The moment the clock struck zero's and the Seahawks had defeated the New Orleans Saints to set up an NFC Championship Game with the Niners at CenturyLink, life became one really long dream sequence. After being grounded by reality the entire season, my mind slowly began to slip away to another place. The matchup that everyone had dreamed of had now come true. We were all set to witness history.
Making things even more surreal was the fact that members of Seahawks.Net had banded together to raise funds not only for me, but for my buddy Greg as well. A whopping $913.24 was raised in a little over a day in what was one of the most amazing displays of generosity we had ever seen. Such kindness is practically unheard of these days, but it's been a way of life for Seahawks fans who have taken the term "hawking it forward" to entirely new levels this season.
After luckily snagging the last deal in town on Stubhub, Greg and I hit the road armed with two tickets in Section 300 to the biggest game of the season. My girlfriend hooks it up with a ride to JFK Airport and on our way we get stuck at a traffic light. Nothing out of the ordinary, except as I look up, I see that the street sign reads "Hendrix St." We smile at the coincidence, and I think of Jimi for a second and what he'd think of this Seahawks team. He'd absolutely love them. Not only would he love their unique style, but he'd love their soul that shines through so bright.
With Hendrix now in the rearview mirror, I navigate my way through the airport to the gate which the plane was set to depart from. Once there, I see someone wearing a red jacket and a blue hat. As I get closer, I realize that the jacket is just that, a red jacket, while the blue hat is actually a Seahawks hat! I strike up a conversation with the guy and it turns out that he's Jack Thompson, son of the legendary WSU Quarterback of the same name, or better known as "The Throwin' Samoan." His brother Tony also played for the Cougars, and the Jack who stood before me had worked for the 'Cougs as well. He tells me that he's headed to Hawai'i the following week to see his father get inducted into the Polynesian Hall of Fame, after first watching the NFC Championship of course. I congratulate him and let him know that it's an honor to be amongst Cougar royalty. To cap it off, he busts a 12th Man Flag out of his bag and wraps it around himself proudly. You couldn't ask for a better omen as you're about to board a cross-country flight.
As we board the plane, we realize that Greg is sitting in Row 12. I was in Row 23 (Marcus Trufant!), but thought it would be incredibly fitting if we both sat in Row 12. Despite clearly having the leverage in the situation, my window seat was not enough to convince the man to leave his middle seat. My request to trade seats had been denied but we couldn't let it phase us, so we just kept it moving and moved on. It was nice getting some sleep on the plane for a change, so maybe it was meant to be and I really was supposed to have that window seat.
We hit the ground in Seattle recharged from our slumber and made our way to the Mayflower Park Hotel to meet up with old friends Jordan and Jonathan. On our way there though, we passed a gift shop with a familiar name. Astoria, not only the name of the town made famous in the Goonies, but also a local neighborhood back home in Queens. This wouldn't be the only similar coincidence on this trip. Far from it. As we neared the hotel, you couldn't help but feel like the stars were beginning to align like they seemingly had in weeks prior.
Back to business, Jordan has been one of the major reasons this quest has succeeded to this point and Jonathan is a fellow east coaster who deserves this magical run from the Seahawks more than pretty much anybody. He too, has been instrumental in the amazing journey that has been the 2013-2014 season for yours truly. He had purchased his plane tickets for this weekend weeks in advance, long before it was even assured that the Seahawks would be playing in the NFC Championship Game. His faith had been rewarded. The stage was now set for one of the greatest, or one of the worst, weekends of our lives. A few drinks to take the edge off after a long flight and to catch up, and it was time to call it a night and try and attempt to get any sort of sleep that was humanly possible the night before such a big game.
I tried, honestly, I did. But I failed, miserably. I got two hours, maybe three at the most, of sleep before I woke up at around 4:30am and decided to stay awake. Who was I kidding? I can barely keep it together before a Texans/Seahawks game in September, how the hell could I keep it together now the night before the NFC Championship Game against the Niners? It just wasn't gonna happen.
So I sat there in the hotel room and just watched highlight video after highlight video. Everything from the season's most important moments, to all of the team's touchdowns, to 29-3, and of course, 42-13. I watched whatever I could to help pass the time and to also help myself visualize the greatness that we were all about to witness. Luckily, ESPN2 was there to enable as well, as they had hours of programming dedicated to Russell Wilson lined up for the early part of the day.
