War and Peace (and Football): Part II

Just the other day, I was thinking to myself thusly: “Jesse (this is me talking to myself, but silently), why the fuck do John and Mike still give you a platform to write these dumb and often pointless things?”

To deflect from this painful question — one that, if we’re being honest, I can’t answer, at least in part because I am neither John nor Mike — I did it again, categorizing the great Seattle Seahawk NFC West rivalries of the Russell Wilson era as periods of history, and the individual games of those great rivalries as famous battles. What follows is both cutting-edge and lunacy.

2014 – The Dark Ages


The Questionable Rivalry of 2015 – 2016 against some Tiny Beaks, Subtitled the Medieval Age and/or the Renaissance

When Rome was sacked for the last time — because whew boy the last few Emperors should’ve been called Tomius Cabler (whatever) for the number of times that place got wrecked — they really had no one to blame but themselves.  (The Greco-Roman tradition of otherizing those who spoke foreign tongues with the term that would become in English barbarian was the great proto-racism of the ancient world, yet the Romans took it further, elevating so-called civilized (i.e Romanized) barbarians so that they would defend Rome from the barbaric barbarians; to extend the analogy, it’d like blaming Russell Wilson for the endless parades of Odhiambo, Joeckel, Aboushi, Sowell, Webb, Gilliam, et cetera.)  Perhaps it was because they became something they weren’t: they exchanged incomprehensible cultism for Christianity, republicanism for absolutism, discipline for brutality. Or perhaps it was the world that became something else, abandoning Rome as it slept astride the Tiber, full of hills and mausoleums and silence, enraptured by a memory of greatness that was all the sweeter for the fact that it no longer existed.

Just like the Seahawks!  The most painless and inertial response to the failures of 2014 was to pretend that it did not occur.  No, the petty Kings of those medieval lands so steeped in mist and ancient forests and confusion that none of them deserved the name of continent or nation — puffed-up chieftains, many of whom had vacillated between taking orders from Roman generals and killing them in battle — dreamed their own dreams of empire, of the resurrection of Caesar, of everything palatial.  And so too did the Seahawks strike out into 2015, sure that they could be the team they were, myopic to the itinerant vagaries of history, blissfully and serenely blinded to the fact that, much like the last storied commanders of Rome, adorned by panoplies and screaming birds of prey, the rest of the world League was Figuring Them Out.

The fall of Rome ushered in a long period of terrible squalor in which things like pestilence, poverty, corruption, and slavery suddenly reemerged back into the worl– wait, what’s that?  Oh? OH. Ah, well. Nevertheless. If the 49ers and the Seahawks were the proverbial Remus and Romulus of this history, then the Tiny Beaks* were a lowly clan, surrounded on every side by mud, awaiting their own dynamic duo to lead them to the glories of that quiet transition from everything-is-dark-and-terrible to the firelit ambience of everything-is-terrible-but-slightly-less-dark-and-hey-Rome-is-back-except-it’s-Florence-this-time!  Because as it turns out, the Arizona Professional Football team was a, ah, well, looking at it they were a pretty bad team, okay, yes, but still I guess instead the narrative is that a good QB and a good coach can make all the difference? Or a good coach and a tall white dude with sufficient athletic tools to throw a football some distance with relative skill? Or perhaps it was just the coach they needed, weirdly both as angry, bellicose, and petty as Harbaugh while also being only the runner-up in terms of NFL coaches that most closely resemble the Kool-Aid-Man made human.

* With eternal gratitude to Best Guy Around for his term; I will never call them by any other name.

People who like their history to be coherent, nicely rounded and clearly formed, suggest that the Dark Age that Rome’s passing induced came to a happy end when a Pope crowned Charlemagne — which is just a fancy way of saying Big Chuck — Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, Anno Domini 800.  So much of this notion is befuddled by error, but it illuminates what is held by many to be a pleasing portrait: somehow, the world had dressed the barbarians in Roman clothes, and imposed a kind of order on the various successors to Rome. Indeed the great irony of medieval history is how the powers of Rome put on the equivalent of a plastic-glasses-and-fake-moustache disguise, and persuaded those who had wanted nothing more than to obliterate Rome to follow their lead once again.

