I’m a pretty big fan of the Seattle Seahawks. I don’t bleed blue and green or have a room full of swag, but I do have an official NFL football autographed by Mack Strong. My fandom goes back to the days of Zorn to Largent and Krieg to Largent, followed by years and years of enduring the mediocrity. I remember spending the Christmas holidays of 1999 at my brother’s place in Phoenix when Mike Holmgren was announced as the coach, and hoping that his arrival was the light at the end of the tunnel.
I regularly read Seahawks web coverage and listen to Seattle sports podcasts. One sportscaster, Danny O’Neil, is fond of referring to the ‘narrative’ of a situation. As I write this in early February of 2015, the Seahawks have just lost Super Bowl XLIX, and I’m wondering to what degree the narrative of the past three seasons necessitated or predicted this loss.
Here’s how the narrative runs: in the last part of the 2012 season, the team’s offence exploded with some big scores; 58-0, 50-17, and 42-13. You knew this was an anomaly. No NFL team consistently blows out opponents by that wide a margin, but it bode well because the young team had been improving all year. In the second game of the playoffs they were behind by 20 points late in the game but scored three touchdowns and took the lead, before the defense inexplicably failed and with only 31 seconds left to play, Atlanta completed two long passes and kicked the game winning field goal.
This was the beginning of the narrative. One of the youngest teams in the NFL, with a rookie quarterback, was only a few pieces away from being one of the best teams.
The hopes that sprouted at the end of that season became the expectations of 2013. San Francisco and Denver, along with Seattle, were picked as the best teams going into the season and they remained on top all year long. Seattle’s defense grew stronger, more consistent, and they beat rival San Francisco in the conference final before demolishing Denver and Denver’s record setting offence 42–8 in the Super Bowl.
So, next part of the narrative; how does a young team that won the championship handle success and the target on their back that comes from being the champions?
They opened the season with a win against a good Green Bay team, but followed that up with a surprising loss in San Diego. Eventually their record was a mediocre 3-3. They traded away a major talent that had not fit in with the team and their record went to 6-4; a far less dominant record than the previous year, and the media was worried they were falling too far behind teams with better records. The leaders of the team held a meeting, with the claim that the key coming from the meeting was about ‘playing for each other, trusting each other and loving our brothers.’
After that meeting, the team won the rest of their regular season games and was the first team since 1990 to retain the top seed in the playoffs the year after winning a Super Bowl. They won the playoff game against Carolina and were the first Super Bowl winners to win a playoff game in the following year since 2005.
In the conference final, facing Green Bay again, they were down 19-7 with just over two minutes remaining. Post-game computer analysis says that they had less than a 3 percent chance of winning, but they came back to win in overtime, leading many players (and hometown media and fans) to tears. In doing so, they were the first team since 2004 to repeat as conference champions, and the first team to go to consecutive Super Bowls as the top seed since 1991.
At this point the narrative, to me, starts to become strained. If I were writing this story, I think they had taken it as far as they could go. From the end of 2012 to the championship in 2013 they moved up the hill to the pinnacle. In the middle of the 2014 their season seemed ready to fall off the rails with the 3-3 and 6-4 records, and missing the playoffs, like many other past Super Bowl winners, seemed almost likely. But they got their mojo back and started putting up some strong defensive games by, 1) ditching a talented player on offence who hadn’t contributed much? Or by 2) having a meeting and deciding to play for each other?
We’ll never know exactly what was said in that meeting, but for me the narrative of a young, talented, confident-to-the-edge-of-arrogant team that has climbed to the top of the game cannot extend into the next season and beyond without domination, like the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, or the Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky, or the Yankees with their unlimited salary. Or consider the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Stanley Cup in 1974-75, then 1975-76 they set a record for most wins and points in a season and won their second Stanley Cup in a row, then in 1976-77 broke their own record with even more wins and won another cup, followed by another the year after that. Climbing the mountain, then domination at the top, leading to dynasty.
The narrative of the 2014 Seattle Seahawks was not strong enough for a Super Bowl win. They were young enough and talented enough and played well enough to get farther than the last ten or so Super Bowl winners. They had enough doubters after their mediocre start to make the conference final win highly emotional, but the narrative was not strong enough for a Super Bowl win. If this was their first, if they had not won the previous year, then it might work, but a difficult, emotional, come from behind conference win was as far as this narrative could extend.
Does this make sense? I’m saying that they needed to rebuild the momentum of their narrative by losing Super Bowl XLIX. Going forward they don’t need to dominate, to set records like the Montreal Canadiens. They only need a record like 2014; a very good season, and combined with the Super Bowl loss this year they will have the narrative to win the next one, or maybe even two.
I’m not saying they lost the game intentionally, I’m saying they were destined to lose, that the narrative says they hadn’t undergone the right kind of challenge or overcome the right way, or conversely hadn’t dominated enough to win again. If they had lost one of their most important players or their coach in the off-season, or dominated the entire season, or had someone develop as a superstar at one of their weaker positions thereby changing the narrative, they could have won. As it was, they were only a marginally different team from 2013 and in spite of their talent and youth they did not dominate the league, and so the narrative was not in place for them to go all the way.
At least, that’s how I would have written it.
And that was what I sensed even in the two weeks before the game; that the narrative had been completed for this year with the conference finals, and that’s why I wasn’t as upset as some others by the loss.