All of us at The Matchups Zone are shocked and saddened by the death of the great NFL outside Linebacker, Junior Seau. He was 43 years old. As the circumstances surrounding his death have been coming in throughout the day, reports are that he died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot at his home outside of San Diego. Making sense of and working to understand this loss forces us to recognize that we lost not only one of the best to ever play but also a man who gave so much of himself to his family, friends, teammates, and his community. Deeply involved in his foundation he was known as intelligent, exceptionally generous, deeply dedicated to bettering others, and never too “good” to mentor, teach, and inspire. Obviously he was one of the greatest to play his position but the more one reads about Seau the man the more one is confronted with the enormity of our loss.
As a member of the AFC West San Diego Chargers Seau and the Chargers played the Seahawks (when Seattle too was part of the AFC West) twice during the regular season. Despite being a die-hard Seahawks fan and as a result hoping that Seau was “picked up” and accounted for, his talent was always felt; recording solid numbers during those years. In 23 games as a Charger playing the ‘Hawks, Seau averaged 7 tackles, recorded 6.5 sacks, batted down 6 passes and blew up countless plays, some as plays made it to him and some in our own backfield. While I did not root for him to have big games against our team I remember always thinking highly of him. He always came off as a driven and aggressive, but never as dirty. One could respect his game even if he was making life tough for opposing teams. After his career in San Diego he moved to Miami to play for the Dolphins and then ended his career with the New England Patriots. He played in a number of playoff games and played in two Super Bowls, the last with the Patriots during their 18-1 season.
His career stats are beyond impressive. In 19 seasons he was selected to 12 Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro. His career statistics include: 268 games, 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, 1524 tackles, and 325 assists.
Measuring his contributions on the field goes beyond the numbers. He was considered an outstanding teammate even by players who played just a single season with him. His football IQ was evident and his instincts were superb. Few will ever match his numbers, none will match his love for and dedication to the game; his Hall of Fame status sealed a long time ago.
We have lost an icon of the game. But no one has lost more than his family and close friends. Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with them tonight. It may be quite some time before the many questions about his death are answered. In many ways there will likely be many questions that go unanswered. But it is obvious that there was a strong component of depression that led Seau to take his own life. It is hard to think of our sports heroes as being vulnerable to depression. We like to convince ourselves that success and the popularity of fame serve as a shield, that they deflect the emptiness and pain of depression. But we know that such wishes don’t line up with the facts. Facts tell us–sometimes with painful clarity–that success; even greatness offers no protection and even less in the way of promises.
Our thoughts and our sympathies are with Junior’s family, friends, former teammates, and all of those who knew the man. Before we are fans of our team we are fans of the men who give up so much and put themselves out there year after year so that we might fully enjoy this game that has come to mean so much to us. We will remember Junior Seau for the football player and man that he was and for the many people made better because of the life he lived; a good man gone, far too soon.
Number 55 will be missed.
–The Matchups Zone team
**If you or someone you know might need help with depression or if you believe someone you know might be suicidal, please consider reaching out by calling a hotline or by talking with a professional. There is help available.
I remember attending a conference a few years ago and listening to a speaker talk to those of us in attendance about the inherent dangers involved when making business decisions without properly investigating both the decisions we make and the ramifications of those decisions. He told us that when we act too quickly we mess up the order that one expects to find in good decisions. ”When we engage too quickly or when we speak without first understanding the matter in question, it is like the guy at the shooting range who, failing to take his time, winds up with: Ready, shoot, aim.” Not much about that conference stuck with me but ready, shoot, aim did. Reaction prior to investigation can (and does) lead to some interesting–sometimes difficult–problems. Nowhere was that more evident than over the past three days of the 2012 NFL draft.
The NFL draft is a great event. By the time the draft occurs near the end of April, football has been hibernating too long. For NFL fans of every loyalty the draft is a much-needed spring thaw. It signifies that while the beginning of the season is still a number of months off, the next season is indeed getting closer. Already we are in better shape than last year. With no lockout, new uniforms, and some key off-season acquisitions already signed, anticipation for the start of the 2012 season is already pretty high.
Current NFL drafts look little like drafts of yesteryear. With access to the 24/7 NFL Network, Twitter, sports talk radio, and the recent proliferation of some solid NFL/Seahawks blogs, our appetite for all things NFL has never been quite so rapacious. As the 2011 NFL season wrapped up a number of us turned our attention to the draft. We are now moving into year number three of the “Pete and John” regime and while the organization has made some huge strides in the right direction; rebuilding the team they found (one bloated with age, a mentality of tenure, and some questionable contracts with sub-par ROI) their job has not been simple. Our “better day” has been predicated on use of the draft, and this draft was no exception. But as incredibly exciting as the NFL draft is for teams and fans alike, it is worth remembering that drafting college players into your professional organization is far from a perfect science. Every NFL team has a list of picks those in charge at the time would no doubt love to do again, and the NFL is nothing if not a truth detector. Athletes that impress in college sometimes fail to make the move to the NFL while in other cases players who were told no by way of a draft that never called their name have gone on to brilliant careers. It has always been that way and until the NFL draft hands out crystal balls along with draft selection orders, picks will continue to experience varying degrees of success. While every team wants to maximize the overall success of their draft picks, and while fans are more than interested observers in the process, it seems to me that today we judge too quickly the value and worth of a pick; all before that player has ever played a single down in the NFL.