But this time they had knights, too!

And much like this new continent’s fascination with wrapping a dude in metal and then wrapping a horse with metal and then putting the dude on the horse and giving him a really big, pointy stick along with the tools to inflict great violence and harm upon a horse’s flanks, so did the NFL begin to realize that their own fondness for the most entertaining form of violence, masquerading as a chivalric code, was an aerial passing attack, unimpeded by things like press coverage, hand-fighting mid-route, dirty tricks and brawlings that favored toughness over finesse.  No, whatever glory there was to be had scuffling in the mud was to be forgotten, bloody and kneeling, subservient to that same revisionism that instructs in the clearest of destinies: that the things we love have always been, and are not new.

November 15, 2015 – Frederick’s First Italian Campaign

Harken back ye brave and bolde sonnes grasping svords of cruel yron to the darke and wintry days when Carson Palmer led the NFL in QBR.

Just over 350 years after an illiterate Frenchman received an imperial crown as a Christmas present, the situation in and around Rome was so bad that Dante would later write a poem comprising nearly 32,000 words about actual Hell.  The would-be Emperor* was a German** named Fred whose Beard is Red who was mad about the insolence of several rich Italians who refused to permit his rule to extend to the eponymous location of his so-called Empire***. The Pope was mad about a sudden outbreak of republicanism in the Holy City, and so invited His Majestic Red-Beardedness to subdue the mean orators who wished to restore Rome to the politics that had once made it mighty in its beginning in exchange for, you guessed it, another imperial crown.

* Frederick’s election as King of Germany is yet another proof that electoral colleges are bad.

** That being said, at that time in the history of the occident, everyone not from like Wales was functionally German.  This guy, though, was legitimately teutonic.

*** I’m sure we’ve all heard the quip that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire; though farcical, all three of these things, well, two and a half really, would be true by the end of Fred the Red Beard’s reign.

Analogizing thusly, this game had it all: the League in all its glory was like the Pope; Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians the knightly exemplars of a new aerial passing assault that was replacing the RPO as the football equivalent of heavy cavalry (like Barbarossa, Palmer had a red beard; he also had a red uniform, and Bruce Arians had a mostly-red face); and Petey Carroll and the Seahawks were the hapless Italian communists* who still dreamed of a way of doing things that was about 1,000 years out of fashion.  Barbarossa and his knights Carson Palmer and his receivers swept through the paltry and diminished defenses of various Italian infantries Seahawks, first encountering some resistance from the mighty Lombard League forces Legion of Boom, though eventually beating them into submission, particularly Milan Cary Williams.   Perhaps the climax of this southwards aerial assault was the besieging and burning to the ground of Tortona Richard Sherman on a nearly 30-yard TD pass to … *checks notes* … Michael Floyd?  (Hardly surprising about this story is that, after Floyd was released by the Tiny Beaks following a DUI arrest, he was picked up off waivers by, of course, the New England Patriots.)  (There’s no real historical equivalent, but it sure was fun when Will Tukuafu was fielded as a FB and scored a teeder, the Seahawks’ lone points of the first half.)

* The little c reflects that they were members of communes.  Otherwise they would’ve been red, too.

Ultimately, the game was testamentary.  In Pavia CenturyLink Field, Barbarossa Bruce Arians was crowned King of Italy Seattle, a title he would hold (see 12/24/2016 and 12/31/2017) until his death retirement banishment to Tampa Bay.  Upon their arrival in Rome, Barbarossa’s Imperial knights the Carson Palmer-led Tiny Beaks’ offense “suppressed” the leaders of the Roman opposition and hanged its leaders was accurate, decisive, and wildly efficient at finding and exploiting gaps, a clinic in the growing weakness of the renewed Roman republicanism a more zone-dependent Seahawks defense.  (Also without footballic equivalent, but disturbingly comical: as part of papal etiquette, Barbarossa was supposed — but callously neglected — to hold the Pope’s stirrup as the latter dismounted, and in exchange, His Holiness declined to bestow the Kiss of Peace; this diplomatic near-catastrophe required a days’ negotiations to resolve, with the Pope riding into Barbarossa’s camp a second time so that the bumbling twice-King could hold his fucking stirrup properly, for which his prize was the long-delayed Kiss.)  In the end, Red-Beard got his Crown, the Tiny Beaks managed to amass a huge lead, which was almost challenged when the Romans rioted by a furious and resurgent fourth quarter Seahawks pass rush, which caused two forced fumbles, one returned for a TD, until the Germans slaughtered a bunch of Romans, the Pope was chill, and they all went their own ways Ellington iced the game with a 48-yard touchdown, a sideline dash in which Drew Stanton found his true calling as professional football cheerleader.