There wasn't time for the TV though, not today. We hit the city streets, I'd say bright and early but that wouldn't be Seattle. No, we hit the city streets grey and early, and there's no better way if you ask me. San Francisco can have their sunshine, I'll take grey all day. We tried taking our minds off of what lay ahead of us with some coffee and of course, Top Pot donuts, but even a Maple Bar was no match for the sense of anticipation that was eating away at everyone's stomachs. The group of 4 becomes 5, as old friend Lon joins the party at Pike Place Market. You can spot Lon's Seahawks cowboy hat from a mile away, so he wasn't tough to find. As we make our way towards the stadium, we pass by another shop that makes me stop and pause, it is appropriately named "The Brooklyn."
Once we get down by the stadium, we head for Massachusetts St for some early tailgating. You can tell that there are nerves in the air, but for the most part everyone still remains confident. You've got to respect the 'Niners and what they're capable of and anyone who said they weren't the slightest bit nervous is probably lying. You must respect your enemy in a Heavyweight fight because at any point they can knock you out with just one punch. And to steal a line from the immortal Ric Flair, to be the man ya gotta beat the man! Woooooooooo!!!!! The Seahawks would have to beat the man.
Did the sense of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement dampen the pregame festivities? Fat chance of that ever happening. Seahawks fans were in rare pregame form, as witnesses claim to have seen one unnamed New Yorker doing a beer bong of Rainier and Jagermeister out of a shrunken head. Validity of the claims have been questioned, but multiple people corroborated the claims.
With added pep in our step, we stuck to the theme of "doing things better than we've ever done them before" and tried to cram as much pregame action in as possible without getting too carried away. It was on to Temple Billiards but before that our group decided to stop in front of our friend Leif's mural on the side of the WaMu Theater at CenturyLink. We all posed and then asked a stranger passing by to please take our picture. He obliged and as he handed back the camera and said "GO Hawks!", we couldn't help but notice the massive New England Patriots Super Bowl ring on his finger. Jordan tells the stunned bunch, "you know who that is, don't you?" We all look puzzled, to which he replies, "that's Lawyer Milloy." He then says "Go Dawgs" and Milloy responds with a "Woof woof!" Jordan points out to Lawyer that he's going to get to watch his legacy continued in the form of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Lawyer happily mentions that he's proud of being able to be a part of their learning process and that he's glad he could give that to the team. We part ways as Lawyer and his buddy disappear into the crowd.
One of the greatest highlights, out of the many, of this entire trip and this entire season as a matter of fact, was finally getting to Temple and meeting up with the rest of our crew. Many a familiar face lined the walls and you couldn't help but reflect upon what an amazing journey it's been. No matter what was to happen in today's game, we all had each other, and Greg and I were especially blessed to be around such amazing people. $913 is no joke, and we were now standing with the people who made it all possible. I can't even begin to describe the feeling.
The beer and bloody mary's were flowing and soon my buddy Todd showed up with a gift in hand. Something very dear to him that he wanted me to have. All week I wondered what it could be, and now I was about to see it. Turns out it was a beautiful Seahawks.Net poster from back in the day that had signatures from Paul Allen, Seagal Amber, and Big Lo just to name a few. Not only that, but old friend Bart has a Marshawn Lynch jersey for me that he wants me to have. The feeling in the room was so great, there was absolutely no way the 49ers could win. Not today.
I stash the poster behind the bar with the bartender Steve and we all make our way to CenturyLink for the last time this season. What were once nerves have now turned to confidence, and the 12th Man is fired up and ready to go to the Super Bowl! That dream that we all had at the end of last season and at the beginning of this season was now, finally, within reach. Everything that everyone had worked so hard for, players, fans, and coaches alike, was now just one win away. After a traditional hotdog at Joe's with Steve and his son Zack, we hit Touchdown City to eventually make our way to our seats. We say our goodbyes, possibly our final ones depending on how the game goes, and with a half hour still to go before kickoff, we make our way to Section 300.
As luck would have it, we're sitting around a decent sized pocket of Niners fans. The row in front of us is almost entirely Niners fans, and the right side of the row in particular is 'Niner heavy. Everything seems civil before we realize that a few of the Niners fans are absolutely wasted. As the game draws closer, the Niners fans become louder and louder, in typical San Francisco fashion. Regardless of whether they won or lost, these fans came in to Seattle with a mission of talking the most trash as possible. "Who's got it better than us?!" is thrown about a few times and kids that were probably younger than me start spewing propaganda about how many rings they've got. Something inside me tells me not even to bother with them because we were going to get the last laugh.
