War and Peace (and Football): Part III

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.

The Weird Rivalry of 2017 – 2018 against the Male Ovis Aries, a/k/a Sheep from L.A., no St. Louis, no L.A., no … , Subtitled the Early Modern Era

It’s a strange exercise, to consider what it means to live in the now.  Not only the now, but the just now. To the Romans who whispered and screamed and everything else in a world made alien by its innumerable tongues, calling a moment of time, or worse yet a series of moments of time, modo would have been more than just strange.  It would not have been merely a parting of the worldly veils, or a dissipation of the mists that made connections between things distant impossible.  That just now exists as a subdivision of time so impossibly fleeting that even considering it is incompatible with living it.  To imagine it requires that you acknowledge its departure, a peering deep into the proverbial tunnel of time* only to discover that the light at the end, at first bright yet calming, ambient with relief, but then wait you realize the light is not static, not a promise of something good and pleasant, moving, until, … yes, oh fuck it’s a train.  To the optimism that so permeates those actors and players for whom the past is a negligible thing, this presents no problem: the evading of any strict definition that so characterizes living in the now is an affirmation, a reaching out to a distant but essential point, that struggling with definition is to fundamentally miss the point. And yet, such an optimism requires abandonment of the portals on either side or end, the Janus of our identities.

* Ignoring that time probably is not proverbially cast as a tunnel.

So stumbled the stage of history into the modern era, an era that, like the word itself, was disjointed, tending towards confusion.  For the descendant beneficiaries of those ancient languages of the world changed what the ideas those words meant conveyed, and thus also what history itself did: a multitude of immediate moments of the present, relegating that which was too weird, too iconoclastic to a remoteness of the past, a self-referential portrait that admits only itself or not-itself.  But it wasn’t just confusing: each stage of its becoming was itself a violent invitation to either cling with every desperate hatred of the future to that which was being overtaken, inviolate in its pointlessness; or to race forward, fervent in the hope of outpacing time itself. And yet, it was deceptive: in this new era, speed was adorned with the appearance of the essential, thanks to a new firepower that was actual firepower, allowing one large formation of people with no training or skill to inflict massive amounts of damage upon another; and it remains a fact that no one can outrun shrapnel.

The Seahawks’ entry into 2017 was, in two words, not triumphant.  As different as 2015 and 2016 were, they must have seemed akin: both teams were good, but very clearly not good enough.  The team was itself a paused moment, somewhere in between admitting the truth of this statement and wondering what the next part of it ought to be: good enough to what?  But that inquiry – so foundational, so vast as to be terrifying, for which no one had or wanted to have an answer – was so often stymied by circumstances, sometimes obvious, other times tragic in their opaqueness then made suddenly apparent.  A whole year of watching Gilliam, Sowell, and Fant try to keep secure the borders of the offensive line persuaded the powers that be to trade for Duane Brown, particularly after improbably winning 5 of their first 7 with Rees Odhiambo as their starting left tackle.  Or the trade for Sheldon Richardson (WHO ALSO DID NOTHING WRONG) when the sad career of Malik McDowell – who was supposed to be the heir apparent to the master of Breaking, Michael Bennett, just as Clark was the same to the master of Bending Cliff Avril – came to a horrifying end before it ever began.  The expectation that the run game would return to form when Russell Wilson returned to health, a permanent source of rushing buoyancy, except that whoops clearly it didn’t in spite of generational talent Eddie Lacy at the lead tailback spot. (How sweet it seemed, in those idyllic days of summer, that Eddie Lacy could solve any problems.)  The smart acquisition of Bradley McDougald after witnessing the horror of the vast and furious cliff separating Earl Thomas and Steven Terrell or Kam Chancellor and Kelcie McCray. The soul-crushing elegy that was keened for the losses of Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman, wailings as fierce as any banshee’s cry, designed to expunge madness even if in its dissemination it made the rest of the world mad too.  There were many narratives, but there was one that mattered so much, that, like modernity itself, turned into such a source of labyrinthine conflict: the team was no longer what it wanted to be.

It was into this conflation of too many things that Sean McVay arrived, a conqueror whose vision for how to win was so clear that its inventiveness was itself confusing.  McVay looked at a field of battle, and saw more than just dense formations, armed with guns, engaged in a form of combat that differed but little in spite of all of what was new.  He observed a plan of endless crossing routes, panoplies of pre-snap movement, endless misdirection, schemes that were never goals in and of themselves, but which never failed to be opportune, every play an assist to that great subsequence of the future.  In the hidden spots of the field he saw neither confusion nor avoidance, but a chance to exploit.

