War and Peace (and Football): Part IV

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.

October 7, 2018 – Battle of Jena

Throughout the battles already described of the 17th and 18th centuries, one thing was becoming tantalizingly clear: the English and French fucking hated each other.  The conflict could be reduced to a simple thing, really: a narrow stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, and an Imperial Fuck-Tonne of HMSes cruising it that kept the two from one another.  On the Continental Side, the French by and large accepted the world order: a division of the new states into Catholic (mostly Spain, Austria, and itself) and Protestant (most of non-Austrian Germany and Scandinavia) camps.  Yet England refused to be fit into this order, being ruled so successively by Catholic and Protestant Monarchs that eventually a puritanical and marginally nuts member of Parliament executed the King and went on a killing rampage.  Call it the first English demalcracy because that democracy did not go well.  Then, it what would be the first historical reference to the term revolution as a political phenomenon in the western world, the forerunners of the Anglican Whig Party, the first libs of the world, owned the rest of England by inviting, of all things, a Dutch Prince to become King.  Called the Glorious Revolution, it forced James II to flee to France, where his cousin King Louis XIV was still outraged about how often the fucking English sent money and promises eastwards, guiding the Continental Order without ever peeking out from the safety of an ocean and invincible navy*.  Yet unwittingly James brought the specter of regicide to France – it had been his father, Charles I who was killed by the mad Parliamentarian Cromwell – which places the French Revolution in its proper context: the French, not to be outdone by their bitter rivals, eventually killed not just a King, but also a Queen, around 18,000 aristocrats, and the most famous chemist of the era.  Then, the world’s shortest and best opportunist, Napoleon Bonaparte, took over and Oh My God Will You Look at That had himself declared Emperor of France exactly 1,000 years after Big Chuck. What it is with Frenchmen and their lust for Imperial Crowns as Christmas presents we’ll never know.

* As much as it would’ve made sense to characterize the Seahawks as the English here, the English never fought a battle at home, so… 

The first meeting between the Seahawks and Rams of 2018, coincidentally also set for Week 5, was unlike their first contest of 2017 in every possible way, including the important one.  The Rams, who were clearly ascendant in 2017, had been perfected in the early part of 2018, the Uruk Hai of the NFCW, with dominating performances against the Raiders and Cardinals, and less obscene but still impressive victories against the Chargers and Vikings.  The Seahawks’ introduction to 2018 was, let’s say, not monodirectional. After having fired both coordinators as well as Assistant Head Coach and Run-Game Disciplinarian / Cheerleader of Violence Tom Cable, this team was poised to return.  Like a fascist ruler pointing to a distant, mythical, and glorious past in which things were done the right way, Carroll installed coordinators whose playcalling was merely an extension of his own preference.  And yet, curiously, that preference showed itself to be capable of change; if the great criticism of Carroll is that he vastly overcorrects those errors that led to painful defeats, then 2017 offered a significant correction: that Russell Wilson, by himself, could be beaten, but, with even the barest assistance, he could become endowed with his own kind of invincibility.  Enter the meager cast, a benevolence of scarcity: a runningback who could break exactly one tackle, sometimes more; a functional offensive line; one very good and healthy wideout; a small dram of creative playcalling; and a defense that, in decline, finally encouraged Pete to the notion that maybe it was finally time to give the 19th century back its philosophy and win games by scoring more points.  For like the officers employed by the first greatest Prussian commander, the generaldom of Schotty was intended to perfect in Wilson not talent but technique; he did not need perfection in the former, and his improvement in the latter fit as snugly as a glove around the barest amount of offensive innovation with which Carroll was comfortable, a duplicity that not only fooled other teams, but that permitted himself to enjoy the delusion that he was still winning games the way he used to.

We tend to think of innovation as a kind of phenomenon, something subject to perception, sensibility, all the ordinary rules of reason.  But what happens when innovation is noumenal instead, a sort of thing-ness that is not merely new so much as it is not yet comprehensible within the real world.  Because where McVay’s scheming in 2017 was in itself remarkable, a manifestation of greatness that originated in the exploitation of real, and ultimately simple, problems, its 2018 counterpart was transcendant, and thus unknowable.  Like Napoleon, what McVay saw on the gridiron was different from what others saw, and lacking a common frame of reference it became impossible to predict, let alone forestall, what was coming next.