After an amazing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by Ann Wilson in which the 63-year-old leaves it all out there on the field, the crowd is whipped into even more of a frenzy when the video board behind the 12th Man Flag starts flashing clues and images of today's flag raiser. After all the questions about who would be fit to raise the flag for such a big game, it was a pretty easy choice in the end. The man himself, Paul Allen, the man who had once Saved our Seahawks, was now going to raise the flag just like he'd done 8 years prior before the NFC Championship Game against Carolina. Would we witness a similar result?
Not so much. It didn't take long to realize that today's game was going to be vastly different from that one eight years prior. As a matter of fact, it only took one play before the Niners' Aldon Smith sacked Russell Wilson and forced a fumble by stripping Russell of the ball. What in years past would have been a devastating blow was simply now a warning shot. The Seahawks D, and the 12th Man, rose to the occasion and help San Francisco to a field goal. It wasn't the ideal start by any means, but it could have been worse. The Seahawks are one of the toughest teams in the league. They had been through worse, and they would bounce back from this.
Still, it would take some more stressful situations and a 10-0 Niners lead before the home side would show signs of life. We remained confident in Section 300 as the Niner fans in front of us began to gloat about the early lead. As the Seahawks fate started to turn for the better on the field, the same happened in the stands. One of the drunker members of the contingency in front of us was so wasted that he was taken away by stadium security. The Seahawks followed with a Steven Hauschka knuckleball field goal to get on the board. Other people seated in our section stated that they saw the poor Niner fan being stretched from the concession area. Our luck was beginning to turn.
It wasn't until halftime that things really took a turn for the better. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis might have been impossible to hear from our section, but you got the sense that his performance and his hypejob on the mic afterwards got the crowd back into it. As the second half began, there was a noticeable difference in the atmosphere at CenturyLink. The 12th Man was ready to witness history. They were ready to witness the Seahawks fulfill their destiny and punch their ticket to New Jersey for a chance to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
Despite all of the positive energy, the stadium needed a jolt. Some play that would kick things into hyperdrive. It came in the form of Marshawn Lynch blasting through the middle of the Niners defense, before shifting gears and bouncing it outside with amazing lateral quickness and into the endzone for a monstrous, game-tying run. The crowd went absolutely ballistic, as fans toppled over one another in the stands, the scene looking more like a mosh-pit in some sections (319 in particular) than a football game. Hugs, high-fives, and punches to the throat were abound as we had all just witnessed another legendary Marshawn Lynch touchdown run in the playoffs. How could you not love that man?
The joy would be short-lived however, as Colin Kaepernick took back momentum momentarily for the red and gold with a flick of the wrist and a laser touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. Colin Kaepernick must have been hoping that that was the dagger through the heart of the Seattle Seahawks. If the game had ended there, he'd be remembered as a hero who finally overcame the big, bad Seahawks in their scary stadium with their savage fans. Luckily, they play four quarters. And it was in the fourth quarter that the Seahawks would truly leave no doubt about who was the better team.
As the fourth quarter got underway, a beautiful thing happened. The loud and obnoxious San Francisco fans in front of us began to get ejected one by one. One guy poured his beer on a Seahawks fan in front of him. The security guard made the right call and gave him the boot. Soon, the two guys to his right were also gone. Now, only one Niners fan remained. As the Seahawks moved the ball down the field setting up for a long field goal, you could see a bit of relief rush over the stranger. Everything was gonna be alright, he thought to himself. Then, the Seahawks called a timeout after Steven Hauschka stood motionless over the field goal.
What happened next was a moment that I'll never forget for the rest of my life. The Seahawks offense came back on to the field and Russell Wilson was in Shotgun formation. Foolishly, the Niners take the bait and jump offsides. Even more foolishly, two members of their defense stop and stare rather than seeing the play out. Russell Wilson doesn't need anything else, he's already got a free play. He looks upfield and fires quickly, lofting an arching pass towards the endzone. Two Seahawks receivers and a slew of Niners defenders are in the general area of the pass. Doug Baldwin gives way, as Jermaine Kearse leaps among the crowd and secures the pass before landing on the ground and giving the crowd a bow. Absolute bedlam erupts in the stands and the Seahawks are now up, 20-17, against all odds.
