Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Holmgren Years: A Retrospective: 2005

As a Seattle professional sports fan, we aren't often exposed to greatness. We had Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr in his prime and Steve Largent. But as far as great teams go, they are few and far between. Even in the year of our only professional championship, the Sonics went 45-37. The 1996 Sonics were an immensely talented bunch, but lacked the cohesion to be considered great, even with 60+ wins. The 2001 Mariners were record setting, and watching them on a day to day basis was a marvel. 116 wins, tied for the greatest regular season ever. But they weren't built for the playoffs, and a certain amount of playoff success is needed to be considered great.

The 2005 Seahawks were a great team.

I chronicled 2004 and explained how it nearly killed me. The effect of this was an apathetic approach to the season. Their offseason moves, so key, so beautifully constructed, were ignored by myself and others. It was just another 9-7 year, another early playoff exit. I didn't notice how Shawn Springs was gone, how Chris Terry was shown the door, how Anthony Simmons was given his walking papers, how Koren Robinson was finally let go. I scoffed at the signing of Joe Jurevicius and ignored the signing of Lofa Tatupu. I switched schools and found myself far away from the Seahawks.

The season opened in predictable fashion. In the searing heat of Jacksonville, the Seahawks were battered, outplayed and outmuscled by the brute force of the Jaguars. Hasslebeck was awful, and his protection was worse. The Seahawks went down 26-14, on an old Seahawks message board, I wrote a post bemoaning the start of another "same old Seahawks season". The next week they limped by Atlanta, it was ugly. They destroyed the Cardinals the next week, ordinary work I figured.

The next week, the Seahawks started to show something. In D.C, for much of the game, the Redskins beat them up. The Seahawks were down by two touchdowns, and then, things started to come together. Alexander busted a huge run. They scored soon after. They got the ball back, and scored again. The Redskins threw an interception deep in their territory. I went ballistic, finally a road win against a good team, finally!!! And then Josh Brown hit the upright.

After the Redskins scored in OT, I was crushed. They were 2-2, with a game at the Rams coming up, where they hadn't won since 1997. This game was the entire season. I knew it, I think everyone knew it.

The Seahawks went out and kicked ass, even after the Rams took the kick back for a touchdown. The offense was a machine, getting huge chunks of yardage. But the defense slipped late, and a 37-24 lead was cut to 37-31, and the Rams had forced the Seahawks to punt deep in their own territory. I think I had resorted to uttering, "Oh god please no, not two games in a row, no, not again, please!" When J.P. Darche forced Shaun McDonald(poetic justice) to fumble on the punt return.

The Seahawks would win their next ten games.

The offensive line was incredible. An ode to the old days of man blocking, spitting in the face of the zone blocking revolution. Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray had been playing next to each other for five years, and they played like it. Shawn Locklear performed far better than anyone would've thought.

This was the one year where Shaun Alexander ran hard as well, it being a contract year and all.

Hasslebeck was golden, by far his best year.

The defense wasn't dominating, but it was good and surprisingly physical. Marcus Tubbs played the whole year, Tatupu was great, and the patched up secondary, with Kevin Dyson and Marquand Manuel filling in, was always solid.

People like to point to an easy schedule with this team. But a schedule is a schedule, they can't do anything about that. They beat the Cowboys, they beat the Giants, they slaughtered the Eagles, they went undefeated in the division. It was a season where everything came together, thats why it was so utterly shocking that they didn't win the Super Bowl. Rarely does a game like the Jay Feely game happen(one of the finest football games ever played before the missed field goals, trust me, an incredible old school brawl). Or the Cowboy game, where they were beaten down for 55 minutes before scoring 10 points in the last two minutes.

This team could finish, and in the NFL, where parity runs rampant, the ability to close out games is what separates the great teams from the good teams.

After Shaun McDonalds fumble, the Seahawks ran for three first downs to seal the game.

Against the Cowboys, an 88 yard drive in the driving rain tied the game and led to the Babineux pick.

Against the Cardinals in Arizona, a punishing drive for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter but the icing on a 33-19 win.

Against the Rams in Seattle, St. Louis had cut it to 24-16 before another run based drive clinched the game and the division.

Against Tennessee, a 24-14 deficit was quickly turned into a 28-24 win.

The playoffs rolled around, and I'll admit to being extremely nervous about the Redskins game. One thing you always know about NFC East teams, is that they play physical football, and the high pressure, blitz happy defensive style had always given the Seahawks fits. If they could just beat the Skins, I thought, they would go to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks won, in a driving rainstorm despite letting a myriad of errors and Shaun Alexander being knocked unconscious. Mack Strongs run was the icing on the cake.

I wasn't concerned about losing to the Panthers at all. I knew the Seahawks would be able to run the ball, and move it at will. I thought they'd put together a good plan to neutralize Steve Smith. They did all those things. In the finest 60 minutes of football the Seahawks have ever played, they destroyed the Panthers 34-14.

I'm not going to talk about the Super Bowl. Other than to say I was utterly positive the Seahawks were the better team. Unfortunately, they weren't good enough to play poorly and survive shaky officiating, and an injury to Marquand Manuel(whose replacement was victimized on every Pittsburg touchdown).

I can't imagine anything worse in sports than losing a Super Bowl.

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