Not even halfway through round number one of the 2012 draft (the ‘Hawks traded down a few spots from the 12th overall pick to land the 15th) we were treated to a dizzying display of reactionary negativity. It was aimed at a 24-year-old LB/DE from West Virginia; Bruce Irvin. Irvin was not supposed to go to the Seahawks. A young man with a less than perfect past, he was thought to be too situational, too one-dimensional to be worth the 15th overall pick. The Seahawks thought otherwise. Reaction was mixed but the negative side of the mix was quite loud. Twitter almost imploded as a number of fans–having had to first pick their phones up off the floor–wasted little time (and even fewer of the allowable 140 characters) panning Irvin. Reactions ranged from: “Who the hell is Bruce Irvin…” to “Oh, god, what are Pete and John smoking?” Some were favorable but those were the exception, especially in the minutes immediately following the pick. The national sports media was apoplectic. Because the ‘Hawks had again walked away from what many thought they should do, and instead did what they felt was in the best interest of the team, blowhard talking heads like Mel Kiper Jr. were left shaking their heads. On the other hand, some Seattle fans might have found it worth looking a little deeper.
Some did. Within an hour of the team selecting Irvin, several very good articles were linked; ready for anyone who cared to know more about Irvin a chance to learn. Frustratingly, some were more content to argue that this was a wasted pick; some even argued that it was one of the worst picks in team history. The truth of course is that it will be a while before we know with any certainty whether picking Bruce Irvin so early in the draft was a good move or whether it will provide fodder for another top ten draft busts program on ESPN. It will be months before Irvin and his fellow draftees will take the field in a meaningful game, and even then there is a danger in judging rookies too harshly (or for that matter, leniently) during their first season.
But the judgment of the past few days has not been so much about the players selected as it has been about those making those selections. To listen to some Seahawk fans you’d be led to believe that draft selection starts by lining the VMAC with a number of dart boards and then spending hours each day hurling darts at the boards just hoping that with enough throws they might field a competent and productive team. Seahawk fans are some of the most passionate and long-suffering fans that exist. I count myself as one of them and will forever consider myself as such. But despite my access to a great deal of information about players hitting the draft, I don’t have access to anything close to what the organization has. I have access to just enough information to form an incomplete opinion; and like most, my opinions are based a great deal more on personal preferences than they are the hard data used to make millions of dollar worth of investments in players who have yet to play a single down of professional football.
It can be tough to watch a draft unfold that leaves one wondering if the Seahawks might be leaving better players on the board than the ones they select. But that is nothing unique to being a Seahawks fan. All draft picks are risky. History shows that for every Peyton Manning there are a lot more picks closer to Ryan Leaf. Aaron Curry was taken as the fourth pick a few years ago while David Hawthorne was an UDFA who led the Seahawks with 115 tackles last year. Curry is now in Oakland still trying to revive a career that is slowly dying while Hawthorne signed a nice contract and will start in New Orleans. Few–if any–saw that coming, but that is how it panned out. Those who pick the ones who play have a tough job. Coaches and General Managers wager their careers and their legacies on their picks. It’s no different in Seattle and there is no doubt that Pete Carroll and John Schneider will be judged on the strength (or lack thereof) of their drafts.
But as a fan of both them and the team they are charged with making better, I think I would do well to remember that before they are judged they should be given a fair chance to field their team. Knee-jerk and visceral reactions to draft picks is a good gig and not a hard one to get. All one has to do is have an opinion and when it comes to sports fans opinions are typically part of the deal. Passionate and smart as Seattle fans are, we are not always patient. It is not hard to understand why and all of us have the same hopes; a team capable of winning a Super Bowl. While championships are the goal the journey there does not have to be a miserable one. We should enjoy the ride. Part of that enjoyment is trying to understand what this organization is about and what they are looking for in a player. Understanding that means that with my limited access to information the organization has to evaluate the value of a player, I need to give each player a chance.
The reaction by some to the Seahawks picking Bruce Irvin was a little sad. The day following his pick there were still those who, despite having access to a number of articles that detailed his past and his journey to becoming a first round draft pick, were still taking to mass media with stories about his past that were not only inaccurate, but closer to pure fantasy. Bruce Irvin has made some serious mistakes, but knowing what those were is the responsibility of anyone who feels inclined to comment on who he is, both as a person and as a player. Judging him for what he’s done is one thing but too much of what I read the other night had little to do with those things and more to do with judging what people thought he had done. That judgment led to people judging the organization, some of which was inaccurate to the point of disappointing.
I am impressed with what the Seahawks did in this draft and trust those who made those decisions. It does not mean that I’ll feel the same way in a year or two. As things stand, I trust in what the team is doing and the direction we’re heading. What a great time to be a fan.
Ready, Aim, Shoot!
After watching The Buffalo Bills’ Stevie Johnson pantomime Plexico Burress’ shooting himself in the leg as part of a TD celebration last week, followed by Seattle’s Golden Tate scoring a TD against the Redskins then falling to the ground in celebratory stupidity, I was annoyed. Not just because Johnson’s penalty was followed by him dropping a couple of passes which would in the end play a huge part in the Bills losing to the Jets, or because Golden Tate gave the Redskins a short field (that was appreciated fully) but because in both cases it was an example of a player costing his team yards.