There was no time to enjoy this though, as the Niners were back on the field. Colin Kaepernick would now try to finally defeat his demons and get the 12th Man out of his head. At about this time, Seahawks enforcer Kam Chancellor decided, no, not in my house. Vernon Davis has to hate the man, as he once again tasted the wrath of attempting to cross the middle against the Seahawks defense. Another bone-crunching hit was on the menu for Vernon, and you could tell after that that he wanted nothing more to do with #31's area of the field. The Seahawks finally got to Kaepernick and forced a fumble, but the ensuing drive starting from inside the 10 yielded no points after a gruesome injury to NaVorro Bowman. The ball never lies though, as justice was served when the Seahawks fumbled the ball away at the 1 yard line. Make no mistake, the Niners defense is outstanding and especially stingy inside the 5. This game was a pleasure to watch.
There was that man again though, Kam Chancellor, this time reading the play perfectly and making a nice play on a pass from Kaepernick intended for Boldin. I told Kam's brother Cornel before the game that I hoped his brother would have the game of his life. I was happy for his entire family when he came down with that pass and set the stadium off one more time. Kam deserves it and they do too. Good things happen to good people.
This time Seattle could only muster up a field goal, but still, it was something. Now, the stage was set. Just like in Atlanta the season prior, when this whole journey truly began, the Seahawks defense was in charge of preserving the lead and saving the game. If you've followed this team closely this season, you wouldn't have it any other way, and neither would they. However, the Niners weren't going to go down without a fight, and fight they did. The nerves began to reappear as the Niners moved the ball down the field seemingly at will. Harbaugh wasn't stopping the clock either, seemingly content with this being the last drive of the game. We remained confident in Section 300 that the Seahawks defense would no doubt come through, but as the Niners moved the ball to the 18 yard line, you couldn't help but feel like an absolute basket case.
And then it happened. History was made. As Colin Kaepernick lofted a pass to the endzone for Michael Crabtree, Richard Sherman cemented his legacy as a flat-out baller and made the play of his young career. I could care less about what happened next, all that matters is that he turned, located, and swatted that pass and left it up for Malcolm Smith to throw down the alley! As Smith fell to the floor, elation set in as the crowd of over 68,000 people realized that it had really happened. The Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl!
As the confetti rained down, and "New York, New York" blared from the speakers, I took a look around and couldn't believe reality. This was all real. If Greg weren't there beside me to witness it, I probably still wouldn't believe it to this day. We sat and watched the NFC Championship trophy presentation, and it felt damn good to see the boys in blue and green wearing all of that championship gear. After all they had been through this season, they truly deserved to enjoy that moment, if only for a moment. After a while, the stadium emptied out and the blue and green confetti on the field was all that remained.
We rushed to Temple to celebrate, as Blue Thunder worked the crowd in the streets into a frenzy. People danced in the streets, car horns beeping in the background as their soundtrack. The scene inside the bar was straight up jubilation. Hugs, cheers, beers, and stories from inside the game and everyone's reactions to the game's big plays. After everything everyone had been through all season, our wildest dreams had just come true! From training camp to glitter bombs and the NFC Championship, this team had finally embraced their potential. It all came together in such amazing fashion.
The party lasted well into the night, as Jordan, Leif, Brandon, Greg, and I celebrated what was one of the greatest days of our lives. Still, we all knew that the qwest wasn't over. The journey doesn't just end right here. It has to end with a Super Bowl victory over the Broncos at MetLife. Destiny must be fulfilled! As fate would have it, the crew that went to MetLife in December to watch the Seahawks beat the Giants will be reunited for the Super Bowl. The force was strong with that group in December, we shall see if the same holds true this time against the other Manning.
This trip also had a very fitting end. My connector flight home from Chicago to Laguardia last Tuesday had been canceled, as well as all other flights to NYC due to a blizzard that was rolling in to town. Luckily for me, all this flying finally paid off as I was put in the last seat, on the last flight back home before Thursday morning. The only catch? The flight was landing in Newark, New Jersey instead. I was thankful for my incredible luck that kept my string of no canceled flights in tact for the season. The fact that I was now flying in to New Jersey, much like the Seahawks would in a few weeks, just made too much sense. I headed home, and even got a day off, as work was canceled due to the awful weather.
Watch, now my flight to Seattle for the Super Bowl Champions parade will be delayed or canceled. Nah, just playin', I'll see you all there!