The Road to the Super Bowl is I-90

Driving home to Spokane on I-90 took four and a half hours, two quick stops, two Grande Salted Carmel Frappachinos with an extra shot, one Oreo McFlurry, one NFL football game broadcast, one hour of Seahawks sports radio podcast, and frequent head shakes to keep drowsiness at bay – because while Washington state can be beautiful driving scenery during the day, it’s flat-out black-out early in the winter, for miles and miles, many miles.

If that was the price I had to pay for my 12th girl perfect weekend in the heart of Seattle, well, then it was worth the price of admission.

I remember all of two things about the game (or two-my mom didn’t remember any) I went to with my family in the KingDome; noise, (lots of it), and doing THE WAVE. That was THE thing to do as a fan in the eighties era of Seahawk fandom.

This game, twenty five-ish years later, oh my how things have changed. And how things are the same.

When Pete Carroll took the podium, immediately on the heels of the Seahawks NFC West win over the Panthers, it took him a second to gather his thoughts. (That’s a long time for Pete.)

“That….that was really an extraordinary night here at Century Link.  I don’t know how you describe the power of the twelves…and what the fans did tonight. That was amazing. Every player could feel it, throughout the game; the support, the backing, the noise, just the craziness, in the stadium…makes it so much fun, such a great event to a part of.”

I do love events, experiences, adventures.  But what makes them stories worth retelling are the cast of characters and the seismic impact they imprint on my heart and memories.

There just isn’t a more compelling sports team in the NFL today. And this story, like all the best ones, started with a gaping hole.  An emptiness.  An unknown and possibly bleak future.

Before the 2006 Super Bowl, there were some desert years for Seahawks fans.  Dry, brutal, taxing years.  It seemed possible, even though we lost (contentiously) to the Steelers that year, that we would come back the next, regroup, and hit it again.  Except we didn’t. We excelled at not being a team. So after Holmgren left, and Mora was barely here, the answer lowest on the list, the one left after crossing off all of the expected answers, showed up.

Losing isn’t fun. But you can get used to it. In fact you can get so stuck in the mindset of eternal suckage that the shovel appearing right in front of you, holding a twelve’s flag of hope, ready to dig you out, makes you only grasp your Flynn jersey even more tightly. We love success and formulas, quantifiable and proven methods. Old school, the good old days, the we-used-tos, the security blankets.

At the beginning of each new year, I have a habit that has developed out of necessity. (Necessity is the Mother of invention, right?) I like clothes. I like design and words and art and music. I like discovering. This all means that I’m an incredible-research-locater-of-amazing-good-people-places-and-things. That’s my working title. And it means I (and my sisters) can shop the hell out of any store and come out having saved more than we spent as well as made a friend or two. And sometimes, on occasion, with a bit too much in our bags.

After Christmas sales are the best, for literally anything. And last year after the football season I found some major deals online, green and blue and delivered all wrapped up in cardboard brown. So I had to clean out a few Seahawks items before I located this years models.

Saturday, January ten, found me and my mom (my 12th mom role model) in our Silver Cloud hotel, nicely situated on the corner of Safeco and Century Link. Eating the best French Toast ever at Jimmy’s, conveniently located right outside the lobby door. Also, oatmeal and bacon and coffee. Twelving really builds a girl’s appetite.

My mom had long wanted to visit the Seattle Sports shops on CLink lane before a game, before the suffocating crowds, but had never been able to, what with all the flying in and out and traveling with all male family members on game day.

I said, this time, let’s make your dream come true, mama. So, Seattle, you are welcome for our rather large impact on your local economy. (Maybe if the Spokane Shock would up their design saavy I might be able to purchase some fan-wear at home also.)

After that, our day in Seattle is a lovely memory of walking SODO, Pioneer Square, Occidental Park; photographing every 12/Seahawk display we came across, searching back alleys for the famed tailgating spot (no luck), and eating a Seattle priced, delicious, organic, free range, locally sourced small portioned “lunch” at a cafe, and topping it all with taking a pre-game festivities nap; all under the fantastically staged foggy, steel-gray and cold Seattle skyline.

The reason we were even here, for a playoff game, has everything to do with Pete Carroll. It was in 2010 that Pete Carroll arrived. He brought other people. Some people left. Well, there was ALOT of traffic. The Hawks played their first season then, then the next, and then the 2012 season began. That’s when I (recently out of sleep deprivation, mommy, and work fog) began to watch every game again.