Week 5 and the Battle of Jena paralleled one another before either even began: in spite of the fact that Prussian forces mobilized before the Grande Armee, Napoleon’s positioning was so superior that he was able to preempt a decisive battle on the eve of the formation of the Fourth Coalition.  Similarly, by managing a much better record through 4 weeks, McVay was able to force Carroll to play to win from the beginning, to which he was unaccustomed. Moreover, although Carroll did not suffer from the same archaism of an organizational structure that hamstrung the Prussian command, the traditional, even dogmatic, nature of his planning ensured that, even when leading, his strategy was ultimately reactive, a race not just to score more points but to score more points as opportunely as possible.

Yet for all that Napoleon’s many victories seemed together like a monolith of inevitability, what marks Jena was not his ease of victory so much as how close he came to defeat.  Jena was no more the crushing defeat of an Austerlitz than Week 5 was like McVay’s other blowouts of 2018. Indeed, the very thing that Napoleon prized – initiative among his field marshals – was what almost cost him this battle.  And what saved him was not organization or genius, but adaptability; facing a situation in which one of his corps faced almost certain destruction, Napoleon quickly maneuvered another corps to relieve the beleaguered one, and ordered his own Imperial Guard to hold his army’s center until his battle lines could be reestablished.  Similarly, McVay ran his offense not through one player, as he had done in 2018, but through all of them: by intermixing crossers to Kupp and Woods with outside zone runs with Gurley, he ensured that the Seahawks could not defend any one tactic sufficiently without abandoning another.

Outside of Jena, the Prussian command had a chance to overwhelm Napoleon; their decision not, or failure, to do so, was so insufficiently explained that it almost seems like some ineffable act of cleverness, transforming Napoleon into a modern Odysseus, beloved of Athena.  In the end, though, what mattered was not the explanation but the decision, or failure. The phenomenal world, so unlike its noumenal counterpart, is rooted in the real, the here and now, the conventionality of all that has come before. When Pete Carroll decided to punt on 4th and 23 at the Rams 45 with just over 3 minutes remaining, down by 2, he was playing for a familiar endgame: pin the rams deep, force a 3 and out, get the ball back, and march down the field with enough time to score at least 3 points.  But as he seems prone to do, Pete Carroll forgot that football is played by four, not three, downs, a truth as obvious as thing-in-itself-ness, invisible and incomprehensible to those for whom such things are just themselves. Jared Goff, measuring 76 inches tall, had to do no more than simply fall forward to accumulate 2 yards, converting a game-winning 4th down that, to Carroll, must have seemed not just a dereliction, but an impossibility, something deeply redolent of breaking the rules that keep the game from being boundless, wild, anarchic.

It was said that Napoleon awarded a marshal’s baton to all of his soldiers, a signifier that none of them were less important than their commanders.  When McVay in all of his infinite genius ordered Goff to literally fall down, it was as clever as Napoleon ordering a last barrage of his inviolate guns on a hapless Prussian front that was stuck, lost within the labyrinthine incomprehensibility of how to counter the unimaginable.  When Goff tossed himself forward, with all the grace of a Sisyphus forgiven, tossing that fucking stone down that hill for the last time, the barest and least necessary amount of forward momentum, he did not fall alone: that crashing demise was, in its climax, a simultaneity; each of them a marshall, victors to the last.

You hate to see it.

November 11, 2018 – The June 1832 Rebellion, or really any other uprising between that year and 1848, of which this was essentially a prototype
First Chorus

Time is a flat circle.  What began three eras and almost two and a half millennia ago in the hallowed grounds of The Hot Gates ends now in the exact same predicament in the bloody streets of Paris: a game that the Seahawks had no business winning.

Second Chorus

When extended, time is not only a flat circle, but a wheel, indomitable and possessing both mass and momentum sufficient to render the whole thing apocalyptic, a deity not so much cruel as inattentive.  That first loss belonged to a team ascendant, nearly crushed by the nadir of that wheel but bodyblowing their way upwards. This last one, though, belonged to a different team, common only to three players, three coaches, and a GM; not even the team’s beloved chairman endured to the strange warmth of that Southern Californian November afternoon.  (Though he was at least blessed enough to witness his team triumph not only in a foreign city, but a foreign nation, a glorious finality.)

