Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Holmgren Years: A Retrospective: 2001

I liked this team. After the catastrophic defensive performance during the 2000 season Holmgren went out, opened the wallet and brought in some defensive help. In came John Randle to provide an interior pass rush, and Chad Eaton to eat up blockers, and big Levon Kirkland, to stuff the run. Chad Brown woke up, and started playing like Chad Brown again. Reggie Tongue had one of his two good years in a Seahawks uniform and Anthony Simmons started to blossom.

Statistically, this defense wasn't great, they still bent a little too much, and every now and then gave up too many rushing yards. But they were better, and tougher. Their 3rd and 1 run defense was inpenetrable and only gave up more than 30 points once.

This season also marks the beginning of the Matt Hasslebeck era. Early on, he was terrible, but was welcome relief from the days of Jon Kitna(Out routes and corner routes were now part of the passing game. His first two starts were hideous including the atrocious affair against the Eagles where the Seahawks managed 21 yards passing. It wasn't entirely his fault, the Eagles defense spent much of the game virtually unblocked.

He got hurt, as well as Ricky Watters, and Dilfer and Shaun Alexander came in and righted the ship.

Shaun Alexander, in one of the "I was there" games, rushed for 266 yards against the powerful Raiders in an absolutely "Must win" game. Hasslebeck played perfectly, managing the game and not trying to do too much.

The Seahawks were 6-2 at home, using the poor weather to their advantage to unleash their physical running attack. This was the first year of the Steve Hutchinson/Walter Jones tandem on the left side of the line, and it showed.

With Hasslebeck plagued with injuries, Dilfer finished the season in style with two wins over the Chargers and Chiefs. The Chargers game memorable for being the game where the door reopened to the playoffs when the Bills beat the Jets that morning. Despite beating the Chiefs, the Jets beat the Raiders and the Seahawks missed the playoffs. That wasn't the most painful moment of the season though.

Holmgren's infamous "four point field goal" while down 24-20 to the Dolphins with just over two minutes left and facing a 4th and 4 caused everyone in attendance's head to explode.

The Seahawks played unbelievably at New York against the Giants and held a lead and had the Giants pinned inside their own 10 late in the fourth quarter. Unbelievably, the Giants converted third down after third down as they marched down the field. They were inside the ten when Anthony Simmons dropped a sure interception that would've iced the game. As things go, the next play, Kerry Collins, Ike Hilliard, touchdown. That game ruined my Christmas.

This team could've made some noise if they'd got into the playoffs, but thats the case without a lot of Seahawks teams, a lot of "ifs".

The Holmgren Years: A Retrospective: 2000

This season was brutal. It was the year Jon Kitna completely lost his confidence. It was the year the defense officially went from experienced, to ancient, and it was the first year playing in Husky Stadium. The terrible weather(two non rainy games all season) and horrific traffic issue caused for non existant crowds.

Any buzz from the playoff season the year before was ruined with Jon Kitna's five INT stinkbomb in week 1 at Miami. They actually played three good games in a row after that, losing to the Rams at the last second and beating the Saints(playoff bound) and the equally atrocious Chargers. They took a 2-2 record into Kansas City for a Monday Night game, had a 17-7 fourth quarter lead, blew it, and embarked on a five game losing streak.

The season wasn't all bad, it was Shaun Alexander's rookie year and he ripped off a few big runs to wet everyones appetite. Ricky Watters was a gamer, and busted his ass every play of every game despite dealing with a shaky offensive line. Darrell Jackson was also a rookie and was third on the team in receptions, showing great promise despite occasional dropsies.

They managed to shock the Raiders despite being behind 11 in the fourth quarter and enduring monsoon like weather and were on pace at finishing a respectable 7-9 before getting scalded by the Bills on the last night of the season.

The real story was the defense. 30th in large allowed, gave up nearly 5 yards a carry, gave up 200 yards rushing multiple times, 499+ three times. Sinclair was finished, Tez was finished. Lamar King sucked. George Kounce couldn't move. The secondary gave up nearly 4000 yards passing. This defense was the worst I'd seen in Seahawks history. An absolute swinging gate with a defensive line as resistant as a wet paper towel.