I was enthralled. THIS is football, I thought! For the first time in Seahawk history, I don’t feel worried sick when our QB is on the field, I said! Pete Carroll, Paul Allen, Jon Schneider and Russell Wilson became my heroes, their super-hero rings had united, and ignited the power of THE Seattle Seahawks, 2.0.

If you have just joined our program, welcome aboard new 12’s! I’ll let you in on a non-secret; you are just now, in January 2015, witnessing the result of four full years of Pete Carroll’s Win Forever way of life. Enjoy every minute; there will not be another time like this in Seahawks lore, for the man at the epicenter of this earthquake of championship football is a one of a kind.

On our family trip this summer, we made sure to pen a tour of Century Link Field on our roster. It was pretty great, I do recommend for twelves. For the CLink suggestion box: how about a huge part of a practice field area for the kids to (be left at) run on for the hour plus of the tour with an energetic Seahawk-y type of person so that the adults can get more from (actually enjoy)the tour. I’m sure my mom was happy I’d done the tour too, as I was able to reference a part of it for EVERY place our feet touched in the stadium that evening game last Saturday.

Sure, I’ve heard the detractors (my 11-year-old son); any sport, any game, can be a physical feat to be admired, and calculated and enshrined on the top ten list of whatever forever.

But that alone isn’t going to draw my attention, much less find a meaningful connection with which to bind me to a team, much less a movement.

Behind the scenes. Pulling back the curtain, that’s when things get interesting. It’s really the cast of characters in the game that color the field. And it was exactly those players who Pete and Jon wooed to Seattle.

Coach Carroll doesn’t force players to conform, to change who they are; instead, his focus is “what can I do to help you be the best you.” Pete has his guys play fast and loud all the time, practice or game time, with an expectation of individual inner focus, built on trust and confidence in themselves and in one another, wrapped in excelling at a high level, for the good of the team.

His belief says; when each person is given what they need to thrive, they will excel in what they do. And the surprise, at least for the NFL? He makes it fun. That’s the phrase I hear most repeated by players, fellow coaches, media writers, tv special highlight shows. Yep, even more than “championship mindset”.

Reflecting this week, preparing for the NFC Championship game, Pete said,

“We’ve had the opportunity to really experience the best of the NFL, our guys are really getting a full experience of it and it’s wonderful to see these guys grow up and find out what this thing is all about. It’s about the hard work and the sacrifice and the giving to one another and what you can get out of that when you really give of yourself. This has been a wonderful experience for all of us. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

The anticipation was building all day. I know, a grown woman, super excited to just enter the stadium, head to toe in Seahawks swag. I may have had some mini-quakes in my stomach, a moment or two of social anxiety, but after our requisite Hawk selfie, after I pocketed my phone, I looked around and noticed I was not alone. That is the most understated thing I may have ever said.

Twelves, well, we aren’t easy to define. We are NOT like other NFL team’s fans. Never have been. And the past year’s Super Bowl run and win only served to not only cement our reputation and identity, but to welcome unheard of numbers of new 12’s to the fold.

I’d wondered how I would feel, react when I saw the players on the field, there in living color, for the first time. After all, I’d had a close relationship with the team (in my head) for years; but seeing someone in the flesh, well, goodbye pulled together, articulate adult.

Hello, reduced to tears twelve. That pre-game you see on TV at Century Link? Yeah, it’s about a million times brighter, louder, intensified there. And when I saw Russell run out on the field, with his trademark point-to-the-sky move, I cried, and my mom, probably the best person on earth to be there beside me, got it, and hugged me, as we watched our guys prepare to battle.

When we lost Mebane, Wagner, Unger, and then when the next man up meant saying “who??” to the starting lineup, and we were staring at a painful 3-3 record in the face, I didn’t cry. I was mad, frustrated, confused, developed a bit of a colorful vocabulary, and took lots of walks during the tough quarters. But whatever I was worried and all bothered about, (and I know most twelves and the team themselves were feeling it too), is now central to the story of this season; instead of falling apart with third and fourth depth chart replacements; the Seahawks IMPROVED.

Not immediately, not measurably after one game, or two, or even three. But by the time the injured soldiers returned and other players healed to full strength, and the team leaders came together to get real, to shake off the emotional residue of Super Bowl hangover; they did not just jump in and kick out their back-ups. Instead of subtracting both ways, with the loss and gain of players, the Hawks under Pete and his incredible, unparalleled coaching staff, and with the guiding mantra of Always Compete, managed to multiply their power players and rebuild a stronger team.  All of the things that were against them; injury, early bye week, ‘tough gauntlet’ schedule, personal conflict: none of those irreparably weakened them.