First Verse

The coincidence isn’t, or shouldn’t be, lost: that first conception of revolution as a political phenomenon mirrored the existing, and natural, physical phenomenon of the same name – a turning.  The historians of the 19th century (some of them at least, lunatic zealots all) believed that history ought to be the latest of the newly-percolating, soon-to-be-called hard, sciences – the job of the historian was to make factual (though not replicable!) observations about history, and use these data to formulate those laws of history that would, ultimately, predict the future.  For as much as we should all be grateful that such nonsense came to a swift and conclusive end, to the extent we would ever want to indulge in such absurdity, even briefly, we can predict thusly: all revolutions are inevitable. Any thing, states included, given enough time, will turn into something else; and, whether in politics or chemistry, violence makes for a great catalyst.

In this respect, Napoleon was little more than an agent.  His glorious empire, little more than a co-option of the earlier revolution, like Alexander’s, did not survive him.  After his forced abdication, the European powers decided, at the behest of France’s remaining royalists, many of whom pleaded that their service to Napoleon had been commanded under duress, to restore France to monarchy, and restore the House of Bourbon to that throne, new once again.  With their powers revested, the Bourbon King set about with an Anti-Sacrilege Act and the making of financial restitution to anyone who had been declared an “enem[y] of the revolution”. Unsurprisingly, Paris rioted.

Like the rioters that begat their Rebellion*, no one gave the Seahawks much of a chance of victory coming into their Week 10 contest against the Rams, in Los Angeles.  The Rams had just come from their first loss of the season – under the bright lights of the dome of New Orleans, a loss that the refs would avenge in the NFCCG – in which they both accumulated and surrendered more yards than they had in any previous game.  To the extent it revealed any flaws in the Rams’ preferred manner of winning, it showed that the Rams just needed one word: more. Not more efficient, more deception, more accuracy, more Gurley. Just more. There would be little point to defending against points when the Rams could just as well score more of them, always infinitely more points; like counter-revolutionaries, their strategy needed little but for the other team to tire itself, become something else.  It wouldn’t work every time, but it worked often enough.

* The increasing use of the term Revolution to signify the removal of one King and installation of a different, ostensibly better, King, meant that that term was cancelled.

Third Chorus

Extend it once more, lastly, and we see that time is little more than a constant: a frame of reference, an adjudgment of change.  As it expands ever outwards, it reveals some kind of meaning: that which does not change, for whatever reason, must be alike, in possession of some commonality, even if only resilience.  It is a simple wisdom, seemingly profound to those not accustomed to profundity.

Second Verse

What were the Seahawks if not just that: resilient.  After an early bye, the Seahawks had lost their second home game in a row, a loss mired in the dawning realization, what would have been fear in a lesser team, that their long-fabled home field advantage was no longer sufficient to daunt even better teams.  They were those Parisien rioters: deployed against a goliath opponent, dispossessed, wretched, and miserable, having built their home in the revolution itself, desperate to reclaim it.

Close your eyes, bring to mind that original remembrance: Pete Carroll, constructing a team whose core was an inviolate wall, a promise to surrender nothing, a veiling defense that covered and obscured every particulate of every field; but not immovable or unstoppable, something mobile and fast and scary whose indestructibility was more suffocating labyrinth than fortress.  But years had passed; an era (or more!) had come and gone. The wall had reverted, as all things must. Now it was a thing constructed of broken bits, the dreams of a youth impenetrable but ephemeral, incendiary slogans that provided neither relief nor sustenance but which nonetheless inspired feats of magic,a sorcery of the elder days only just recalled as through a haze; held together more by force of will and a burning zeal for a return: the rebel’s barricade.