October 8, 2017 – Battle of Nordlingen

By the beginning of the 17th century, the manifold of medieval Kingdoms, petty principalities, and assorted random fiefdoms had by and large congealed into protogean masses that more or less resemble what would become the principal States of the Western World.  Yet even as those diverse autocracies – whose rulers, growing more and more obsessed with their own stations, defiant of marrying beneath, which naturally concluded in the pleasing byproduct of a cadre of annointed and all-powerful inbreds! – lumbered towards Statehood, they were (almost*) all fractured by early modernity’s favorite source of conflict: religion!  Across the lands, the radicalism of Luther’s dicta – sola scriptura, sola fide – fueled the rampagings of all manner of Reformists, Lutherans, Calvanists, and other various Protestant militants, whose number of different sects and counter-counter-reformationisms was greater than the number of Catholic worshippers.  And while the various religious wars engulfed many lands – France, England, the Spanish-controlled Netherlands, Hungary, nearly all of a budding Scandinavia, and even parts of Italy – they were felt perhaps the most keenly in the Holy Roman Empire, whose Emperors were by that time limited by the power of the Elector-Lords who asserted practical, if not nominal, authority over those lands with their freakish names, like: the Electorate of the Rhenish Palatinate, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Archduchy of Austria, the Landgraviate of Hesse; and, yes, even included two Kingdoms.  The Peace of Augsburg, designed to give individual Electors power to decide what conception of God their subjects would prostrate themselves before, effectively split the Empire into a Catholic and Protestant League. And when a bunch of Bohemians, intoxicated on the *right* kind of holy water, tossed an Imperial Catholic representative out of a window, history’s most famous Defenestration, all bets were off.

* Spain avoided this fate by burning all of its heretics.

Much like the mid-point of the Thirty Years’ War, by Week 4 it was clear that the Empire, here recast as the NFCW, was at the mercy of strength.  The Rams, commanded by the inexhaustible memory of boy-genius McVay yet limited by the noodle-armed Banana Republic model turned QB Goff, had crushed the (bad) Colts, lost to the (Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm dot gif good, I guess?) Washington racist team, and then barely beaten the (not as bad as the Colts) 49ers and (similarly but less equivocally good) Cowboys.  The Seahawks, supposed to be their new great rivals, lost to the (increasingly bad, buoyed by the last remnants of a vast conspiracy to maintain the mirage that Aaron Rodgers was a good QB) Packers, struggled so creepily to beat the 49ers, lost to the (AFC equivalent of the Cowboys) Titans, and also crushed the Colts. With a victory at the fictional-sounding Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Rams could pull two games ahead; a Seahawks win would instead pull the two teams to divisional equilibrium.

Like the heavily Catholic Imperialists, the Seahawks were clinging to a method of victory that, while historically successful, was waning: a Pete Carroll defense that, like artillery, was barraging, designed to break up opponent formations; the Russell Wilson passing attack that, like cavalry, was considered so valuable as to be used only in critical moments; and a Tom Cable / Darrell Bevell rushing attack that, like new infantries, was supposed to be the crux of it all, where the battle was won.  The Rams, then, were like rebellious Protestants, invading deep into southeastern, and heavily Catholic, Germany, hoping to capitalize on the mOmEnTuM from their prior victories, convinced that the military might of the Empire was crumbling. Marching both west, from Bohemia, and north, from Italy, the combined Austrian and Spanish Imperial troops converged upon and besieged Nordlingen, with the Protestant army just behind them, hoping to break up the siege and destroy the two Imperialist forces separately.

Both battle and game were strangely marked by overconfidence.  The Seahawks – like the Imperial commanders who ignored their military advisors’ concerns that the Protestant army was led by its League’s ablest commanders – did not enter LA with a different gameplan, content instead to focus on long-developing deep passing shots and power running premised on the lunatic belief that there was a (beneficial!) athletic mismatch between Eddie Lacy and Aaron Donald.  As a result, the Seahawks faced an average of 3rd and 9 during their first 5 possessions, only one third down outside of their only first half scoring drive requiring less than 7 yards, and they finally managed to score points only after 28 minutes of play. On defense, the Seahawks were saved by the grace of an Earl Thomas forced fumble, a Mike Bennett TFL, and Goff just not being very good. Yet perhaps that of the McVay-led Rams was worse: like the Protestant force that underestimated the numerical superiority of the Empire’s troops, and thus decided to abandon their 3-pound guns (though ostensibly because of terrain conditions), which had been so vital to past victories, the Rams increasingly focused on an ineffective passing game, further deviating from the general plan that had led to much of their success: a deceptive and creative run-game.