January 3, 2016 – Battle of Bouvines

The latter half of 2015 Seahawks fandom deserves not merely its own songs, its own poetry; it deserves its own genre, of revelry.  Close your eyes, and recall the immutable magic of semi-functional pass blocking coupled with a quick passing game and creative playcalling, the phantasm of a circus conjuror, weaving impossible but dazzling promises.  Allow yourself to be transported to those halcyon days when the Seahawks won the DVOA bowl with offensive production rather than defensive reduction. When it seemed that a light had appeared and diffused in some arcane part of Russell Wilson’s brain, and turned into a bonfire: an endless succession of improbable touchdowns, a celebration of a hero dispatching obviously bad-guy opponents, then when they were all gone idling down into the underworld, dispatching them again.  Let the numbers speak, give them their own voice, and they will scream: 44.1% passing offense by DVOA, 68.1% completion percentage, (we here ignore yards and other garbage stats*), 9.0 ANY/A, all the best of Russ’ career. And it clearly wasn’t just Wilson: that greatest bird of prey in Nate Carroll’s flock of wideouts Doug Baldwin scored nearly as many TDs in 2015 as all the prior years of his career, recorded his best catch percentage, and almost matched his 2013 10.8 y/t; the human teleportation device a/k/a Tyler Lockett has turned into a cheat code so there’s no point comparing; even Jermaine Kearse had a catch percentage of 72.1%, more than 15% better than any other season as a Seahawk.  And it wasn’t even just a matter of their passing game: by leveraging improved MIB counts, 2015 saw Thomas Rawls become the most successful RB of the year, at a 62% success rate.

* We also ignore QBR which, while not garbage, is too heavily influenced by QB rushing, which RW couldn’t do much of in the back-half of 2015 because he was too preoccupied by tossing veritable dimes every other play; if you doubt this, consider that Mitch “Legs” Trubitsky was the third best “passer” by QBR in 2018.

For those six glorious weeks of 2015*, the Seattle Seahawks offered the rest of the league a cruel demonstration of metamorphosis: they became their rivals, a cruel instruction in their ability to do what everyone else did, only better.

* Despite the fact that the last week of the season was in 2016, let’s forget Week 16 because, as always, Fuck the Rams.

Setting aside the origins of the Holy Roman Empire — for as much as it began as a lunatic indulgence of the proto-French, it only endured in that form for less than a century, and met none of the three qualifiers — by the so-called High Middle Ages, it was firmly in the Germanic column of political institutions.  But even firmness wasn’t sufficient for those jealous imperial Teutons; they sought both the establishment and its history. They were so dismayed about the prowess, the viability, of their original rivals — scions of the first Frankish King who did what they never could (transacted for a crown without a threat of violence, and spoke a pleasant-sounding language) and still romped about the old Gallic provinces, as free as birds — that when an English King most famous for being less popular than a semifictional thief named after a Hood cried foul and proposed a treaty to teach the Frenchies a lesson in aggression, the current Emperor couldn’t refuse.