If football is in fact a game of inches, these two gave up a great deal during their celebrations. But it goes deeper than Tate and Johnson. We witness excessive celebrations multiple times a game and while I am quite sure that the feeling associated with making a huge play in an NFL football game comes with a fair amount of adreneline fueled post-play excitement, players today would do well to remember a few things.
First of all, is it just me or does it seem at times like some players today celebrate every play they are involved in? I remember when former Seahawks LB Aaron Curry would make a decent NFL tackle only to get up and expend furious amounts of energy celebrating with a war cry. In the end, Curry was traded to Oakland in part because he’ll be remembered more for his war cry then for his play. But Curry is far from the only one. Sack a QB in the NFL today and you’re likely to see the defensive player involved shoot up, sprint ten yards downfield and chest bump/high five everyone but the trainer. And I get it; sacks matter. Sometimes, they determine the outcome of a game. And when they do I don’t begrudge a guy his moment. In fact, I hope it feels great. But what I find amazing is how many of those types celebrations happen when the celebrating player’s team is losing; and sometimes badly. Look, if you are down by 21 with 4:13 left in the 4th quarter and you do make a huge play, great! But to engage in an obscene demonstration of ego as a result is far from inspiring and likely won’t change a fans perspective that celebrating on the verge of a loss is a tough thing for a fan to watch. Individual play works well during contract years and there is nothing wrong with personal accomplishment. But if you accomplish it, you won’t have to “show us” you made a great play; it will simply stand out. Trust us, we won’t miss it.
And then there are the touchdown celebrations. I have never scored an NFL touchdown. Like many of you, I’ll never gain a single yard in the NFL. So to some extent the joy and elation of scoring a touchdown at the highest level of professional football is something that will forever elude me, even if every Sunday I do a little vicarious living through those who get it. But that does not mean that scoring has to rob a player of a certain sense of respect; if not for himself, then for his team. When a player scores a touchdown it is almost never the result of just one player. Even the tremendous efforts that look like one-man-shows are far more complicated than that. Blocking at the point of the offensive attack springs a running back. Great blocking up front allows the quarterback the opportunity to throw a deep pass. Eleven guys all going after the same goal. Every play can be blown up by just one guy missing his gap, his assignment, his guy going across the middle. We see it all the time. So when one guy scores a touchdown I think not only of him but of the other ten guys who made it happen. When that same guy starts engaging in a ridiculous post touchdown dance or, as is many times the case, something that looks like a seizure, I want to call NFL Films and have Steve Sabol send me a bunch of film on a wide receiver named Steve Largent. Steve was as competitive as anyone on the field, but he also understood that he was one guy on a team of fifty-three. How many times did Steve score and just hand the ball to the referee? How many times did Jerry Rice and Barry Sanders do the same thing? Hall of Fame players each of them but they always carried themselves with something that felt like a deep respect for the other ten guys on the field after they scored.
Thanks to the antics of players who turn the joy of scoring a touchdown into something we could all do without, the NFL has enacted rules to limit celebrations. That is sad, but not for the obvious reasons. It is sad because it had to be done in the first place. Rules like that were imposed due to players turning in self-aggrandizing performances that had little to do with football and even less to do with their respective teams. In looking up the rules for this article, rules that forbid a player from going to the ground during a celebration or engaging in a celebration that lasts too long I found myself missing the spike. Even the most enthusiastic of spikes seemed appropriate. It’s the exclamation on a great play. It does not go too far. It does not create a spectacle, and it does not make me roll my eyes, wondering if some of the guys engaged in the more elaborate celebrations spend as much time studying game film as they do rehearsing their next touchdown celebration.
I should make it clear that I love the fun and emotion of the game. I love to see my team score touchdowns; often and in a variety of ways. I love that players (especially young ones) are thrilled when they score. They are living a dream made possible by the NFL and their dedication and sacrafice to the sport they love so much. But the sport I love does not have to become watered down in order to be relevant. NFL players don’t need to act like they are trying to make it to the big show. They are in the show. The NFL is not the Arena League, or the WWE. The NFL does not have to be tamed to the point of fan boredom. But it does not have to be a free-for-all either. A player can celebrate a play without begging the cameras to follow him and costing his team yards. Those who play in the NFL should always remember that, and in so doing, respect those who started it all and with grace, class, and dignity, delivered for us a game worth celebrating and loving.
The following article contains accounts of very disturbing behavior by former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky. I have tried to avoid focusing on the more disturbing aspects of what has been written and some of the more horrific details contained in the 23 page grand jury report. That stated; it is impossible to write this story without including some very unsettling details.
“To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of men.” — Ella Wheeler Wilcox
So much is going on in the world of football right now. While much is going on in the NFL and with our ‘Hawks, there is a college football story that is uncovering a shameful and disgusting chapter in the history of the great Penn State University. While this blog focuses on and was built to discuss the Seattle Seahawks I don’t see how one can totally avoid the situation at Penn State nor can I think of any good reason to avoid confronting the story. The story unfolding at Penn State uncovers an ugliness that is not easily read nor accepted. And that ugliness would be bad enough if it involved only one or two people and was an isolated event. Sadly, that cannot be said of the Penn State scandal as it involved a number of people over a number of years. The resulting cost is immense and trail of damage caused by inaction; littered with victims. For many reasons both having to do with football while at the same time having more to do with things larger than any game, I believe this story should not pass by our minds lightly.