Doug Flutie managed a perfect quarterback rating against them in a rainstorm.

Next up: 2001: A much better, tougher, and quite often, forgotten team.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Holmgren Years: A Retrospective: 1999

So, by no particular schedule, I've decided to look back on the greatest era of Seahawks football. It is without doubt in my mind that these great years are coming to an end, and a slew of mediocre seasons are about to arrive. So, without further adieu, for the sentimentalists in us all, I'll offer my fans perspective on the seasons of Mike Holmgren. First up, 1999.

Hiring Mike Holmgren was at that point the highlight of my life as a Seahawks fan. He was a great coach, and everyone knew it. He took the down and out Packers, a wild gunslinger quarterback, and turned them into a superpower that went 3 years without ever losing a home game, went to two Super Bowls in a row, and were a miracle play from another deep playoff run(Owens! Owens! Owens!). The Seahawks had talent and everyone assumed, the playoff dry spell would end.

It didn't start well. On the first offensive play of the season, in front of a sold out crowd in the Kingdome against a Lions team that everyone left for dead after the sudden retirement of Barry Sanders, Holmgren tried a flea flicker, which resulted in a sack. The Lions were up 25-7 before anyone knew what happened and a late comeback attempt failed and they lost 28-20, Kitna was hurt, and Glenn Foley was to start the next week.

They really should've been 0-2, they were down 13-0 entering the fourth quarter(should've been 20-0 if Curtis Enis hadn't fumbled going in for a touchdown), couldn't protect the quarterback and looked dead. Suddenly Holmgren switched to the shotgun and two big plays later the Seahawks won 14-13 and didn't look back for two months.

Holmgren showed off his ability to work with crap(in this case Jon Kitna) and still win. The Seahawks went through a stretch of starting on fire, building a big lead, then sitting on the ball. His game plans dazzled teams despite the fact that his passing game was severely limited. Kitna's arm was weak and didn't have the required zip on his out routes. Aside from fade routes on the outside, the Seahawks largely worked the seam and the middle of the field. Passes any quarterback can throw(similar to Mike Martz's offense).

The defense did what they did best, force turnovers, 5 against Pittsburg, 4 against Buffalo and 7 against Green Bay, all blowout wins. They bent, but didn't break.

Of course, to anyone who knows football(not me at the age of 14), the Seahawks couldn't run and relied on turnovers on defense. All this spelled disaster come the cold weather months.

After an 8-2 start, the Seahawks were slaughtered by Tampa Bay, well, not slaughtered, despite five Jon Kitna interceptions, it was still a competitive game until a late Tampa Bay touchdown, and would have been close till the final minute had Joey Galloway not dropped a touchdown in the first quarter. The wheels came off, defenses figured out Kitna, whose confidence was shattered, and a tailspin ensued, including an absolutely awful, heart wrenching miserable loss at Denver. The Seahawks were down 30-20 late in the game, cut it down to 30-27, recovered an onside kick, drove down the field and Sean Dawkins dropped a wide open touchdown pass that would've won the game. The pain didn't stop there, the Seahawks tied the game, won the toss(I think), and drove into Denver territory where Jon Kitna missed a WIDE OPEN Joey Galloway down the seam by about six inches. The next play consisted of a sack, fumble, and a touchdown. Game over. That was utterly crushing.

They recovered to beat Kansas City soundly in what was probably their best game of the season to go 9-6 and only needed a win against the disappointing Jets to win the division. They lost 19-9 thanks to some ill timed Jon Kitna passes and needed the Raiders to come back from 17 down twice to win the division in what was one of the wildest games I've ever seen, ever.

The playoff loss to Miami was only memorable for being Marino's last stand and the last game in the thunderous Kingdome. The Seahawks had a 17-13 lead and the Dolphins at their own 10 yard line facing a 3rd and 17. Of course the Seahawks played a soft cover 3 or 4, don't remember which, with a 20 yard cushion and the Dolphins picked it up, drove down, and won the game. Heart wrenching, but as in 2004, probably a merciful end to the season. I remember walking out of the Kingdome that day, thankful at least, to have finally experienced a playoff game.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Lebron Problem

I know, I know, he just dropped 49 on the Magic last night, where's the problem?