Outside the town of Bouvines in the County of Flanders, a coalition of useless parts — much like the deflated Tiny Beaks’ roster — invited some Frenchfolk to come and kick their asses.  The Tiny Beaks allied coalition was mad that the Seahawks their continental rival had taken possession of the coveted no. 1 DVOA ranking some territories.  The Tiny Beaks’ allied strategy — to draw the Seahawks into a false sense of complacency by making Carson Palmer play badly for the first half and then putting in certified human cheerleader Drew Stanton to set the game on fire keep the main French force bogged down and occupied south of Paris by an inept and much diminished English army while the rest of the allied forces marched on Paris from the north — did not, to use a bit of militaristic jargon, work, at all.  Instead, the Seahawks scored 30 points before Stanton could even have a chance to throw his first of two interceptions, with Russell Wilson being obviously buoyed by the inexhaustible talents of receivers like Will Tukuafu, Chase Coffman, and Jermaine Kearse French forced the English forces to retreat and then calmly marched back to Paris and beyond, up to the Flanders countryside.  In the end, this was the most Pete Carroll of battles: it wasn’t decided on either flank, or by means of finesse; it came down to a brutal and terrifying* hours-long melee in the center, until the Holy Roman Emperor in a state of fear fled, in capitulation, without even the backwards grace to watch his forces being routed the French just wanted it more and were less scared to compete.

* At its worst moments, members of both sides’ infantry, who were mostly lightly armed and near-defenseless against knights, took to stabbing unhorsed knights through the slits in their visors with daggers.

It is also worth pointing out that this game demonstrated clearly that the Seahawks could lose to injury not one but two of the best running backs of the year and yet still CMIKE DID NOTHING WRONG.

Like the Tiny Beaks under the aegis of a dominant healthy functional Carson Palmer, the Holy Roman Empire as an institution dominated by a single and solitary German Emperor wouldn’t survive the medieval world in which it originated.  Whatever confluence of talent, luck, execution, and scheming led to the Tiny Beaks’ dominion over the 2015 season, it was as errant as the objectives of those metal-clad sadists that the era so revered in poetry and song, a return to that parity beloved both by professional football and history equally.  Both games reward adaptability over almost everything else, and as the petty Kingdoms of the post-Roman world began to coalesce into the nation-states of a latter-day Europe, neither the Empire as a purely German expression of political power nor the Palmer-and-Arians-led Tiny Beaks were it.

October 23, 2016 – The Black Death

It is with good reason that most historians eschew the temptation of imagining alternative histories; whether there is any connection between this and most historical fiction being bad remains unclear.  However, some scenes from history are so tantalizing that no one can resist the siren call of pure speculation. The Great Plague, which killed at least an estimated 75 million people over the course of about four years, and wiped out at least 30% of the total population of what is now called the European continent, is one such tale.  Medieval histories, particularly those emphasizing the shift of the balance of power from the deforesting north back to the south as part of what is traditionally called the Renaissance, love to speculate on what western history may have looked like without it. Would the lauded Scientific Revolution have come earlier? Would the waning power of the Church not have returned with such great zeal and suddenness to its earlier apex?  Would those religio-political horrors like the Inquisition or the Thirty Years’ War been lessened, or could they have been prevented?

We’ll never know.

There are, out there in the world somewhere, annals that offer some clarity on how poorly this game compares to the lowest scoring games in the post-merger era of professional football.  And there are some amongst us — some acting from a deep pain, of confusion, of wanting to harden the picture so that it may be shattered, and then assembled anew in a shape that makes at least some sense; but there are others acting only from malice — who would argue that we should seek out those records.  But no; instead, we should burn them and purge any knowledge of them from our memories, acknowledging instead that, like other atrocities past and future, it was *bad*, and that to compare how bad it was relative to the other bad things is torturous: a recurrence of misery.

Like those who survived the Great Plague, it is impossible to unsee the 6-6 tie, an indiscriminate Death of its own kind.  All we can do is mourn.

