50 yard line on an american football field

Super Bowl XL: Do Not Forget. Do Not Forgive.

I can’t believe it was 10 years ago. I was just exiting my 20s, and still treated Seahawk Sundays like a blood sport. Nobody in their right mind would want to watch a game with me. We lived in a split level back then, and everyone in the house knew to stay upstairs when the Seahawks were playing. All I knew of football was pain and suffering. We were rarely bad. Maybe worse, we were hopelessly mediocre. The franchise had a history of being good enough to get your hopes up, but always flawed enough to send them crashing back down. This team, though, was different. Led by a man who won championships everywhere he went, and the best offense in team history, the Seahawks were going to their first Super Bowl.

My tortured Seahawks soul was telling me this was simply the tallest Seattle had ever built their Jenga tower of anguish. The hurt was just going to be that much worse. A more enlightened side started to emerge. Maybe it was the birth of my second child or the evolving responsibilities at work. Maybe it was just the lasting elation of experiencing the best day in Seahawks history to that point when the entire city of Seattle was unleashed on the poor Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game. Just reaching the Super Bowl was a dream come true. I was determined to enjoy the ride.

It was a well known fact in our house that I was going to attend the first Seahawks Super Bowl no matter the cost. That was before I learned it was going to cost at least $5000, and that it would be held in Detroit. Of course the first Seahawks Super Bowl would be in Detroit. I weighed my options and realized a big screen TV costs less, and would be something I could enjoy win or lose. I also had just helped coordinate a major acquisition at work that I had been working on for seven months, and I did not want to miss the experience of the two companies coming together for the first time. The final straw was that I wanted to be in the city when they won the championship.

I went out and bought that new TV, and was able to tell myself I was saving money since it was still cheaper than going to the game. Then, I made the decision to invite people over. I wanted the full on Super Bowl party. My wife asked repeatedly,  “Are you sure you want to have people over?” I was resolute. Seattle might lose the game, but I was going to enjoy the experience.

The game started out fine. Matt Hasselbeck completed his first three passes, and Shaun Alexander ran for 8 yards, leading the team to near mid-field. The drive stalled there, but the Steelers went three and out. Hasselbeck completed another three passes, and appeared to complete a fourth on 3rd down that would have put the Seahawks at the Steelers 23 yard line, but a holding call moved Seattle back and they eventually had to punt again.

Pittsburgh went three and out again, and a short punt combined with a nice return from Peter Warrick put the Seahawks near mid-field. This offense was deadly with that kind of field position. Alexander for 4 yards. Hasselbeck to Darrell Jackson for 20, and then to Joe Jurevicius for 11 more. The Seahawks were at the Steelers 16 yard line in three plays. They were in rhythm. Hasselbeck rifled a pass into the endzone where Jackson caught it for the first touchdown of the game. A flag went down and Jackson was called for offensive pass interference. Replays were inconclusive, but there was some indication that Jackson extended his arms to create space. A rare call, a picky call, but not a clearly false one.

Seattle could not overcome the penalty and had to settle for a field goal. The Steelers went three and out once again. The Seahawks started their drive at their own 25 to begin the second quarter. They once again moved the ball against Pittsburgh’s defense, setting up a 3rd and 2 at the Steeler 47 yard line. Hasselbeck hit Jerramy Stevens on a perfect pass that Stevens dropped.

The Steelers finally got a first down on their next possession, only to have Roethlisberger throw an interception to Michael Boulware. This time, it was Seattle’s turn to have their first three and out. At this point, that familiar feeling started to creep in for any longtime Seahawks fan. There was no way the team could keep frittering away chances to extend their lead. They were totally dominating the game, and only up 3-0 partway through the second quarter.

More importantly, the Seahawks lost a key starter on defense, safety Marquand Manuel. He was the backup to Ken Hamlin, who had been lost for the season when he was hit by a street sign in a late night altercation and fractured his skull early in the year. That meant a player with absolutely no NFL experience, Etric Pruitt, had to step in and play safety in the Super Bowl.

It was no coincidence that Pittsburgh finally got a decent drive going after the injury, and were all the way down to the Seahawks 22 yard line when an offensive pass interference call went against them this time. That set up a 2nd and 20, which turned into a 3rd and 28 after a Grant Wistrom sack. Roethlisberger scrambled around to avoid pressure and lofted a hopeful pass to Hines Ward, who came down with it for a 37 yard gain to the Seahawks 3 yard line.

Two plays later, on 3rd and goal, Roethlisberger dove for the endzone and was tackled short, but the official signaled it was a touchdown. The play was challenged and inexplicably upheld on replay. You can watch the play to make up your own mind. It was a bad call, but the Seahawks had allowed the Steelers to stay in the game to that point and allowed a 37 yard completion on 3rd and 28. Bad calls matter a lot more when you make bad plays.

The game would go to halftime with the Seahawks trailing 7-3 in a game they had completely controlled.

Bill Cowher figured out how to target Pruitt. On the second play from scrimmage after halftime, they designed a play testing Pruitt’s ability to defend the run. The result was a 75 yard touchdown by Willie Parker. Pittsburgh took a 14-3 lead. It felt hopeless at that point.