Legos are a very big deal at my house. Three boys under twelve and an Adult Fan of Legos (my husband), have built a Lego empire. “It’s a very simple idea,” says Knudstorp of LEGO. “All bricks are complementary. They all fit together. Which creates a system that you can be endlessly creative in.” Put simply, any brick from any set can be used to build with any other brick, as long as it’s LEGO.

Pete’s Seahawk organization is much the same; the Win Forever message permeates every piece of the system; everyone speaks the same language, so every person is complementary to another. They all fit together. Unique, but part of a ‘system that can you be endlessly creative in.’

After a meteoric rise to the top in 2013, capped with winning the Super Bowl in the shape of an exclamation mark, it seemed as if nothing could stop Pete and his players.

But truth and courage and leaders will always be tested, and the first half of the 2014 season played out like any sequel in an epic tale; complete with villains, adversity and heroes.

Pete is a rare kind of person. Equally optimistic and enthusiastic. Engaging and brilliant. But at the heart of it, is, his heart. Someone real and true to who they are and what they believe will hold up to the test of time. He’s the real deal. And we in Seattle are beyond lucky to have him.

He finds creative ways to rally his troops. He’s found the key to get in the very minds and hearts of his players, and what is in their heads and hearts when they take the field, any field, that’s not something forged of formulas and mass production. The deal is, Pete Carroll runs a major, highly successful and powerful corporate entity with a relationship driven bottom line.

Walking to the tunnel post game, Kam Chancellor, who in this tribe of personalities has lit up the stage this year with his inborn mix of charm and physical power, passionately explained, “It’s about playing together, for each other, the same beat, same play, same heart……”

This team you see, these guys, they have been in the trenches together. They’ve faced the worst of themselves, the embarrassment of failed attempts and tumbles from pedestals. They’ve been questioned, maligned, doubted, underrated, quietly moving the chains, play by grueling play, game by meaningful game, making their way into a place very few could have predicted when they were 3-3. Having been tested by fire, walking through hell, coming face to face with truth and identity; nothing status quo is going to do. These are the times and the people who know that it is exactly the unorthodox that is their salvation.

It wins. Every time. Forever.

Many have been waiting in the wings, waiting to see how this all played out.
Would this be a story with an unbelievably good ending, or a cautionary tale?

Watching, no being part of, the playoff game against the Panthers last Saturday was something I’d really only dreamed of before. I love a good story. I love a good football game. And being in Century Link with the twelves at their best was, well, epic. An incredible, never to be forgotten experience, made even sweeter by those who I shared it with, on and off the field.

Sometime during the week of constant press conferences, Pete shared some of his thoughts on the culmination of this season, and the past four seasons.

“It’s been an amazing experience to come here and embrace a whole new environment, a whole new culture of fans and the history of the club and ownership and all of that,” he said. “It’s been an incredible journey. It’s been so much fun. More fun than I ever could have imagined.”

And Russell Wilson, in his laid back, born for this role way, gave his take on the 12th man.
“There’s nobody as loud, that’s for sure,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “There’s a certain feeling when you step onto the field. Like I always say, ‘If you haven’t been to a game here, you’ve got to go. It’s one of those bucket-list things.'”

I recently read an article showing the dramatic rise in women who are watching NFL games, and in particular, who are fans of the Seahawks. It has occurred to me this season, watching the dramas and lies, closed doors and hidden secrets and agendas, if the NFL really wants to keep it’s future audience secure, it needs to take a really close look in the mirror.

Women like to have fun, we love our players, and we’re not dumb. We have the power and every right to sway and pull not only our viewership, but that of children’s, our family’s and our friends’. Take a very careful look, and listen up National Football League: women are individuals, just like your male audience, and it looks like a very large majority of us are really paying attention to a franchise in Seattle, led by a man we admire, in a way we that we love, boys.

There are many who get it. And Pete just seems to embody the spirit of the Northwest. A couple of those guys do a daily Seattle Sports radio show on 710 ESPN, on the Brock and Salk Show. I spend several of my hours a day tuning in, getting my sports fix, and it’s dance club music to my ears in football season. This week they have had some big time industry names on-air to interview. Tom Jackson caught my attention the other day talking about the Seahawks and Championship time:

“For the most part, we watch a football season and we’re so attached to the numbers…and when it gets down to the reality of winning a championship, it ends up being somebody playing really good defense, running the ball, and moving another man against his will.”

In the end, it comes down to the small things, done well, together, in love, for one another, pursuing a greater purpose.




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