“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – Peter Pan
A friend came over to watch the Seahawks play the 49ers last weekend. His wife is in the process of kicking the crap out of cancer, and his oldest daughter is struggling a bit through her teenage years. Watching the game at our place was meant to be an oasis from real life, even if only for a few hours. He set out making wings from scratch and chopping celery while sipping a beer. Meanwhile, I sat on the couch dreading what was about to happen. I was consumed by this feeling that the Seahawks were just not right, and that things might go from bad to worse against the lowly 49ers. The emotional scarring from watching the team play so poorly against Tampa, Green Bay, and Arizona left me feeling resentful of the obligation to sit through more disappointment. I met my friend’s enthusiasm with dulled, monosyllabic responses. Even when the Seahawks managed to make some positive plays, I derisively discounted them due to the mountain of poor play debt they had incurred in previous weeks and the dreadful competition they were facing. They could do no right. I was almost determined not to enjoy myself. The juxtaposition of my friend, who was going through so much, reveling in the simple opportunity to hang with friends, eat wings, and watch the game, served as the perfect reminder that I was losing touch.
It’s not that I was wrong about the team, their deficiencies, or their prospects. It was that I was so intent on protecting myself from the possibility of more heartache that I had taken all the joy out of the game I love. Not to mention, I was being a selfish jackass of a friend. The team helped by finally showing some signs of cohesiveness across offense and defense, and pulling out a victory. A day later, I started doing some research on the playoff teams.
What I found was undeniably encouraging. The Seahawks had the best pass rush of any team, and none of the contenders had dominant defensive lines. Seattle’s greatest weakness, the offensive line, would not have to worry about running into an Aaron Donald or Gerald McCoy or Calais Campbell. The top two NFC seeds both rely heavily on the run game to set up their offenses. When they struggle to run efficiently, they lose. Seattle enters the playoffs with the #1 ranked run defense (by yards per carry) in the NFL. That Giants team that beat the Cowboys twice? They are #2.
I felt the gentle tug of hope on my sleeve. Could this really happen? Could the Seahawks chart a fortuitous path back the Super Bowl? Those fun thoughts quickly triggered the insistent poking of skepticism on my shoulder. You’re kidding yourself. This team can’t fix itself overnight. Earl is out. The line stinks. Russell is not himself.
We all have a choice. Who do you want to listen to? What kind of fan do you want to be this weekend?
One path would be to batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst. Abandon hope, or at least lock it in a box in the corner out of sight. Focus on the problems the team faces, and how unlikely it is that everything will turn around. Sell your tickets to the game to recoup some expenses. Talk to friends and co-workers about how nobody is excited for the game this weekend. Make sure everyone knows that you know the Seahawks are a long shot. That way, nobody can tease you should they lose or call you a fool for believing in them. Separate yourself from the players, the coaches, the team, by talking about what is wrong with them. It makes you feel superior to point out their flaws. Bring out your best gallows humor when the game gets going, joking about the extra point they are about to miss or the sack they are about to take. Get to a safe distance before this disappointing season finally bombs.
Another path would be to cast caution and skepticism aside, and let hope and faith take over. Turn off your brain and turn on your heart and soul. Remember what you love about the game: the ferocity and intensity of the competition, how these athletes can take your breath away with creativity and brilliance, and that it gives you an excuse to spend a few hours or a full day enjoying life with the people you love.
Never been to a Seahawks playoff game? Now’s the time. Tickets are cheap. Always go to the games? Try a new place for pregame. Buy a new good luck charm hat or socks or gloves that will key the impending Seahawks Super Bowl run. Cheer like you have never cheered before because it is a blast. Invent a new first down celebration that makes your friends laugh.
Remind yourself why you fell in love with the people on this team. Richard Sherman is the Gary Payton of Seattle football. He brings swagger to our city and consistently rises to the occasion in the biggest of moments. Russell Wilson has led more game-winning drives in the playoffs than any player in the NFL since he entered the league. He can throw four interceptions in a single game and still keep his mind right to spark the greatest comeback in the history of the sport. Michael Bennett steals bikes from policemen and gets away with it. Cliff Avril builds houses for the homeless every time he drags a quarterback to the ground. Doug Baldwin is our Rolex; classy, sleek, and as reliable as time itself. Kam Chancellor is our Greek god. Opponents may walk on his land, but all must fear his thunder.
This path is about celebrating what could be while finding every way possible to enjoy what is. It is about appreciating what you have and not coveting what you do not. The price of walking this path is that it may hurt a bit more if things do not go well. People choosing the other path will go out of their way to make you feel foolish. That is okay because there is a price to the path they are walking as well. Tomorrow will not be a day of joy and celebration for them. Should the Seahawks win, it will have been expected because the Lions are bad, not because the Seahawks are worth cheering for. The victory would be tasteless and dull for them. That does not have to be you. You have a choice. I have made mine. Tomorrow is going to be a day of days.
“There are two wolves and they are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. Which wolf wins? Whichever one you feed.” – from a Cherokee parable