The Seahawk stepped off the plane, stubbing his cigarette out on the tarmac. “Pittsburgh,” he growled. “I hate this town.”
Was it the loss in Super Bowl XL that made him feel this way? Despite not technically occurring in Pittsburgh, it may as well have, a moment in life that stuck in his beak. It was a loss that kept him from finally reaching the pinnacle of success after years of moribund drifting. He shuddered when he remembered, for example, the delirium tremens of ‘93 that led him to believe in the power of Rick Mirer, so desperate was he to taste success. Dark times. Then it all came together for one magical season, ended by a bus, some zebras, some unfortunate luck. Few believed his story, which only made him stick to it all the more tightly.
That he had eventually claimed the prize eight years later did little to assuage his feelings on the Super Bowl. The failures have a habit of dragging you down more than the successes lift you up.
Adjusting his hat, the Seahawk passed through the airport to ready himself for game time. He’d returned here, after the loss, in 2007 and again in 2011. In the former, he had wanted some measure of vengeance. He was instead shutout, an embarrassing display that only served to dig his wounds deeper. In 2011, he was again flailing, lost in the weeds, and the unforgiving Steeler men in their cursed ketchup field pulled no punches. Another shutout. Two full games, no points, no revenge. The old wound stayed fresh. It could not heal.
But the Seahawk had acquired a new secret weapon. Nurtured him, watched him flourish. Russell Wilson, his best friend in the years since defeat. Others had come and gone, with parting shots both deserved and undeserved. Russell had stuck with him. Four years ago, the Steeler men had come to Seattle and lost. It was something. But now Russell was coming with him to Pittsburgh. He dared, just a little, to feel confident.
He went to his department head, Ol’ Pete, whose energy belied his advanced years. “What do you think?” the Seahawk asked, as the manager turned down an offer of whiskey before kickoff.
“These zebras don’t understand pass interference,” said Pete. He grinned like a wolf about to descend into a field of blissfully unaware sheep. “I’m happy to teach them. I’ll challenge them a couple of times and they’ll see it my way by the end.”
The Seahawk left him to it. He’d put a lot of faith in Ol’ Pete, and had mostly been rewarded for it. Putting away his whiskey in a single gulp, he moved through the locker room. Some new faces worried him, others intrigued him. DK Metcalf, the receiver built like the USS Monitor, they said, but with softer hands. Jadeveon Clowney, the Texan, with a deep loathing of opposing quarterbacks. But in the middle of it all: Russell. From across the room, Wilson saw the Seahawk looking over at him. Russell simply nodded and went back to his preparations. The Seahawk was temporarily relieved. He felt the wound. Maybe.
Contrary to his pre-game confidence, the Seahawk was a nervous wreck as a small lead turned into a slightly bigger lead, then settled into a back-and-forth pinball match. As Ol’ Pete had promised, he challenged the zebras on pass interference twice. They stood up to him the first time, but lost their nerve the second and were cowed into agreement. When the Seahawk looked over to Pete, the wily manager wore but the barest of smirks on his face. The battleship Metcalf displaced a cornerback and cruised into the endzone to temporarily relieve the Seahawk, but he fell into a panic after Chris Carson coughed up the football and the Steeler men pulled within two.
“Are we going to get out of this one?” he muttered, not meaning to be overheard. “Or am I meant to suffer in this town, to these Steeler men, yet again?”
An arm went around the Seahawk. “I’m on the case,” Russell said. He went over to Ol’ Pete. “Put this in my hands. We got this, but you have to trust me.”
The manager considered for a moment. He wanted to run the ball, let his Australian man punt the ball down the field, and lean on his defense to finish it out. It was the Ol’ Pete way. But there was something in Russell’s demeanor, a gleam in his eye. It made Pete grunt, “Fine, then. Win it for us, right here.”
And Russell did so. The Seahawk gazed in awe as Wilson earned first down after first down. The Steeler men began to panic as they frantically watched the clock drain away. They even attempted to injure Russell with their uncivilized and poorly maintained field that was not fit for grazing cattle, let alone hosting professional sporting events. Their efforts failed. Wilson’s knee survived, and the game was won.
As Russell, Ol’ Pete, and the rest of the team celebrated jubilantly, the Seahawk felt for the old wound. Still there, sure. It could never really go away. But it was a little less painful. The Seahawk felt good. Maybe there was hope for him in this town after all, but he was happy to leave Pittsburgh a winner for the first time in so long.