Hasselbeck led another Seahawks drive down to the Steelers 37 yard line. He put a perfect pass on Stevens’ hands once again. Drop. Josh Brown wound up missing his second field goal, and full on dread had set in.

Pittsburgh targeted Pruitt three of the next six plays and got all the way down to the Seahawk 7 yard line. The Seahawks had lost another starter at this point when cornerback Andre Dyson went down, and backup Kelly Herndon had to step in. Herndon rose to the occasion. He intercepted Roethlisberger near the end zone and returned in 76 yards to the Steelers 20 yard line. Even that amazing play was accompanied by more agony as Rocky Bernard pulled his hamstring on the return and was lost for the game.

The Seahawks offense, which had been productive all day, but unable to get points to show for it, finally scored a touchdown. Fittingly, Stevens held onto the football for what felt like a game-changing score.

Down 14-10, Seattle and Pittsburgh traded a few three and out drives before the Seahawks took over with 2:41 to go in the third quarter backed up at their own 2 yard line. Everyone on the planet thought Seattle was in trouble. Little did they know that the Seahawks had more 80+ yard scoring drives than any offense in football. These moments were their calling card. I was unreasonably confident considering all that had happened in this game and in the franchise’s history.

Alexander for 5 yards. Hasselbeck scramble for 8 more. Three straight completions had Seattle near mid-field at the turn of the quarter. Alexander started the final frame with a 5 yard gain. Then Hasselbeck to Bobby Engram for 17 more. This was going to happen. Alexander for 6, and then for 5, as the offensive line was taking over the game. Hasselbeck dropped back on 1st and 10 from the Steelers 19 yard line, and fired the throw of his life into the suddenly sure hands of Stevens for 18 yards, down to the 1 yard line.

My eyes were trained by years of pain. I scanned the field for yellow before fully celebrating what was about to happen. My heart fell through the floor like an anvil when the bright yellow smudge appeared on the screen. Sean Locklear had been called for holding. Up until this point in the game, I was annoyed with the officials, but firmly placed the blame of the game on the Seahawks and their injuries. This, however, was fraudulent. This call denied me what I had dreamed of for 20 years. They kept showing the replay. There simply was nothing there to see. Years later, the official who made the call publicly admitted he lost sleep over it and felt as if he cost the team the game. That almost made it worse.

Seattle was moved back 10 yards to the 29 yard line instead of having 1st and goal at the 1 yard line. Two plays later, Hasselbeck threw an interception, and as if to make a cruel joke, was called for a low block during the opposing team’s return. How an offensive player can be called for a low block when a defender is returning an interception is still a mystery. The call was more comedic than impactful.

The Seahawks lost their composure after the phantom holding call. Hasselbeck admitted as much. Even a field goal there would have made the game 14-13, with over 10 minutes left to play. Instead, they came away without any points and the defense promptly gave up a touchdown on a trick play that fooled, you guessed it, Pruitt.

That would be the final score: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10.

Every Seahawks fan wanted to tar and feather the officials. Mike Holmgren even talked about “not knowing we would have to beat the guys in stripes” during the Seattle homecoming rally. I mainly sat in silence. My guests did not have to endure my four-letter, paint peeling tirades. They just had to watch a man sit in silence as his dream was crushed. Yeah, it was awkward.

By the time the game ended, I was able to gather myself and talk to the brave few who remained. As bad as the officials had been, that game was lost due to injury and dropped passes by Stevens as much as it was by any bad call. Still, that holding call will haunt me forever. It took me two years before I could even watch a second of the DVR recording of that game. Even after witnessing the Seahawks first Super Bowl win in 2013, I remain angry that the better team did not win that day back in 2006.

It felt intentional that the NFL did not schedule the Steelers, or Stealers, as many soon called them, to visit Seattle after that game. The last time Pittsburgh made the trip here was in 2003. Seattle, on the other hand, made two trips to Pittsburgh and lost by a total of 45-0. The last time the Steelers franchise came to Seattle and won a game was in 1983. In fact, that is the only time they have won here.

This Sunday, they take the field here for the first time since winning a game they had no business winning. Roethlisberger is one of the only men left from that team, and is the guy who least deserved the ring. His 9-21, 123 yard, 0 TD/2 INT performance is one of the worst in Super Bowl history. Antwaan Randle El passed for more touchdowns that game. Hines Ward had more total yards.

Nobody on this Seahawks roster was part of that game. I doubt any of them care about it. I care. Those of us who carried the flag of this franchise for 30 or 40 years care. A 5-5 team facing a 6-4 team is hardly something that deserves national attention, but this one is personal. Every hit on Roethlisberger will be a little salve on a wound that never fully healed. Every point scored will blur the memory a little more of a Stevens drop.

This is a rare moment when Seahawks fans should be more fired up than their team. We can exact a little of our own revenge this weekend. Roethlisberger has never played here before. Make him pray to the NFL scheduling gods to keep Seattle off the travel schedule for another 12 years.

I am older now. I am wiser. Heck, I even started a blog a couple years after that game. I plan to forget all that this weekend. It is time to regress to a less enlightened time. It is time to act like we have never been there before, and will do anything to get there. It is time to recapture the ferocity that led to 11 false starts by the Giants in a single game that year. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in town, and they don’t have the refs, Jerramy Stevens, or Etric Pruitt to save them.

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