Yet much like the battle, the game was won more on luck.  The Protestant plan, to secure a nearby hill and use what artillery they did bring, led to disaster: a premature cavalry attack, two infantry units mistaking one another for enemy units and firing upon each other, and the dissipation of the Protestant cavalry when it chased after a panicked but entirely hale Imperial infantry.  Just like the Rams, who planned to use Jared Goff in order to accumulate yards and points! Yet luck was against them: normally a tipped pass was intercepted by Sheldon Richardson; a Frank Clark strip sack deprived Goff of the football*; and beloved resident of Krypton Earl Thomas used obscure telekinetic powers to cause a Goff pass to wobble errantly in the air, before coming to rest comfortably in his outstretched hands, a supplicant entreating a crowd to reassurance.  (The Seahawks, in all of their vast offensive prowess, managed to score a whopping 3 points off of these defensive turnovers.)

* A fitting but tragic testament to the master that preceded him, Cliff Avril, who suffered what would turn out to be a career-ending neck injury the previous week.

With the Protestant battle plan in disarray, the Imperial forces sent into combat their most dread asset: the Spanish tercio, an extremely well-disciplined and tactically precise infantry formation that combined both the swords and pikes of the old medieval era with the new firearms of the early modern one.  Yet what made the tercios so fearsome was that each unit within a formation had to contain a proportion of veteran troops so that, no matter the resistance or odds it faced, the formation would maintain its cohesion and execute.  The Protestant force, better equipped and more ably led, was in the end incapable of defeating the veteran Spanish infantry, and it ultimately broke, leading to massive casualties with few survivors.

We should credit McVay for his new plans and schemes; knowing how history would play itself out, this credit becomes obvious.  Yet on that warm October afternoon in LA, that which was operative wasn’t a plan or scheme, but the word “new”. Like the tercios whose foundation was, jokingly, being old, the Seahawks mustered their veteran-ness in a rival game one last time*, and triumphed.  And even at the end of things, when they needed it the most, they were assisted by Jared Goff, not once, not even twice, but thrice by wild passes that had no business being caught.

* By the next rival game, they would be without Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, and Richard Sherman; Bennett was banged up, beyond repair; and Bobby Wagner was a shell of himself.

The victory crescendoed in a revelry, persuaded all manner of 2017 hopefuls that no pinnacle of expectation was beyond reason, that any and every elder day that had passed could return, that having endured the long gauntlet of multiple football seasons, that recurrence, could blossom once more into that vaunted strength of old, and not wither into weakness which is and must be the final fate of all things locomotive.  It was a frenzy of one more time, sure, why not.  The not would, of course, come later, again and again and again, but not on that day.

December 17, 2017 – Battles (!) of Rossbach and Leuthen

The Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the Thirty Years War, is largely acknowledged as paving the way for the formation of the principal states of western and central Europe.  This transformation included: the growing power of Britain as an empire, which unsurprisingly coincided with its replacement of Spain, Portugal, and Holland as the worst colonizer of the western world; the development of a stark rivalry between France and the mostly Austrian remnants of the Holy Roman Empire for prize of the continent’s State most beloved of violence; and the standardization of ownership of vodka distilleries, which was predominantly responsible for the formation of the unending wilderness of what we now call Russia into a united Czardom.  Yet perhaps the most significant was the separation of the Electorate of Brandenburg from the Holy Roman Empire as the Kingdom of Prussia, a bizarre feudo-legal arrangement in which the Dominus of the House of Hohenzollern was simultaneously an Elector of the March of Brandenburg in the Holy Roman Empire and thus a subject of the Hapsburg Emperor while also a King in Prussia which, before being so elevated, had been a Duchy under the reign of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  Like our dearly departed Fred Red Beard, the first King of Prussia (another Fred, fancy that!) transacted for his crown, by supporting Holy Roman Emperor Leopold in his claim to the throne of Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession. Yet, like most crowns purchased rather than earned, the Prussian one wasn’t much regarded; by the time the second Fred was rewarded with that most useless of hats, he was determined to use his tremendous, and in many ways revolutionary, military skill (he’d later earn the moniker the Great) to make sure no one forgot the name Prussia*.

* A name that would be used in non-Polish histories for less than 200 years.

To a lesser, and less formal, degree, this trend was consistent throughout the Empire, as Elector-Lords of the later 17th and 18th centuries became autocrats over their own fiefs.  And while there was little that the Hapsburg Emperors could do to preclude this shift, most of their power rested in the Archduchy of Austria, resulting in a set of circumstances whereby they remained powerful in spite of their fracturing of ability to assert actual authority over any other part of the Empire.  Like them, the Seahawks approached Week 15 tentatively, looking at the rest of an NFC in which, with the exception of the South, there were very clear distinctions between the eventual division winner and the other three teams. With a record of 8-5 – shadowed by a familiar pessimism after haunting losses at home against the Washington football team and the Falcons, as well as a loss in Jacksonville in which Bortles was transformed into Hyde, destroyer of offenses, a status immortalized by Maya Rudolph in The Good Place – the Seahawks were on the wrong side of that sextarchy [sic].  Yet the portrait of their rivals – ignoring that the Rams had only lost to better teams – was equally murky, and the matchup increasingly looked like a contest not only for the NFCW, but also for what seemed like the only probable playoff spot from that division.