December 24, 2016 – Battle of Agincourt

By Week 16, we all knew something was amiss.  Russell Wilson, who had suffered what seemed on the face of it a minor injury*, or injuries*, was hurt in some ambiguous way, and that fact rippled outwards, an insidiousness that took root in the middle of a hidden thing, the Seahawks’ own Upside Down.  No less than 15 non-QBs attempted to rush for some measure of yards; of those, 7 managed less than 10 yards. Bevell, that blessed saint immovably stuck between the equally absurd but oh-so-very-different-in-origin zeal for a mythic rushing attack expressed by both Pete Carroll and Tom Cable, found himself scheming increasingly against defenses that could drop 6, 7, 8 into coverage.  Earl Thomas suffered the first of what would turn into a horror show of debilitating injuries on a legendary defense; to those who witnessed it in real-time, it was the first glimmer of a lurking horror, the tale of a zombie apocalypse from its first words and beginning scenes, a terrifying reminder of the mortality of the LOB. In spite of the highest of glories that was going to Foxboro and forcibly shutting the asinine mouths of innumerable Boston sports fans, the Seahawks couldn’t even score 6 points against a strange Bucs team, and then got blown out by the Packers, in a way that wasn’t supposed to happen.  The promise that Pete Carroll made to us all, that every blade of grass would be defended, that every Euclidian shape, every angle, every parabola would be met with the fiercest of opposition, felt somehow wrong, as if a sceptic had crept into a house of worship and offered a more persuasive dogma.  What had before been so seamless, continuous and indivisible, had become fractured, lines that were tiny, immeasurable without the right instruments, a restlessness among players, the hint of a whisper that without both hammer and anvil there was nothing against which to harden themselves.

* We would of course later learn that he suffered from two very serious injuries, which would have sidelined most players for several weeks, and would have incapacitated with unendurable anguish for months most of the buffoons likely reading this (including me).

Likewise, by the end of the High Middle Ages, France stood alone among the western powers.  To the west, the Kingdom of England had lost most of its former Norman possessions; to the south, Spain had yet to unify; and to the east, the Holy Roman Empire was mired in its own institutional conflict, with the elector-Princes eventually claiming their own permanent and unalienable rights to elect future Emperors, diminishing those Emperors’ once solitary authority.  Indeed, the only rival that could challenge France’s power, the Union of Poland and Lithuania, was much more concerned with the encroaching Ottoman Empire than they were about territorial conflicts in Gascony.

Unlike King Henry V of England, who by all accounts sincerely believed that his claim to the throne of France was valid (where “valid” means half honest and half something that can be taken by force), the Tiny Beaks had no chance to usurp dominion of the NFC West in 2016.  But what if usurpation wasn’t their endgame? Consider that first drive: Jermaine Kearse’s 576764654th OPI of the season takes the Hawks back to 1st and 20, a sack takes them further back to 3rd and 23, and then Calais Campbell recovers a fumble on of all plays a FB draw. The first quarter closed with a blocked field goal attempt.  The CLink crowd was booing when Russ went down to a fourth sack before even 20 minutes of gametime had passed. An 80 yard bomb to JJ Nelson was yet another testament to that rising panic that was induced upon hearing the utterance: starting Free Safety, Steven Terrell. Before halftime, No-E’s leg took revenge on him, the world taunting us that no amount of tears or sadness will suffice.  The second half would bring a better game, but not good enough: bookended by Hauschka’s penultimate missed extra point attempt as a Seahawk, and the then-familiar heartbreak of a Seahawks defense against a hurry-up offense, a last minute of anguish.

Like King Hal, Arians knew that he couldn’t claim much from the Seahawks – they were the clear division winners by that game.  But just like the Majestic Halathan, who squandered the remainder of the campaigning season besieging the unimportant but walled town of Harfleur, but who then marched his diminished army across France nonetheless, hoping if nothing else to so severely piss off the French that they did something dumb, so too did Arians return to the Clink, resurgent, aiming to embarrass more than to win.  The victory — victories, really, if we’re counting Hal’s efforts too — was (were) incidental. Because if there’s one thing knights can’t do, it’s cross a muddy killing field separating them from 7,000 well-trained bowmen, keenly aware that their skill was the sole barrier between life and a gruesome death at the end of a French lance. The pride of French chivalry, the zeitgeist of an era made manifest in a homicidal spree, was a rain-touched Russell Wilson on that day, inexplicably destined for pain.