Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Final Days Of Daniel Zottman

There is a national perception that Richard Sherman's outburst after winning the NFC Championship defines who this Seahawks team is. Some have dubbed the Super Bowl The Virtuous vs. The Villainous. This short series will describe the Seahawks as I, and others, have come to know them. If you have a story to share, please email me.



The Final Days Of Daniel Zottman 

NFL football was not alive in Seattle back in 1959. Daniel Zottman would become one of the franchises most passionate fans after the team was born in 1976, but on the day of his birth back in 1959, he lied motionless on the hospital next to his twin sister, Diana. The two were born 10 weeks prematurely, and combined to weigh five pounds. Daniel had no heartbeat. He was not breathing. He was not yet of this world. Doctors revived him, but there was irreparable harm done. His future would include mental and physical challenges that included a degenerative heart valve. It would include kids stealing his lunch money. It would include an undying love of Seahawks football that he shared with his family. That love, with help of the people in the Seahawks organization, made his last few days of life ones to cherish instead of ones to fear.

Diana was not quite sure when Daniel became a Seahawks fan. She just knew he would not leave the house without having some sort of Seahawks gear on. His favorite players were Jim Zorn and Steve Largent, but his favorite part of cheering for the team was big hits on defense. He loved the power, the ferocity. It is not hard to appreciate why. Growing up was full of challenges that power could have helped him deal with. 

It was not normal for parents to take children with special needs like Daniel's home back in 1959. In fact, Archie and Virginia Zottman had to sign a series of waivers acknowledging that the hospital recommended institutionalization before he was released to their care. This was not a family of great means. When they realized their son would need speech therapy, the only one they could find was down in Vancouver. They found the time and the money to drive the family down one weekend each month so he would have a chance at communicating more effectively. 

Their love and care helped Daniel live into his 54th year, but they found out he would not live to see his next birthday. The heart condition he was born with became an inoperable barrier to life. The Zottman's were told that his organs had begun to shut down and had only days to live.

A co-worker of Diana's suggested she reach out to a contact she had on the Seahawks. The call was eventually routed to Mike Flood, the Seahawks VP of Community Relations. Within hours of hearing the news about Daniel, the Zottman's were being offered sideline passes to the Seahawks next game, which happened to be the final 2012 pre-season contest. It was a wonderful offer, but Diana was not sure Daniel would live long enough to see it.

Flood had to go back and speak with other members of the front office about inviting Daniel to a closed practice. It would be a no-brainer any other week, but this was cutdown week. Dozens of young men would be getting the news that their time as Seattle Seahawks, and possibly as NFL players, was over. The team quickly decided to invite Daniel despite the sensitivities. 

He arrived with a jersey that all the players made time to come over and sign, and he was presented with a signed football. Coach Pete Carroll took a large chunk of time out of his day to talk with Daniel about football and the Seahawks, and then offered to take him back inside the locker room.  Flood arranged a private tour of the whole facility. In all, they spent 2.5 hours engulfed in the Seahawks. An early look at heaven for Daniel.

Diana appreciated the effort.

"It was a crucial time for these kids getting cut," Diana said. "The players were so kind to my dad and brother."

Daniel Zottman (green shirt) has his jersey signed by Golden Tate


Daniel would pass away a few days later. The team posted his picture on the closed circuit televisions throughout the facility when they heard. His name was added to the program of the next game.

There was no media there to see it. No kudos or credit would be given. Character is defined by what you do when nobody is watching.

Players and coaches are turned into caricatures through microscopic sound bites and tweets. We see their press conferences and their play during games. Some presume to know them as people through this narrow lens. Their true identity is only revealed to those that see who they are and what they do when nobody else is around to see it. Assuming all of them are saints would be as foolish as assuming they are villains. Our infatuation with identifying a person's flaws and exposing them for the world to see robs us all of being inspired by selfless actions. We are left to believe the world is full of bad people with bad intentions. Spend a day with the Seahawks and see who these men truly are. Ask Diana Zottman who these men truly are.

Diana did not fully realize what the Seahawks had done for Daniel that day until she left the facility. She had a DVD made of video and images from their visit. Daniel watched it repeatedly until his passing.

"For the rest of his life," Diana remembered. "instead of concentrating on dying, he kept watching it over and over again. I can't even begin to tell you what it meant."


Pete Carroll spent a substantial amount of time with Daniel on his visit

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