It's Friday already (time is definitely flying) and I still can't seem to wipe away the images that are currently ingrained in my brain. Niners fans, who offered their team virtually no support whenever they were down or when things were generally uninteresting, pumping fists and high-fiving one another after tasting victory. Swarms of fans with the lowest football I.Q. that I've witnessed this season chanting "Seahawks Suck! Seahawks Suck!" Yes... someone even said "Screw the Seachickens!" No, this wasn't a trip back in time to the early 90's, this was my trip to San Francisco this past weekend. I should have known it was doomed from the start.
The highs and lows of a football season are a lot like the highs and lows that we experience in our daily lives. After coming home to a hero's welcome, with the images of an epic beatdown of the Saints on Monday Night football still fresh in my mind, it was back to the grind for the weekend before a 6 AM flight out of Newark on Sunday morning. Long story short, the same old same old. About the only thing that really sticks out in my mind from last week was my girlfriend buying me this awesome "Every Day I'm Russel'N" t-shirt!
With new 'Hawks gear in hand, I was ready to take on the world. I finished up at work at around 2:30 AM, but before closing up I used the work computer to purchase and print my ticket for the game that was set to take place in a few hours. Including fees, I spent $232 to get in to the Week 2 matchup in Seattle, my most expensive game ticket of the season. This one topped it though, weighing in at two hundred and sixty two dollars with fees included. Still, I wasn't worried. I had the feeling that this game would be more than worth it. All week I had been telling my friends back home that it wouldn't be a blowout like the Saints game, and that the refs would try their hardest to even things up a bit (surprise, they did), but that Seattle would find a way to grind out a victory and sweep the season series.
So with confidence in my step, I left Queens and headed straight for Newark, New Jersey. A quick cab right to Manhattan, followed by two train rides on the PATH train, and then a cab from the Newark PATH station to Newark Airport, and I was on my way. In the words of Robert Plant, I was "going to California on a big jet plane." Now, this was my first trip to California, ever, and it was only set to be about a day long. There wasn't time for fun to be had, there was a mission at hand, and that was to escape San Francisco with a win.
It was almost 9 when the pilot announced that we would be making our decent into San Francisco. As I looked out the window, I saw the hills and trees that I'd heard about and always associated with California. The sun was shining, and out of the corner of my window I saw a stadium that sat near the water. I thought to myself that there was no way that that was Candlestick Park. I don't know why I said that to myself, but that's what I thought. When we touched down, I was just happy to finally get off the damn plane. Outside of the airport, there was a shared ride van waiting to take passengers to Candlestick, downtown, and various other places in between. At $17, it beat taking a cab for $40.
As fate would have it, the only other person to get in the van with me was a Niners fan. His name was Anthony and he stood out because not only was the dude a monster, he stood about 6 feet tall and I'd say around 300 pounds, but also because all of his Niners gear was blue. He told that this was going to be the first NFL game of his life and he was pretty excited about it. He had made the trek out all the way from the middle of nowhere somewhere in Nevada, so he immediately gained my respect, despite his allegiances. The good thing about Anthony was that he was also heading to Candlestick, so rather than have to make multiple stops, our driver just headed to the stadium.
Riding with the enemy, I couldn't help but think, this guy's not that bad. Maybe 'Niners fans just get a bad rap. We left the van and walked towards the stadium parking lot. 3 other Seahawks fans emerge and the 5 of us walk to the lot. Anthony can't believe his luck, as he's now flocked by Seahawks fans on his home turf. One of the other 'Hawks fans asks him why he's wearing blue Niners gear. He says it's because he hates the color red, and can not wear it, so he spends a little bit extra to get things customized. That's when, like Dorothy, I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
We cross the street and a San Francisco policeman directing traffic tells us to be careful, and that he wouldn't want any visitors from Seattle getting hurt. He said it with a laugh and when his sincerity was questioned, he got serious real quick and said "I love my job and I will protect any person in this city, no matter where you're from." He was a class act. Once we were in the parking lot, I looked around to see if there's anyone I knew or anything familiar. There's a beer pong table to the right and I immediately think "that's a first." Beer pong, in an NFL stadium parking lot, ya gotta love it! Besides beer pong, there's all kinds of debauchery going on around me. Off in the distance, I see a 12 flag and immediately head towards it.