Jerry Sandusky coached at Penn State for 32 years. For the majority of those years he was the defensive coordinator. Many assumed that at some point he’d replace legendary head coach Joe Paterno when Paterno retired. In 1977 Sandusky started the Second Mile to work with at-risk/disadvantaged youth. Using the Second Mile as a front for what would become a nightmare for so many, a grand jury report states that Sandusky has inappropriate sexual contact with four boys (all met through the Second Mile) from 1994-1998. In 1999, Sandusky resigns from coaching but is given emeritus status and allowed access to the campus and football facilities.
In 2000 two more incidents of Sandusky having inappropriate relations with a minor are reported but the second incident is witnessed by a janitor who reports that he witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a minor. A second janitor reports seeing Sandusky and the boy leaving the Lasch Football Building hand in hand. No one reports the incident to campus officials or law enforcement.
In 2002, then graduate assistant (and now wide receiver coach Mike McQueary) witnesses (according to the grand jury report) Sandusky performing intercourse on a ten-year old boy in the locker room shower. McQueary (who was in his mid-twenties at the time) does not move to physically stop the attack on the boy but instead leaves the locker room and contacts among other people, head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno informs Athletic Director Tim Curley. By this time the story has been minimized and by the time it is reported to Senior Vice President of Finance Gary Schultz, the initial report has been reduced to “non-sexual horsing around, adding only that Sandusky might have accidentally grabbed the boy’s genitals while wrestling.”
By now, Jerry Sandusky should have been bounced out of Penn State on his head. He should have been arrested and investigated for any one of the previous reported incidents. Now they have one of their own graduate students reporting the rape of a minor child and the punishment? Shockingly, nothing. Sandusky’s locker room keys are taken and he’s told that he’s no longer allowed to bring kids from the Second mile to campus. And while his charity is notified, no law enforcement investigation is launched.
Sadly, this was not the end of Jerry Sandusky and his pedophilia; far from it. Banned from PSU, he continued to use the Second Mile as a victim farm, and from 2005–2008 continues to use and abuse children under the banner of his charity. It takes until November of 2008 before the Second Mile removes Sandusky from having any association with children as part of the charity. And even then he is not removed from the Second Mile. That day comes when he resigns in 2010.
On November 4, 2011, the grand jury report is released. It is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever read. A day later authorities arrest Sandusky on seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and numerous other charges, including aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of a child. He is freed on $100,000 unsecured bail.
On November 14, 2011, Sandusky conducts and interview via telephone with Bob Costas. In one of the most bizarre and disturbing interviews in the history of sports related scandals, Sandusky denies that he is a pedophile but admits to really liking to be around children. The interview with Costas is nothing short of legal suicide and leaves many wondering why Sandusky’s lawyer would ever allow for such an interview to take place.
As a result of the scandal Joe Paterno is fired along with University President Graham Spanier. In a show of pure classlessness, some PSU students riot in protest. Not for years of cover-up that allowed a pedophilic monster to roam the campus and football locker room of PSU destroying the lives of numerous young boys, but for firing Joe Pa, the sacred cow of college football. The students who took part in the riots should be ashamed. They might also consider reading the grand jury report that is free to anyone who is in the least bit interested in just how disturbing this case is; on every level.
Penn State University will be forever tarnished by this scandal. It is not one that is going to go away and there aren’t enough sanctions in the NCAA (not that this is an NCAA matter per se) that could do anything to begin to address just how deeply troubling this entire episode is for all of those involved. But it is not the number of people involved that is the most disturbing part of this story. Rather it is all of those who should have been involved and who–for whatever reason–decided to walk away, who are forever tarnished. Joe Paterno lost his job as a coach. But as great a coach as Paterno was, when it counted most, he failed to show up as a man. He is quoted as saying that he wishes that he’d done more. We can only assume that by “more” he means that he wished he’d done something more to stop the monster he called his friend. But what Joe wishes he’d done is nothing compared to what Sandusky’s victims wish he’d done. Yes Joe, they wish you’d done more too. In fact, they wish you’d done anything at all that did not look like you were all but taking the entire issue as a minor oops; something easily swept under the carpet.
The larger issue here has come into focus for me because while there the horrifying aspects of this story are many and well documented, there are some instances of bravery to be found. Those who have stepped forward to tell their story. Those, who despite the years that have passed since the abuse, have risked a great deal to let their story be told now; they deserve our respect and our admiration.
There is no greater game than football. There is nothing about the game I don’t love. But there is no greater victory than the one found in doing the right thing in the face of pressure to do otherwise. It is never too late to make the right decision and no amount of time that will pass that wipes clean from the mind or heart the failure to do so when it counts most.
To those who suffered—may you at last find peace.
Over the past few weeks it became all but perfectly clear (even to those whose interest in the Seahawks is more casual) that the marriage between the ‘Hawks and the 4th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft was all but over. Aside from the painfully obvious analysis that dictates that Curry’s career in Seattle should not have ended this way, the fact that it did creates more questions than it does answers. How did we “miss” on a player like Curry? How did a player equipped with freakish ability and raw talent, a player widely considered the safest pick in the first round of the 2009 draft wash out in less than three seasons?