Like the most heralded military commanders, Fred the Great recognized that the separation was in the preparation: rather than steeping his soldiery in tradition or alienable concepts of honor, he drilled them in fear and repetition; his troops could fire more volleys per minute than any other force of the time, and were so terrified of their own officers that they could perform, even while under fire, the most complicated maneuvers then in use.  Like McVay, who had lost contested games against the two best teams of the NFC at that time in Weeks 11 and 14, GreatFred had succeeded in the early part of the Seven Years’ War, but had lost control of previously conquered territory in Saxony and Silesia after an Imperial Russian force invaded East Prussia, and was facing a new threat from two forces, one purely Austrian and one mixed Imperial and French, from the west.

Choose your poison.  Both battles, fought exactly one month apart, were similar in terms of process and outcome.  GreatFred knew what he wanted, and commanded his troops to mill around a bit until his opponents did something dumb, whereupon he capitalized on that idiocy.  His secret weapon, though, was that his opponents did not know they were being dumb, and so continued to be dumb in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary.  Outside of Rossbach, the Prussians maneuvered endlessly (for 5 days), ignoring the precarity of their situation, keeping their movements as hidden as possible, and, knowing that they could defend their position with much greater speed, invited their opponents to attack them in such a way that they could either counterattack on their own left or defeat them head-on before they could establish their own line of battle; the fight lasted a mere 90 minutes, and was less pretty than they normally are or were.  Though the initial casualties were minimal, it was enough to persuade the French that helping an Austrian lunatic impose his will on a military genius who was already kind of his subject was not the wisest course of action, leaving the Empire alone to contend with Prussia. Then, discovering that yet another Austrian force was dangerously close to reconquering Silesia, they hurried backwards; facing them near Leuthen, they concealed their movements behind a low line of hills, obscuring their intent to attack along their opponent’s left line so successfully that the Austrians reinforced their right line with all of their reserves.  Attacking with all of the element of surprise, the Prussians waited until the Austrians panicked and sent the remainder of their forces to the beleaguered left, whereupon the Prussians happily attacked from the rear with those very forces that the Austrian command had initially assumed was the real attack; the main survivors consisted of Austrian units that hid in the village cemetery.

What happened to the Seahawks on Week 15 is a fair question; like the various forces pitted against Frederick the Great, they had no answers, certainly not that to that query.  Their best weapon on that grim northwesterner day was a declining Jon Ryan, who punted for almost 3 times more yards (427 : 149) than every other Seahawk, combined, acquired. Playing true to form, Goff struggled to complete 67% of his passes for under 6 Y/A while still finding and exploiting openings in the Seahawks injury-ravaged and zone-dependent defense to the tune of 3.45 EPA per dropback.  Gurley was a revelation in that game – if the Rams OL was like the hillocks that Fred loved so dearly, Gurley was like the heavy guns that so often sang those Prussian victory dirges. Indeed, the contest was such a mismatch that Pharoah Cooper returned punts for more yards than Russell Wilson’s total adjusted yards. Cause speaking of which, he was sacked 7 times, cutting his passing yardage total in half.  And even when the Seahawks managed to score actual points, a miscommunication on their next drive led to a goal-line incomplete pass, called intentional grounding, and thus a safety, the most obvious manifestation of their mistakes costing them points.

The prerequisite of rivalry, despite evidence to the contrary, is and must be equity.  There is a clear reason why this strange writing, whatever it becomes, will not speak of the countless battles in which a technically superior force obliterated another: there is no rivalry there.  In the past, we have asked the Muses to gift us with a taste of their wild breath, an imaginative firing that consumes itself, becomes perpetual; but what do we do when the song they sing is an elegy?  As the defeated Seahawks quit the field that afternoon, broken and despondent, the Muses reminded us not merely of an elegy, but the elegy: “[t]he ploughman homeward plods his weary way, / and leaves the world to darkness and to me”.

It would be the first time in his career that Russell Wilson and his comrades were barred from the playoffs.  It was the most number of points that team had surrendered from the first snap of 2012, and ended with the worst negative point differential of any game in that same span.  What they sought to do had failed, enticed by arrogance or dumb luck or just dumb without the luck, and they had lost more than just a game, more even than a division; they had lost themselves.

But, the enduring, eternal optimism of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, annoying at times, foolish at others, is also sometimes prescient, refusing to lose sight of the hope of which we can all use the occasional reminder: it is only that which has been lost that can be found.