Once there, I feel a hand grab my shoulder and someone says "Davey?" I turn around and it's my buddy Doug, a Seattle dude whom my friends and I met at Carlow East for the season opener against Arizona a year prior. We even tailgated together prior to the Jets/Seahawks game last season. Doug's cool people, so I immediately feel a bit at ease despite being in enemy territory. Then, I bump into Seahawks VP of Community Relations, Mike Flood. We met in Charlotte before the season opener, so it was cool to see him again 10 games later. It turns out that someone back home knew Mike from back in their days with the US Coast Guard. Upon hearing this information, Mike can't believe that I knew someone who knows him as well, and that his name was mentioned at a bar in New York City. It's a small world, especially with the technology and social media of today.
Mike is joined by Sheri, the Sea Gals Alumni Coordinator and a former Sea Gal. It's her sons birthday and the team was able to hook them up with tickets for the game. As we all talk, a plane flies over the stadium with a banner that reads "Go Hawks!" Everyone goes nuts and you get the sense that the 12th Man is out in full force and ready to experience victory at the hands of their rivals. Fog horns ring from stadium, reminding people to make it to their seats for the game. Earlier in the week, an e-mail was sent out to season ticket holders by the 49ers encouraging their fans to basically be better fans. The fact that this message needed to be delivered is an absolute joke in and of itself.
Finally, the time had come. The walk to the stadium and another probable bloodbath between the Seahawks and the 49ers. All week, friends and Seahawks fans had warned me and urged me to be careful when at Candlestick. Keep your head on a swivel, was the general idea, and try not to get killed. On my way through the parking lot to the entrace, I see a Seahawks fan carrying a plate of cookies. He offers one to a Niners fan, who then pulls out a joint in return. The two smoke proceed to light the joint and smoke it, and eventually their friends join in despite the initial hesitance. For one brief moment in time, Niners and Hawks fans saw eye to eye. I think I even saw a guy in a Wilson jersey hug a guy in a Gore jersey. I keep going and eventually I'm at security.
Gotta admit, there were some pretty normal Niners fans as we waited for the line to move. A mother and son who just loved the game of football, as well as their home team. Nothing wrong with that. They were classy and knowledgeable of the game, even noting how much respect they had for Russell Wilson. Make a note, outside of the two guys sitting next to me, this would be the last time I would encounter classy and knowledgeable Niners fans. The line was huge, so by the time I got to my seat, I had just missed kick off.
The first thing that jumps out are the trees off in the distance behind the stadium, and the sun shining like if it were mid-June. The guy's sitting next to me can't believe that they are sitting next to a Seahawks fan. They tell me they've been season ticket holders at the 'Stick for 10 years and admittedly "feel like they own the place", as they heckle a Seahawks fan in a green wig. It's nothing harmful and I'd say these guys were 2 of the more passionate, knowledgeable Niners fans in the joint. When you're rooting for your team on the road, some ribbing is to be expected. They ask if I'm a bandwagon fan or if I'm from Seattle, I say neither and tell them that I'm a real fan from New York City. They are even more confused. It just doesn't compute with them, even after 2 attempts to explain it. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson gets absolutely lit up by NaVorro Bowman on 3rd Down. The crowd loses their mind at the sight of Russell Wilson being manhandled.
The game's got an interesting feel to it. It's what watching the Ravens and Steelers was like for years. Both teams content with dishing out as much pain on the opponent as possible, and expecting a high dosage of pain in return. Nothing too flashy, too creative or inventive, just being able to survive the grudge match. The man behind me keeps yelling "they're all cheaters" and "tainted wins", he mentions the letters P, E, and D about 200 times before finally realizing that no one in his general vicinity is smart enough to understand what he means and respond.
Luckily for me of course, the couple in front of me are just as obnoxious. Like most of the wannabe gangsters and ganbangers that call this stadium home, they have little to no knowledge of the game or of their own team. However, they love cursing out the Seahawks and repping their red jerseys. For most of the game they are silent, however, amazingly whenever the 49ers make a big play or take the lead, they are the world's biggest fans. They even try to lead the rest of the crowd to stand and cheer before the rest of their section tells them to sit down because they are blocking the view for everyone else. I shake my head in general dismay at everything going on around me.
