived when it said it would and told us the Panthers play the Seahawks on December 4. In week 13 of the 2016 season. Not week 5. Frank’s realness was so real it wasn’t even real. So was he bluffing? Guessing? Who gave Frank Clark the bad info? The best explanation is probably the one you figured at the beginning: Clark in his tilt of emotion was looking at last year’s schedule and tweeted so hastily he didn’t know his mistake.

Just like you or I would.

Look, you don’t need to fact check a man’s diet of mud to enjoy watching him eat. By the time the schedule came out we heard all over again about Super Bowl rematches, 10 a.m. kickoffs, serious (um) …prime time broadcasts, and—yes, opportunities for playoff redemption. But what did we really learn?

In honor of Frank’s forecast and other offseason filler, here’s an offbeat guide to some Seahawks 2016 schedule highlights you probably already didn’t know, but have nothing whatever to do with what we’re going to see on the field:

September 11 – Miami Dolphins

It’s not only been 15 years since the Mariners went to the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks open their season on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon in 2001. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross happens to be a big time real estate developer in New York City and his firm, called Related Companies, was one of the finalists for the contract to rebuild the properties at the destroyed World Trade Center site. When that didn’t work out Ross shifted his energies to another massive development called Hudson Yards, on Manhattan’s west side.

Ross’s Hudson Yards project remains in the works, but it had been proposed initially in 2005—stay with me—as a site for a new New York Jets football stadium that was also the crown of a convention complex designed in hopes of securing the 2012 summer Olympics for New York. After that deal fell through, the Jets decided to double down on their partnership with the Giants in New Jersey, which led directly to the construction of Metropolitan Life Stadium in the Meadowlands. Which is of course where the Seahawks ended up winning the Super Bowl after the 2013 season. Later this year, Seattle makes its first return trip to that building when the Seahawks play at the Jets October 2.

September 18 – at Los Angeles Rams

Speaking of September 11, the last time the Seahawks played in L.A. was September 11, 1994—a 38-9 win over the Raiders. The last time Seattle met the Rams in Los Angeles? A 31-10 loss in 1988. The only other time the Seahawks even faced the Rams in California was another bad loss, 45-6 in Seattle’s expansion year. Overall the Seahawks are 5-10 playing in Los Angeles in the regular season (and 0-1 in the playoffs, losing the ’83 AFC Championship to the Raiders). Pete Carroll, however, has a really good record there I’m told.

October 30 – at New Orleans Saints

Seattle hasn’t played any playoff games in New Orleans. (Hosting playoff games is for division champs duh.) This one comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the Saints’ official existence. Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle announced the formulation of his beatific vision of the team on November 1, 1966—All Saints Day. But I’m more interested in this particular road trip for the sake of Patrick Lewis’s family.

I can’t imagine anyone making better use of the classic unheralded-player-gets-to-play-in-his-hometown motif than Lewis, who is from Reserve, Louisiana, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain just outside New Orleans. The Seahawks’ surprise starting center at the end of 2015, credited with almost singlehandedly bringing order to a messy offensive line, reportedly by learning to speak more assertively?

The undrafted player cut from three (3) teams’ practice squads in two years—including the Browns and Jaguars? Playing against the team featuring the same former All-Pro center he used to back up—his own boyhood team? We know Lewis stays active in the community, and judging by his frequency of Instagram and Twitter posts focused on his mother, daughters, teammates, his college football program (Texas A&M), and people from his old neighborhood, Lewis seems like a fiercely loyal guy.

Of course these homecoming moments don’t always turn out perfectly for Seahawks centers, and I can’t guarantee Lewis is starting in week 8 or even still on the team. But the opportunity of this game makes me excited for his chance and I hope his visit home marks even more of a celebration than a reunion for Patrick Lewis. Here is a link to a documentary narrated by Terry Bradshaw about Lewis’s high school team struggling to hold a football season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

November 13 – at New England Patriots

Pete Carroll has coached against his former team before, but this will his be his first visit to New England with the Seahawks. Seattle’s 24-23 win over the Patriots in 2012 was at home, and his only other matchup against his former squad was in the, uh, …at a neutral site.