Much has been written about the technical issues, the positional shortcomings that haunted Curry despite his having been given an opportunity to play a number of positions within the linebacker job description. I will not rehash arguments of that variety here except to point out that it appears that every attempt was made to find a position that suited Curry’s considerable physical gifts. Solving the Curry question was such a priority that upon arriving in Seattle Pete Carroll’s first order of business was to watch film of Curry; no doubt hoping to see on that film the key to unlocking Curry’s potential. Unfortunately–for both Curry and the Seahawks–what answers the film provided did not translate to anything that looked or felt like real growth or productivity. The result (beginning with a pre-season restructuring of his contract and ending with his being benched in favor of rookie K.J. Wright) was dealing Curry to the Raiders for a seventh round pick as well as a conditional pick. Seattle may well have gotten the better end of the trade. Now a former Seahawk, Curry’s legacy will now be reduced to conversations centered around the what-ifs, the if-only arguments and conversations designed to determine biggest “bust” status in team history; standing next to the ghosts of expensive misses like Rick Mirer and Brian Bosworth.
While the reasons for Curry’s short tenure as a Seahawk can be reduced to a handful of rather simple explanations it would be a mistake to miss two of bigger themes present here.
First, whatever one might feel inclined to say or feel about Aaron Curry the linebacker there are a number of very good reasons to respect and even like Aaron Curry the person. Despite a few comments made on Twitter following his being benched, comments that were predictable and should quickly be forgiven considering the emotion of the situation, Curry was one of the most accessible and fan friendly professional athletes in recent memory. In addition to following many of his fans on Twitter he recently signed up to manage a fantasy football league and invited a handful of fans to join. I was one of the guys who chatted with Curry as we drafted our fantasy teams. He chatted with us during the entire fantasy draft; entertaining a number of questions, not too important or too busy to join us for an hour and a half. How many professional athletes really take the time to engage like that? As Aaron begins a new chapter of his life with his new team it is worth remembering that the majority of the comments and exchanges he had with fans were positive and respectful. And this is worth remembering because even the longest of football careers falls short of the amount of time a person will be remembered for the human moments, the things done when the stadium lights go off.
Second, this might be a great time to take a step back and slow down for a moment as it pertains to the 2012 draft and the “can’t miss” QBs that people are tripping over themselves to anoint. We’d all do well to remember that no player, regardless of draft position, is a sure thing. For every lock (Elway, Marino, Manning, and Montana) there are a number of guys who, despite being the subject of pro-scouting love-fests wind up falling short. College success, while a good marker in many cases is not a promissory note. Ask the Chargers about Ryan Leaf. Ask Aaron Curry’s new team about broken draft hope and hype; something about a guy named Russell who as the Raiders’ QB a few years ago was so bad that he was sent packing despite their having paid millions only to watch their team get worse. Aaron Curry might prove his doubters wrong and turn it around. But if he does it won’t be with us, and we should not be blinded to the point of failing to realize that even massive college talent can be swallowed up by the speed, precision, and demands required of every player who comes into the NFL.
Aaron Curry the person is not a cautionary tale. He appears to value faith and family above football and as previously mentioned he was as good to his fans as one can expect a 20-something millionaire to be. But as an NFL linebacker Aaron Curry took his coaches and fans as far as either could go in Seattle. Carroll and Curry no doubt wanted a different story to be written while here in Seattle. Fans wanted “War Cry” to mean something special and be on full display during multiple Pro Bowls. But it was not to be.
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks’ staff made the right move. Time and again the reality of this coaching staff is defined in their expectations of those who are a part of the team. If a player (no matter how wonderful their college story reads) isn’t making the grade and performing consistently at a very high level, they will move on. There is a harshness to that reality that initially felt icy and a bit unfeeling. But I see it very differently now. It is a measured approach that is about winning; about putting the right guys in the right system and finding the best chance win. That Aaron Curry will no longer be a part of that here in Seattle is unfortunate. But I’ll take a measure of comfort in believing that for the first time in a long time we are following a recipe designed for long-term success and not just a formula designed to ensure that we look good in the NFC West. Despite the bruises and the “Ah damn” moments, it sure is fun being a fan right now.
Watching the Seahawks beat the Cardinals last Sunday was fun. It was not a perfect game. In fact the best play of the game came by way of a blown personal foul call on Kam Chancellor for blasting Todd Heap with a nastiness that we have not seen since the great Kenny Easley patrolled the Seahawks’ secondary in the 80s. The hit was more than Chancellor attempting to pave the way for Earl Thomas’ INT (also negated by a questionable interference penalty) it was a message. It made clear that while our offense will at times experience the pain of growth, our defense will be inflicting the pain of being edgy if not a little angry.
