Welcome to the Dynasty That Never Could Be, a Quasi-Oral History, in Six Scenes, narrated by Seth Wickersham, Greg Bishop and Robert Klemko. Come back daily to see the plot advance, as a new portion will be published every day this week.
“They want you to be / another number in the game. They tried to break me / but they couldn’t get to me. They’ll never get to me” — lyrics to the seminal Redemption 87 song, Can’t Break Me (All Guns Poolside, 1998)
During the 2015 regular season, special team defenses blocked a total of 24 field goal attempts, 11 extra point attempts, and 11 punts. However, during the same season, those defenses were penalized* 188 times for a total of just over 1,400 yards. For reasons that may or may not be incomprehensible, may have something or nothing to do with the Seahawks, in 2016 the Competition Committee required officiants to begin more closely monitoring and strictly enforcing potentially illegal acts committed by a defenders trying to block field goals and extra point attempts. In spite of greater scrutiny, special teams in the 2016 regular season blocked 20 field goal attempts, 21 extra point attempts, and 7 punts, yet penalties of the same kind on those attempts decreased to 154 flags for just over 1,300 yards, a nonsensical outcome that may or may not be meaningless.
* Limited to defensive penalties having to do with illegal contact, holding, blocking, and kicking-specific penalties (roughing and running into the kicker and leverage), including personal fouls. From the 2017 regular season onwards, those penalties including leaping.
One could claim that, as a result of the change, special team players made more of an effort to avoid costly acts that could yield a first down and just let the kicker kick the ball; alternatively, one could claim that the increases in yards per penalty, from around 7 to 8.55, signals that officiants were merely calling more egregious penalties specifically. (Of course, one could also claim that nihilism is the sole governing principle of the universe, too, so claim whatever you please, really.)
As part of a great refutation of the Committee’s expectation that it has power over the game, officiants were treated to a clinic in what does matter in Week 7 of the 2016 season. Calling upon psionic powers heretofore unknown or concealed, Bobby Wagner so ingrained a part of his consciousness in Chandler Catanzaro’s mind that the kicker was unable to make a 14-yard chip shot to win the game in overtime. Following in the tradition of all prior kickers and their greater dependence on the inviolate wall of blockers than any quarterback, the Tiny Beaks’ kicker was so overwhelmed by Wagner’s leap in the 2nd quarter that the mere whisper of a possibility that Wagner may touch him — nothing more than the towering image of the ferocious linebacker, airborne — was sufficient to warp his perception to such an extent that he aimed for the left post instead of the wide space to its right. [Author’s note: for Editor Mike’s benefit, I’ll note that Tanner McEvoy also blocked a punt in that game; for a chuckle, watch him look around, utterly clueless, after blocking the punt, no idea where the ball went — clearly a football genius that one.] [Editor’s Note: Thank you and how dare you.]
Clearly in response to Wagner’s athletic feat of wonder in what would turn out to be a meaningless game — and obviously not because of Shea McClellin’s pathetic attempt to duplicate Wagner’s effort in the most important game of the year — in 2017 the Committee presided over the new rule that prohibited leaping. Due to this change, a player that ran towards and leaped across the line of scrimmage in an attempt to block a kick would be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, with 15 yards gifted to the kicking team (see 12-3-1 (j)). During the 2017 regular season, special team defenses blocked 22 field goal attempts, 15 extra point attempts, and 11 punts, consistent with previous seasons; and yet, while penalties of the same kind increased to 165, yards per penalty decreased to its lowest amount in that three-year period. Perhaps the most significant story, though, which was significant only in its utter insignificance, was that only a single leaping penalty was called in the 2017 regular season, against then-sophomore Detroit Lion defensive lineman Anthony Zettel, whose effort in Week 1 against the Cardinals was neither effective enough to block the field goal nor noteworthy enough to appear on any highlight reels.
On occasion, we must answer that most ancient of questions — what does it all mean? — with the simple and obvious truth: that it means nothing. Because on Monday Night Football of the 14th Week of the 2018 regular season, Bobby Wagner once again willed himself across the line of scrimmage to block a field goal attempt, reminding every Viking fan like the twisting of a dull knife of that franchise’s storied history of not kicking the ball through the posts.
What does it all mean?
In the next 24 hours, no less than five stories would be published (CBS Sports, USA Today, the WaPo, SB Nation, and ESPN), all evincing the blatant illegality of Wagner’s attempt, crafting arguments that so seamlessly blended persuasiveness with clear and cold evidence as to be worthy of the funereal halls of a courtroom. The most convincing and respected rules analysts of Twitter were unanimous in their agreement that the play should have been penalized. Only a total dunce would have failed to make that call, and the umpire whose non-call cost the Vikings anywhere from 3 to infinity points — because we can never really know, can we? — owed to the simple and convenient fact that he couldn’t see Wagner’s hands. His hands!
It means nothing.
For all we know, Wagner had summoned some mystical power or strength, and was merely using his hands to stabilize himself, to prevent his leap from carrying him into the stands, or north to Pioneer Square, south to SoDo, west to the Olympic Mountains so named for his mythical fathers, or any of the cardinal directions, etc. Perhaps BWagz already has the physical proportions of a Titan, and must actively concentrate to keep his frame as close to the appearance of a common human as is possible. Perhaps he did not jump so much as he did transport himself through a gap; perhaps his ability to penetrate a part of the spacetime continuum defies our limited ability to perceive, or even grasp, it.
Or perhaps Wagner just didn’t care.
Because, like any Seahawk veteran, Wagner is not unfamiliar with others’ ire. Like his teammates, he is not supposed to win. Only those who deserve to win are supposed to win, and the deserts of victory have long been writ large in a Testamentary Book (that is most assuredly not titled “Win Forever”). The world will forever hate cheaters, and what are cheaters save those who rely on luck* more than talent to triumph? Yet this story must indict luck*, must hate and revile it, because it incriminates the story’s premise: that victory without luck is impossible, that no team deserves anything.
* There is an obvious joke to be made here about the distinction between luck and Andrew Luck, but I will refrain from doing so. (Note that this avoidance was conceived before Luck’s retirement; godspeed Andrew.)
This has been a story of ruination, one that is familiar to those who have studied the odder histories of this weird world, a limitation-by-legislation that shepherds those outlier ideas back into the comfortable folds of the ordinary. Yet these new rules, like any rule, suffer from their own flaws, perhaps fatal: the rules are only ever what they are made to be, can only be that. They can neither learn nor adapt. Rules that are intended to be their own kind of defense are only as strong as the paper on which they are written, and paper shields have, historically, been ineffective. Paper defenses cannot bend; but they can be torn, incinerated, tricked, folded into incomprehensible shapes, written over, ignored.
What if, as it turns out, the id of this story is not luck? What if it is instead not caring, a relegation of the entirety of it — the rules, the Deserts, the Supposed-To-Be’s, the juvenile obsession with cheating — to that dim and distant part of one’s mind that can hear and tolerate even the loudest of tantrums? And what if indeed that was the greatest of the Seahawks’ collective superpowers, a derisive laugh that was not intended to pronounce ascension so much as reduction, a disregard for the rules, whether of the game or of Football Esteem, that turned those papers into mâché, and then broke them into pulp? What if they learned a method of indestructibility that did not prevent the original act, or even subsequent acts, as much as a final act, an immunity that allows them to rise up again and again and again?
Because, if so, then they’ll be fine (and we’ll be fine!), dynasty be damned.