Carroll never coached against Seattle while he was in New England (nor when he was with the Jets for that matter). In fact the Seahawks didn’t meet the Patriots at all between 1993 and 2004. But ’93 was a strange case. In that year Seattle swept New England (by a total of four points) in a regular season home and home against the Pats.

Wait what? Why did the Seahawks, then in the AFC West, play an AFC East foe twice in the same season?

Actually it’s a weird artifact of Seattle’s entry into the NFL in the 1970s. As you may know, the Seahawks technically played in the NFC in 1976, but then swapped conferences with fellow newcomers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for ’77 as part of a scheme for both expansion franchises to play every other NFL team in their first two years. Back then there were only 28 clubs in the league and 14 games a season. By 1978, when these teams settled into regular alignments, the NFL needed a new way to balance the schedule. The 16-game lineup was introduced as a solution.

The asymmetry of divisions, where each conference had two divisions with five teams and one division with four, got resolved by determining the two 5th-place finishers in both conferences play each other twice the following year. If you never noticed this, it may be because Seattle’s schedule history shows it otherwise only ever played pairs of interdivisional games against the Colts in 1994 and the Jets in 1981. In 1982, when the Seahawks also came off a last-place finish, a player strike shortened the season leaving divisional rivals the Denver Broncos the only team Seattle played twice. After 1994, when two more expansion teams evened the divisions, the practice stopped.

In a way it’s actually a nice reminder that the Seahawks, perceived from most national perspectives as (until recently) a perpetually sad sack franchise, finished in last place only seven times in their 40-year history—not at all in the last 20 years, not since going 7-9 in 1996. And not even though the likelihood should be higher after the NFL split into four-team divisions in 2002 (bless you Rams!). However to be fair, the Patriots technically finished 5th place at 8-8 in Carroll’s last year in 1999. So what the hell does last place even mean?

November 20 – Philadelphia Eagles

I laughed out loud last week listening to the 3000 NFL Mock Draft podcast when Rob Staton described a scene where Sam Bradford, in a display of dramatic bitterness after the Eagles traded for position to draft Carson Wentz, "flies back to Oklahoma." I still find it funny! Why is it funny? I think it’s because something seems incongruous about folks in Oklahoma flying airplanes.

But this is crazy. People in the country fly in airplanes more than you and I do, probably. That’s because things are far apart in the country. Folks from the country may not fly from coast to coast, but they fly from here to there. I mean maybe this has changed some since the development of highway systems, but my grandfather (grew up in Everett) tells me of a time when he was managing a farm owned by his father-in-law in Georgia in the 1950s. They had a little airplane that could travel the long distances needed once a week for … fresh farm supplies or whatever. One day, my grandpa says, he asked a farmhand if he wanted to come along. "Well, no sir, I don’t," the farmhand says. "What’s the matter?" my grandpa says, "You’re afraid the plane is going to crash?" "Why, yes—yes sir I am," says the farmhand. "Well," my grandpa says, "when your time comes, your time comes." "Yes sir, I know that," says the farmhand. "But I don’t want to be up there when your time comes."

November 27 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Speaking of expansion mates, Seattle leads the Buccaneers 8-4 all time head to head. Seattle has 74 more wins in franchise history than Tampa (not counting playoffs; the Seahawks also crush the Bucs 15-6 in playoff wins). Seattle’s current quarterback is less than 50 yards behind Tampa Bay’s passing yards leader (Vinny Testaverde). Seattle’s just-retired running back is more than 3,000 yards ahead of Tampa Bay’s rushing yards leader (James Wilder). Seattle has had three receivers with more yards and catches than Tampa Bay’s leading receiver (Mark Carrier). Seattle’s current coach has more wins than Tampa Bay’s all-time leader (Jon Gruden). And it still shivers me timbers that the lowlife Buccaneers both appeared in and won a Super Bowl before the Seahawks did.

December 24 – Arizona Cardinals

Seattle is 2-3 on Christmas Eve in its history, and 5-6 on Saturdays. The Seahawks have never played on Christmas.