But as the game was being played under schizophrenic Seattle skies a less entertaining game was being played out on my social network timeline. Despite winning our first game of the season, two rather banal arguments played out between some Seahawks fans. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I have written elsewhere about my admiration and respect for Seattle sports fans; particularly Seahawks fans. But as close as I generally feel for my fellow 12s, I can’t help but notice (and perhaps shaky seasons bring this out in greater measure than would the solid start of a stable team) that some fans cannot seem to pause from the avocation of being a “better” fan than their fellow 12s. Issue a critique of any kind and “glass always full” fans will beat you about the head with a stick all the while professing their optimism. If your critique is sufficiently hostile you might even be accused of drinking “Hateorade”. Drink a little too much of what Pete Carroll is selling while lending voice to thought and in will drop a brigade of fan-cynics who then proceed to excoriate the most accessible layer of positivity. If anyone thinks my description an abuse of hyperbole I challenge you to watch a Twitter timeline during the next game and then get back to me.
To be clear, this is not all fans; not even the majority of them. Unfortunately what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in unfiltered volume. And this divide, this all or nothing concept of being a fan is amazing for being both unique and wrong. In almost no other den of life does absolutism pass even the most generous of BS tests. If a fellow 12 and I both see the same movie and leave the movie a fan, there is no expectation that either of us like it completely. We can debate the plot, the acting, and ending without worrying about offending the other. Moreover, it does not occur to us to expect perfect cinematic fandom. Absolutism in any form is always a little scary, and often comes off as a road taken in an effort to feel superior to another. This we do not need. Season records and games end in absolutes but should not extend to our judgement of each other as fans. I can almost hear the response now–”But we don’t feel about a movie the way we feel about a team that we love, it’s different.” But it’s not. Take a friend you’ve known for many years. You love him or her but do you really expect everyone else in the world to feel exactly the same, to the same level? And this is not about liking or loving the Seahawks. This isn’t about that. It is about the need some have to make others feel like their way of showing support is lacking in one way or another.
Consider if you would the two most polarizing debates going on right now; debates that are leading to some fairly ugly exchanges between fans of the same team.
1. It’s all about Luck: Andrew Luck is the highly touted QB prospect from Standford. He’s been evaluated as being the best QB prospect since John Elway and Dan Marino by more than a few of the top scouts. He’s next years’ can’t miss prospect. Whoever gets him will immediately be made a great deal better; the fortunes of the team who draft him increased dramatically. Because of Lucks’ skills now it is easy to bet on him for the NFL. And as Seahawks fans most of us can agree that we need a long-term franchise QB; and soon. This fact, coupled with a slow start with a young line and a modestly skilled signal caller in Tarvaris Jackson (and his backup, Charlie Whitehurst) have led some Seattle fans to embrace as a grand strategy the tanking of this season so that we may draft Luck first in 2012. I’m not talking here about people who don’t want the season to tank but who won’t mind getting Luck if it happens. No, here I am talking about people who are actually hoping the Seahawks lose.
Their argument goes like this: Seattle isn’t going to be that good this year so we really haven’t got a whole lot to win for. Let’s take our medicine this year knowing sometimes medicine tastes bad, but knowing too that in the end, we’ll be a whole lot better next year, and on our way. How can anyone not see the greater good in this–a real fan looks big picture!
This argument causes some Seahawks fans near seizure levels of anger and frustration. As a result we are sometimes treated to a vitriolic response.
Those opposed–their argument goes something like this: What!? No one claiming to be a true fan could hope for Seattle to lose games, just to get a draft pick. A real fan would see the idiocy of this; hell a newborn chimp could see the idiocy of this. That is NOT being a real fan.
I have not fallen victim to exaggeration or over-dramatization in my handling of those two arguments. I’ve seen both (almost word for word) many times over the past few months. What I find interesting about them however is not in the way they disagree but rather in the way that, in the end, both groups would answer the same to the following question: What do you want the Seahawks to do in the coming years? Super Bowl wins–right? But in that each side wants the same ending, they miss almost entirely the points that the other make while inflating their own.
Despite their wanting the best long-term solution to the most vital of NFL positions, supporters of the “All in for Luck” are missing some things. First, Andrew Luck is not a sure thing and has never suited up or thrown a single pass in the NFL. Struggling with that a little? Well here are a few names you might remember, in no particular order–WR Charles Rogers, DL Dewayne Robertson, QB David Carr, DL Courtney Brown, QB Akili Smith, RB Ki-Jana Carter, Rick Mirer (thought by none other than the late Bill Walsh to be the next Joe Montana) and the list just keeps going. I am not suggesting here that Andrew Luck will become a member of this list. I am however suggesting that none of the teams or coaches of the teams that took the guys on this list thought their guy would wind up there either. And even if Luck is every bit as good as we’re being told, there are so many things one cannot account for in the NFL; especially injury. In fact, a number of the names on the list above suffered injuries that significantly affected their careers. But it is worse than that. Any team that purposefully tanked games (even if the goal was to get better as a result) would be guilty of committing a fraud on those paying to watch them play now. And the stench of tanking; well, it might just linger longer than most might think. We have to measure not just the acquisition but the methods used in acquiring players.
As for those who think less of those fans who want Andrew Luck for the next 15 years at the cost of this year might do well to remember that Andrew Luck might just be everything they say he is. He might be the guy to take us to the big show and allow us to come away with a win. Since I casually drifted into the land of “what if” as it relates to those who want Andrew Luck at the cost of a season in order to show the potential pitfalls of such thinking, what about the alternative what if? What if Andrew Luck led a great Seattle team to two Super Bowls in the next five years, winning both. Would you trade this year, with all of the growing pains, rookie mistakes, and average QB play for that? Even if you publicly kept up the support, is there no chance that privately you’d drift a little; perhaps even to a point of quietly hoping that the means would justify the ends? Even if you wouldn’t, is it really about those who would being “traitors” to the cause of being a fan? Do traitorous Seattle Seahawks fans generally want Super Bowl wins for the team?