Remember when Lebron was in high school and ESPN put on his games to further the quantifiable hype of the arrival of King James? I watched those games, and I watched him closely early in his career and I always felt the comparisons were all wrong. The NBA is searching for the next Jordan, but there will never be another Jordan. The Cavs and the NBA want him to be a scorer when all along he should have been trying to be the next Magic Johnson.

I'm always raving about his court vision, his ability to make every pass, to see openings before they even appear, he has all the traits of a great passer and ball distributor. He's unselfish to a fault. He could be the next Magic Johnson.

This isn't all his fault, in fact, its Cleveland's fault. Lebron is built for this age of basketball, an absolute horse who can run the floor and has the perfect skill set for this era. However, Cleveland has built him a 90's team. A standard team with a lumbering center, average, unskilled power forwards and a plethora of iffy, unreliable guards.

Their offensive system sucks, it involves a pick and roll with Lebron, a two man game with Z and Lebron, and Lebron posting up. They slow the game down, use the shot clock, play the half court game, compressing the defense and sabatoging Lebron's talents.

Imagine him on the Knicks, with Dantoni's spread offense, giving Lebron space to create and score, put him in Steve Nash's role with his constantly improving jumpshot. Wouldn't that be positively lethal?

Get Lebron out in space, leading the charge on the fast break, get him a couple of long, athletic forwards that can run with him, make him the point, make it his show, don't confine him, let him play.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Legend Killer

No, I'm not talking about the WWE's Randy Orton. I'm talking about the tendency of the overprocessed, reactionary, relentless, overexposing attitude of the media to destroy greatness.

Its no secret that the media has an inferiority complex, as well as most of this nation. Thats why everyone hates the Yankees, and the Patriots and locally in Seattle, everyone hates Bellevue High School. Down in California everyone hates De La Salle. Its why the Seattle Times and the Pac 10 teamed up to destroy the University of Washington football powerhouse and the Pac 10 is trying to bring down USC now.

Its a loser attitude, envy, jealousy and insecurity team up to hate the Yankees. You ask why and someone will respond, "They try to buy championships", even though they haven't won a title since they started on their spending spree and the four titles they won in the 1990's contained a roster full of homegrown talent, savvy free agent pickups, and great coaching. The Patriots have a system, thats what got them their titles, coaching, and a system.

The crime is, everyone hates these teams because "they win all the time", when everyone should actually be studying what they do and emulating it.

But, thats not what this is about, we live in a media processed culture that operates like the oldwcw. Push the hell out of a team, player or story, to the point where everyone is sick of them, and tear them down ruthlessly and without remorse. The media pushes the hell out of stars, legit players, players that should be appreciated to the point of repulsion, society ends up hating these very athletes instead of savoring their talents.

Its shoot from the hip, reactionary journalism, you see it all the time on message boards, espn and sports talk radio. Harsh opinions are voiced with no accountability and when they are proven wrong, it is completely ignored.

The Seahawks, without a qb, an offensive line, or a wide receiving corps were 4-12, and all of a sudden, Mike Holmgren couldn't coach. People ignore the fact that the Seahawks beat the Jets, and were in games against the Redskins, the Patriots, the Cardinals, all with guys off the streets. They played disciplined, competitive football, and no one lauded Holmgren and his staff for the achievement of getting five offensive linemen who never played together to not just compete, but play well, they bitched about the loss, the lack of a blitz pickup.

We bitch and we bitch and we bitch about athletes and coaches, never enjoying the time they have given us. Expecting perfection in an extremely difficult game. Sports fans spout what they hear on the radio and tv, passing these ideas off as their own, completely blind to how these sports actually work. Why the hell is Edge NFL Matchup on in the wee hours of the morning but ESPN's First Take is on right after Sportscenter.

The NFL Network has blown their chance to be the best network in the history of sports, instead falling victim to showing NFL Total Access 10 times a day.

Knowledgable commentators are told to dumb it down and stick to the "storylines" that apparently keep the casual viewer interested. The last time I was drawn into the "storylines" was when I was about 10 years old. What happened to letting the pure beauty of the game display itself.