The game keeps on chugging along with the Niners looking a lit bit better than the Seahawks. However, San Fran has to keep settling for field goals. Luckily for them, they have Phil Dawson, a closet Seahawks-hater himself. Despite having a field goal and an extra point attempt blocked by Red Bryant in 2011 (thanks for the heads up, Bart) while with the Browns, the fact remains that Dawson had beaten the Seahawks with his leg twice since 2009. As he crushes a 52 yarder that never has any doubt, I get the odd feeling that Phil Dawson might do it to us again. The Seahawks, on the other hand, are struggling to move the ball consistently but cash in on a few big plays as the teams exchange the lead early.
Then, with around 3:50 to go in the first half with the 'Hawks trailing by 2, it happens. The moment that Mike Willson and company have been waiting for, Luke Willson's first touchdown reception! Mike's an outstanding person and I couldn't help but be excited for him and his family as you just know they must have been going nuts as Luke shrugged off an attempted tackle and turned up field headed towards the endzone for 6. He made it look easy too, burning Patrick Willis off the line and dragging across the middle to take advantage of the open space between the front 7 and the secondary. Russell Wilson doesn't miss those. Congratulations Luke! Don't look now but that Wilson to Willson connection is looking like it could be a strong one in the near future. Luke's getting there.
The joy is short-lived, however, and the Niners end up marching down the field and scoring a touchdown right before the half. Holding them to three would have been nice, but somehow Vernon Davis is able to get open in the endzone and Kaepernick finds him, Niners lead going into halftime. At this point, it feels like the Niners should be ahead by more but they're inability to convert in the Red Zone (or Seattle's ability to stop them in the Red Zone, either way) has allowed the Seahawks to keep things much closer than the home faithful, and I use that word lightly here, would like. The guy behind me continues to yell at the Seahawks to stop cheating and for everyone on Seattle to be drug-tested.
The second half begins and it's more of the same from both teams. Just two rivals eager to punish their bitter enemies. The Seahawks bench seems animated. The defensive linemen are in a huddle by the end of the bench and they're dancing to whatever music is blaring over the PA system. That's one of the noticeable differences between Candlestick and other stadiums. Gone are the usual gameday staples like "Crazy Train" and "Welcome to the Jungle", replaced by more modern hip-hop that the fans can better relate to. I've often wondered when some of the 80's and 90's hits would start to fade away at NFL games. I guess it's already started, which isn't a bad thing at all.
At some point, Jeron Johnson is down on the field and not getting up. One of his teammates, upon learning it was Johnson who was down on the ground, lets out a yell of frustration directed seemingly at the heavens and punches his fist in the air. It doesn't look good for Jeron. He finally gets up and limps off the field, only after punching a piece of equipment on the sideline and screaming in anger. He throws his wristbands and all of his other equipment on the floor on the way to the Seahawks locker room, alone. It looks like he knows that this injury isn't good news for him. Turns out he was just put on IR. My heart goes out to Jeron, you could just tell that he was devastated by this recent injury. Let's hope he has a speedy recovery.
As the fourth quarter rolls around, both teams can smell blood in the water. Both defenses have been able to get after the quarterback pretty well and it's resulted in some mistakes by both young signal-callers. Still, the Niners lead 16-14, and with each passing "Who's got it better than us? Nobody!" from the crowd, I began to feel myself slowly going insane. Actually, not so much insane, but just disgusted by the state of humanity around me. 4 Seahawks fans are seated to my right, a few rows over. The woman in front of me is now taunting one of the fans and getting in his face and touching his face while he tries to watch the game. I keep waiting for him to finally flip out and deck her in the face, but this monster's boyfriend sees what's going on and steps in. I think he's going to tell his girlfriend to stop being a worthless lowlife, but instead he joins in on the harassment. Finally, the Seahawks fan turns and tells them to stop as they stand face to face. This action is better than some of the action on the field from today! Not the Seahawks best day of work, that's for sure.