Both sides of this are also joined by where I (and I suspect many of you) sit. We want the Seahawks to in this year, all year, every game. But if they cannot win, if they try but still lose, and out of that came the chance to draft a great QB, I’d be beyond thrilled. What this gets down to is being able to see the points the other side is trying to make, even if you disagree with the road they think best traveled to get there.
In part 2 of God Fan/Bad Fan we’ll be taking a look at another controversy, this one more real-world and immediate; Jackson or Whitehurst?
Saturday night before a Seahawks game can be a little bit nerve-racking. After watching the ‘Hawks for so many years, you’d think I’d be able to find some type of Zen calm in the day before. Sadly, that has not happened, nor do I suspect it ever will. As I was thinking about tomorrow and the implications (there are many) that are part of the game, I thought that I’d try something new. The Seahawks’ history is important to me because in many ways it is a history that many of us lived. We remember the highs and we remember the lows. Being a fan of arcane history while boring to some I hope will serve me well as I provide a little historical context to our home opener. Enjoy a little history of our meetings with the St. Louis, Phoenix, and Arizona Cardinals.
By 2002, Seattle moved back into the NFC West and as a result, play the Cardinals twice yearly. That history is worth nothing, but it’s not exactly the point of this post. I wanted to dig back a little further. It is possible that some of you are now asleep and will wake up swearing at me for such a useless post, but I hope that a few of you find the history as interesting to read as I do.
Goodnight, and GO ‘HAWKS!!
Having been a fan of the Seattle Seahawks long enough to remember Jack Patera walking the sidelines of the Kingdome, and whether as part of the AFC West or NFC West, the Seahawks have always been a team that leans heavily on playing at home. The road–well, that is a different story entirely. I looked back at some statistics (going back to 1976) but to be honest, our record on the road is entirely too depressing to list, year by painful year. There have been some exceptions and there is no doubt that there have been some huge road wins. But even the 2005 season (our best ever) each of the regular season losses (Jacksonville, Washington, and Green Bay) occurred on the road. Some will argue that the Green Bay game should not fully count as we were resting players for the coming playoffs, but even if you throw that game out, you are still left with two games lost, both on the road.
Put simply, Seattle is not a road team. Remembering back to the days when the Seahawks belonged to the AFC West, the hope was always that we’d split the tough games with our conference rivals and then hope to win a few non-conference games along the way. Despite our hopes there were many years of .500 or near .500 football. In fact, records of 8-8, 7-9, or 9-7 have been recorded in 18 of our 35 seasons. That’s .500 or one game off of .500 football. I did not review each of those seasons to determine how the records played out as it relates to home/away games, but I doubt anyone would be surprised by the breakdown.
In 2010 only 2 of our 7 wins came on the road. Our road losses saw us outscored 196-75. That is not to take away from our win at Chicago and at Arizona. Both games (as it turned out) were must-wins. Neither is it my goal to depress people, though I’m not sure I have not somewhat depressed myself to some extent.
My point is that we while we have the best fans in the entire NFL, and while we cause earthquakes when Beast Mode is blasting through an opposing defensive line, we cannot live on home wins alone. I have heard a great deal this week about how great it will be to be back home. That “The Link” will be a welcome break from what has been a tough start to the 2011 season. I completely agree. I cannot wait to turn on the game Sunday and watch a game played out in our backyard; our fans, our city. We need a win this week and being at home will no doubt create the atmosphere needed for a big win.
But atmosphere alone does not win games. Our players win games. Hard work, dedication, details, and belief in the team, all of those things contribute to winning games. Sometimes the atmosphere is great and everything “seems” to go our way. Other times, the environment is hostile. And those games are tough. Those games don’t always fall our way. Losing a few games is not the end of a season. But just playing well at home is the very definition of being mediocre. When I hear our fans talk about getting back to Seattle, I worry that we have created an illusion that begins to dictate a story that ends with us being 8-8. We should want better. When we play games on the road (as was the case with Pittsburgh last week) I heard a lot of fans talk about it being a tough one, but that we’d be “home” soon. That feels casual, and starts to feel like the only games that matter are the ones we play in Seattle. Those are often the fun ones (when we kick the hell out of the defending Super Bowl champions) but they are half of the story. We should want to be respected no matter where we play, no matter when the game starts, and regardless of conditions. We need to start winning when we are away. No truly great team I can think of has ever wanted anything less.
Winning forever begins with winning; wherever we play!
Let’s face it–Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was more than a little depressing. It was one of those games that seems over long before the end of the fourth quarter, but at the same time seems to take a very long time to actually end. As fans we were torn between watching (in hopes of something–anything that looks and feels like the momentum required to formulate a comeback) and doing something equally productive; like being swept up in a crowd of knee-jerk game experts who cannot see their hubris through their hyperbole. As the final seconds expired this last Sunday, I felt unsettled. I wasn’t exactly surprised that we lost. My surprise was reserved for the reality of just how underwhelming our performance was; especially as it related to our offense. Against the same Steelers’ defense that a week earlier was picked apart by the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle looked positively inept. To recap: Seattle managed only eight first downs and only one of the eight was picked up on a running play. For an “establish the run first” team, that simply won’t do. But it gets worse. For the day Seattle was able to gain only thirty-one yards rushing. Our 3rd-Down conversions Seattle went 2-12. The rest of the statistics are easy enough to find but it is unlikely that any of them will make you feel much better. Defensively Seattle did some things that gave fans cause for hope including some strong play from our front four and some aggressive play from the safety position.