Nobody knows how the triangle offense works, they just hear the term "triangle offense" and throw it around to sound intelligent.

We have an entire generation of great players that people rip on. Few appreciate Peyton Manning, they get sick of him and don't like him because he's in a lot of commercials, instead of appreciating the mind games he plays with the defense and his unbelievable accuracy.

I fall victim to this as well, one of the first thing I noticed about Tom Brady is that when things don't go well for the team, and a loss is eminent, he tends to overthrow his receivers, letting his anger get the best of him and occasionally he gets a little statuesque in the pocket. Instead of appreciating the fact that he has one of the most underrated arms in the game and has ice water in his veins, and his mechanics are near perfect, I noticed one of his few flaws.

Few appreciate how great a passer Lebron is, that he has unbelievable court vision, they just like his dunks, and some people don't like him for playing in Cleveland.

Its sick.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I know cheering for the Nuggets against the Lakers is like cheering for the Timberwolves in 2004's conference finals, an act that will inevitably lead to disappointment. But, I'm going to anyway.
I'm going to finally set aside the wounds from one of the worst moments in my life as a basketball fan(aside from the Sonics actually leaving) and root for the Nuggets. Why? George Karl. My favorite coach for the Sonics taking a middling team to heights unseen just like he did with the Sonics and Bucks. He's smug, he's a bit of an ass, but I like him.
Why is it as a sports fan that you remember the worst moments so vividly. I remember everything about Mothers Day 1994 when the Nuggets, at 42-40 beat the 63-19 Sonics in Game 5 to win the series. I remember opening up the Seattle Times and a sign with "NOT IN OUR HOUSE" written in big block letters fell out. I remember not being able to watch most of the game because we were going to the Woodland Park zoo with my grandparents. I remember watching the first five minutes where the Sonics blazed out of the gate trying to end the series once and for all. I remember bringing a walkman so I could listen to the game as we walked throughout the zoo and various people asking what the score was. I remember at the end of the fourth quarter thinking the Sonics were finished before Kevin Calabro started screaming because Kendal Gill made an improbable shot. And I remember my nine year old self fighting back tears as Lafonso Ellis made a three point play and then Mutumbo grabbing the last rebound. This utterly scarred me.
Yet once again, the following year I was back on the bandwagon, the Sonics roared through the regular season again but this time it was Nick Van Exel, Eldin Campbell and the Lakers summarily dispatching the Sonics in four games. I've never fully recovered, the 1996 season helped and I found myself a couple years ago watching the game again on ESPN Classic, noticing things my nine year old self never could have. The Sonics playing tighter than a drum, missing free throws, open jumpshots, getting caught in their achilles heel, the halfcourt game. God that was awful.
The Nuggets are back now, instead of Robert Pack, Mutumbo, Lafonso Ellis and Reggie Williams, its Carmelo, Kenyon, Chauncey and Nene. They'll probably lose, but I'm hoping they'll break a few Laker legs in the process.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Random thoughts...

I've given in, after a regular season long hiatus of the NBA, I have given in and watched the playoffs, I love basketball too much to completely shun that atrocity of a league.

As much as I hate everything Boston, I've found myself rooting for the Celtics the last two years. Last year it was to see KG and Ray Ray get a ring, this year, its because the wounded, crippled and utterly outmatched Celtics are somehow in great shape to go up 3-2 tonight on the Magic. I love the history of the NBA, and I love it when the teams that have been around for a while are good. Thats why its so imperative the Knicks are a playoff team. Playoff games, in MSG, are unrivalled.

Ron Artest should've been shot after game 3, early offense does not mean to drive into three defenders and hoist up a wild shot with 18 on the shot clock. Without Yao in there now, you'll see even more of that, Aaron Brooks isn't going to drop 30 every game.

Here's to the Magic, for once again proving that talent doesn't win championships, thats an incredibly athletic and skilled basketball team, too bad they coast too much and don't have that edge that playoff hardened teams (Cavs, Celts, Spurs) have. I feel like its 1995 all over again.

The Lakers constant falling asleep at the wheel has to bite them sometime. This is what happens when you have a roster full of softies and flakes.