The royalists neither had nor needed much of a strategy; the rebels’ success depended entirely on ordinary men and women being transformed by an invisible revolutionary spirit into radicals, an errant hope.  Absent the sudden camaraderie, the erratic goodwill of their fellow Parisiens, the rebels could do little but pit their fragmented barricades, broken furniture, contraband weapons, and torn flags against the modern rifles and cannons with which Napoleon himself had cowed all of Europe less than 30 years before.  On an early June morning, 40,000 army troops and members of the Paris National Guard surrounded approximately 3,000 rebels, most of whom were construction workers, shopkeepers, and clerks. The fighting, if it could be called that, lasted less than twelve hours; by the end, an overwhelming majority of those 3,000 were dead or surrendered.

But what was the point of that contest, really?  Supported by only a tiny and radical minority of Parisiens, it wasn’t victory.  Those barricades were better as boundaries than defenses: the holes in them as permissive of bullets and bayonets as the Seahawks zone defense was of McVay’s crossers, screens, and outside zone runs.  For a time, the Seahawks kept pace, Russell Wilson his own confiscable weapon, sometimes a mere distraction, a pair of feet that, even when immobile, kept at least one defender fixed, honest. But no plan of battle ever really survives first contact, and contact’s name here was Aaron Donald, a weapon of a different kind, menacing, a force of athleticism that will probably awaken Russell Wilson from deep sleeps thirty, forty, fifty years hence, a faint cry escaping involuntarily from a body ensconced in sweaty sheets.  But even the Seahawks’ best was not better: consider that 2nd and 7 with 4:30 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Rams showing blitz, Tyler Lockett out to the left, curiously aligned against Troy Hill with no deep safety help; the inevitable touchdown only tied the game. After the Rams scored their last points of the game, the camera panned to Russell Wilson, head bowed, perhaps in prayer; the man, the player, would never lose hope or faith, but in that moment what else did he have to lose?

Well, as it turns out, the game.  BUT. What is a single game, to resilience?  Not more than a single life, to a revolution.  As much as the Royalists demonstrated, with all the candor of unceasing and graceless violence, that the uprising was doomed from the first moments of its beginning, so too did the Rams offer the Seahawks a sobering instruction in the finer points of being better, getting more.  And yet, that ancient and wisest of men raised a finger, gave it a shaking, and, with his contrarian’s voice, a smirk affixed on a mouth hiding a silver tongue, advocate to all of the devils, made this utterance: we’ll get the next one. And they did. And the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that too.  And even though they lost to the best QB the League has ever seen (Nick Mullens, of course), they beat the next best thing (Mahomes) on the penultimate eve before Christmas; they won no crown, but didn’t need one.

Sometimes, a loss is trivial, meaningless.  An anonymous pamphlet written 4 years after the uprising compared the last stand of the rebels, of all things, to those 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae, where our story begins, that spirit of revolution called a “virtue, perseverance, [] devotion personified”.  Curiously, this era of the Seahawks last great rival, like the first one, also lost a superbowl, though the Rams scored fewer points than there are choruses in this dumb thing.

Final Chorus

What is common to this team, in spite of the innumerable changes wracked by the wanton circumnavigations of our time-as-wheel portrait, is this: ask any one of those players or coaches if they can win that game, a game, any game, all the games, and he or they will answer with some manner of affirmation.  It has remained an alike constant of this team throughout 8 seasons, unchanging in that common incessance, sometimes asinine, sometimes the rambling of a lunatic: a fanatical optimism that puts every game within their infinite grasp. Even when the broadcasters and beat writers tell them it can’t be done, even when we tell them it can’t be done; or, perhaps, it would be truer to say that it is especially when they are so told, that insistence a blemish of falsehood, glaring in how different it is from the expostulations to which they subject themselves seasonally, weekly, daily.  It is an exercise of certainty, that the players make the team, never the other way around; and yes, perhaps from the outside inwards it looks a bit like a cult, but it’s our cult, so kindly fuck off. It is a common denominator of that hope most curious and absurd, an asymmetrical grin of pure but baseless glee, the myiopic ignorance of blindness just before sight is restored, the weird but compelling expectation that victory is always, always, near, accompanied by the fervent plea, a screaming into all of the abysses, for one more quarter, or series of downs, or even just a snap; because, shruggingly, who knows?  As questions go, it isn’t a very good one, but it is redeemed by at least two true and good and clear and unambiguous answers: not you, not me.