From the moment the 2011 schedule was posted, the Pittsburgh game was one that stood out. The schedule made it fairly clear that in order to stay competitive early in the season we’d need to take the opener in San Francisco, and then pick our shots where we could. Those pre-season thoughts weren’t offered to suggest that we should count ourselves out of any game, or accept as fait accompli games not yet played.
But even in the most optimistic of spirits and moods there is a certain level of reality that is beginning to set in. That there is a threshold to how well-intentioned slogans play against the backdrop of a scoreboard that shows that we’ve come up short is not going negative. Positive thoughts about the season are needed most when the reality is not as encouraging. We need the lift provided by passionate appeals to come together as a team and work hard. Victories tend to follow hard work, dedication, and commitment. What is hard to accept is that often times, before the victories begin to stack one on top of another, there are losses. Sometimes those losses are close; the result of a hard game against a good team. But not always. Some of the losses will sting. Right now, being a fan of the Seahawks stings a bit. Logically we understand that a team as new and as young as the Seahawks–now in their second year with Pete Carroll–is going to be part experiment and part success. We can wrap our minds around that when we read articles that deal in the reality of such a young team. But the calm and logical mind is quickly chased off by the loud and impatient spirit of wanting a team to win. No one, no fan base in the entire NFL understands this point more than the 12th man!
As we begin to prepare for our first home game of this still young season, we would do well to remember that pulling back a little bit to see the larger picture is important. We would do well to remember that this year is going to have its fair share of disappointments. But it is in learning from and walking through those disappointments that will not only allow all of us to take the next step towards greatness, but also to appreciate the road traveled to get there. When players talk about being “All In” I get the feeling that if it ended at talk, they’d likely be about half-way out. Pete Carroll demands a great deal from his players. Sometimes in the middle of a couple of losses it is easy to forget that, or to forget that he demands a great deal of himself as well.
I understand the frustration that many Seahawks fans are experiencing right now. I feel the same frustration. But when I step back I gather a new perspective. I see a little more of what does matter and a little less of what does not. The goals that matter most sharpen as I focus and the blur of those things we cannot change but can hope to learn from keep me thankful for every win.
If the road is going to be a long one, I’m thankful that I have so many 12s to hang out with along the way. I hope that no matter what happens as the season progresses that we’ll remember the bigger picture. When focused on long enough, all that matters will eventually come into perfect focus.
While our team here at The Matchups Zone loves writing about, analyzing, and scouting the Seattle Seahawks, we also recognize the significance of tomorrow’s date. As a nation we owe it to ourselves, and to those lost, to again confront the reality of that day. Whether by a silent moment of reflection or by way of remarkable and powerful tributes, to remember is a way to honor those lost.
Like many others my personal memories of 9-11 have not faded. I remember nearly everything about that day and the days that followed. Those days included a numbing sadness that soon gave way to visceral anger. The images of that day played in my mind like an unending horror film long after the TV was turned off. The images of that day still have a place. Before writing this I spent some time watching video footage and looking at some of the pictures that now memorialize that day.
September 11, 2001 shattered our illusions of security at home and clearly showed that when reason is suspended in favor of a radical and irrational belief, hatred is a rather predictable outcome. But through the debris, fire, and incomprehensible loss, we witnessed thousands of examples of the very best of humanity. Many acts of courage were performed by private citizens and public service workers who ignored the smoke, and intense fire, deciding instead to race up to help those trapped and injured. Hundreds of people were saved by strangers who refused to accept defeat. A small group of remarkable passengers on United flight 93 stood up and fought back. There is no question that they too saved lives that day. The past decade has also required a great deal of those who serve our military. Their sacrifice and commitment to our nation deserves to be recognized.
If this short article seems incredibly out-of-place in the context and environment of a blog dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks, then at the very least it should be remembered that immediately following 9-11, the NFL had some very important decisions to make. Due in large part to a push by a number of players, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue postponed games scheduled for the weekend following the attacks of 9-11. On September 23, 2001, the Seahawks–playing at Husky Stadium that season–hosted the Philadelphia Eagles. The Seahawks lost the game 27-3. I had to look that up. What I remember was that it felt like we won that day when we took the field. That is because up until that Sunday many of us felt like we were holding our breath. The game did nothing to change the reality of 9-11, but it wasn’t supposed to. It was to me then (and I feel this way now) a few hours of what felt like strained normalcy. It was something familiar, and something that made sense in a time when little else did.
A decade after 9-11-01 many things have changed. While many wounds remain, we have also had a chance and some of the time necessary to heal. As we remember that day and sift through the most difficult memories, a measure of comfort can be found in the fact that we are not confined by memories of loss alone. The best of who we are was also on display a decade ago. And that too is very much worth remembering as we reflect; ten years later.
–The Matchups Zone Team