So with the game hanging in the balance and tension in the stadium set at maximum, Frank Gore busts out a huge backbreaking run. You could tell that it might be the straw that broke the camel's back, and with the Seahawks clock management at the end of the game, it turns out it was. Phil Dawson trots out on to the field with time winding down and the rest is history. No magic from Red Bryant this time around, instead more glory for Dawson against the Seahawks. This marks the third time he's had a direct hand in a Seahawks defeat since 2009. He clearly must not like the Pacific Northwest.
The 'Hawks get the ball back but the damage has already been done. Russell Wilson's prayer to Jermaine Kearse goes unanswered, intercepted in fact, and the Niners seal the deal with a kneel. Suddenly, everyone acts like they've just won the Super Bowl. The guy in front of me turns around and yells "We're going to the Super Bowl!!!" in my face. I shuffle out of the stadium and get swallowed up by the sea of humanity attempting to exit the 'Stick. I stop to offer some words of encouragement to a fellow 12th Man and a Niners fan comes up to us and screams "I heard all Seahawks fans are screwed!!!" Him and his buddies surround us before finally fleeing after the man next to me replies "I mean, yeah, I guess you can be an asshole your entire life." Chants of "Seahawks suck" break out from the home crowd and I wonder if I'm back in the 3rd grade again. We finally make it outside and by now I've just about had it with this place. To make matters worse, I haven't eaten anything all day and I'm starving at this point. I see a Hispanic guy cooking hot dogs across the street from the stadium parking lot. Against my better judgment, I order 2 dogs. It sets me back $10 and now I'm officially done with this whole experience. Not to mention, the hot dog sucks.
As I walk away from the scene of the crime, I start to wonder what the hell am I going to do tonight? With a flight home set for 7:25 AM the next morning and no place to crash, I consider just heading to the airport and spending the night there. A Seahawks fan and a Niners fan are walking in front of me, we start talking about the game and I can tell that these people are decent people. They're heading downtown and invite me along with them. With no plans, I decide to join Gavin and Mark on their adventure downtown. I gotta say, San Francisco ain't got nothin' on New York City. Hell, it's not even as cool as Seattle in my mind. And I'm honestly trying my hardest not to be biased here.
We hit up a diner and go to town on all kinds of food before we decide to call it a night. The cool dudes that they are, they let me crash in their hotel room. I pull two chairs together and sleep across them, with my blue leather Seahawks jacket acting as a makeshift blanket for the night. I wake up at 4:00 AM and make my way from the BART at Montgomery Station to the airport to begin the voyage back East. Finally, my trip to hell was over. On the flight back I sit next to an older couple named Brooke and Sally. They're worth mentioning because they hook it up with fig newtons, peanut butter and cheese crackers, and curried walnuts on the trip home. Gavin, Mark, Brooke, and Sally get the good guy awards for this week for providing food and shelter.
Despite the result of the game, it was great to get back home. Much like the Seahawks, I chalked up the loss as a learning experience and a reminder that we are in fact mortal. Mama said there'd be days like this. Niners fans, who deserve all the crap they get for their awful behavior at Candlestick Park, can act like they just won the Super Bowl but who cares, really? They're delusional, live in the past, and for the most part treat human beings with little or no regard, no one should care at all about what they have to say. We know the truth, and that is that if they want to go to the Super Bowl, they've got to get through Seattle first and if there is a next time it'll be in the CLink. Colin Kaepernick, Beats commercial be damned, can't be too happy about that thought.
So with defeat firmly placed in the rear view mirror, it's time to look to the future. A matchup with the Giants and a "home game" of sorts for yours truly. After hitting the road for the first 13 games of the season, this next one's right in my backyard. Yet I'll still have to travel to another state to see this one. Could it be a dress rehearsal for the Super Bowl, which will be in the same stadium just 2 months later? Time will tell. For now, let's just focus on the task at hand. Going 1-0 for the week and trying to sew up Homefield Advantage throughout the playoffs. We knew the road to a Super Bowl would have roadblocks along the way. Injuries, defeat, bad breaks, and everything associated with the rigors of an NFL season.
Our boys in blue have hung tough through it all and appear poised to bounce back with a vengeance like they always do. Please, Seattle, do what it takes to pull this next one out for your boy! It'd be greatly appreciated!