There are three interrelated facts about which I need to be as honest as possible.
First, for the first time in the whole great long history of the world, the Seahawks are 5-0.
Second, my dog’s principal name was, and is, Cole. I say principal because he had innumerable secondary names, the acknowledgement of an unspoken, and unintentional, but long tradition, to which anyone who has ever loved a pet can attest. Chief among them were puppies, spoken sternly when he committed some act of naughtiness, which was often; puppy-bear and puppy-monster were both kinder, gentler, more affectionate surrogates. The lover of antiquity in me also called him Coliopolis. The easiest nickname was Coley, to which both -monster and -bear suffixes could be appended thoughtlessly. We also sometimes called him princeling, a gesture to the fact that he was royalty in our house, yet in possession of the mental faculties of a toddler, permanently in pursuit of fun, or food. I don’t recall us ever calling him princeling -bear or -monster, but I do recall vocalizing the lunatic’s name puppy princeling. We may have also intermittently called him Puppykins; don’t ask. If you have a pet, you know.
And third, my wonderful dog didn’t manage to live long enough to see the Seahawks accomplish their historical feat; he missed it by nine hours.
But he did watch them win many games with me, and he watched them lose games with me too.
It’s funny how, when enduring grief, certain meaningless things seem important. I have so many memories of his football, but I can’t shake that it feels significant that I can’t remember when I got his football, or under what circumstances. We got him lots of toys, because his favorite almost always seemed to be the newest, and also because he loved nothing more than destroying a well-stitched toy. He’d often lord over the cotton innards of some plaything, resplendent like a Mongol Khan of old, a master of enthusiastic but easy destruction. So I got him a football, made of rubber, as indestructible as anything else I could imagine. And it probably didn’t hurt that, in color and texture and oblong-ness it very closely resembled his pickle-pocket, a wonderful toy that held treats. That similarity was his first instruction in how to spike a football: catch the pass, throw that sucker down, wait for the treat to come flying out, a bit of Newtonian mechanics as reliable as gravity or sunrise. He was also smart; he learned simple words like walk, or car-ride, early on, and then much later learned how to comprehend those words spelled out. We invented our own sign-language in a vain attempt to fool him.
Now, I don’t mean to pretend that he always understood exactly what we meant, but I swear to god that when I held that football and screamed out back-shoulder-fade, he’d run the route like he was born to it. In happier days, I sometimes day-dreamed about making a video of it, sending it to Russell Wilson and Jermaine Kearse, accompanied by an all-in-good-fun-but-still-biting this-is-how-it’s-done atmosphere.
He was also remarkably empathetic, like many dogs. He loved playing football, but some part of him grasped that watching football was close enough that he’d tolerate it, secondary in enjoyment but still better than tertiary. But he knew me, and sometimes he’d also dread it. He’d growl at particularly broken plays; like me, he couldn’t decide whether he hated broken coverages or broken tackles worse. When an injury on the field left me motionless, he’d lie in wait, knowing that the world would go on, but grieving in his own way.
The best play, of course, was the touchdown play; because of how close we live to the stadium, in better days we’d hear the cannon a few split seconds before the broadcast would show it, and I’d start dancing before the television showed me just what I was rooting for. He’d leap around like a maniac, ecstatic, knowing more than anything that I was happy, and thus so was he. And when the Seahawks lost, he’d be there for me, so powerfully committed to dual motivations: a soft and gentle tongue to let me know that he lamented with me, followed so cleverly by something, some bending of the ears, a paw on my hand, something, anything, to remind me that, when everything has gone, it’s just a game, and there’s still other playing to be had, other joys to discover.
But he still got it, that ineffable monosyllable no can or should bother to articulate — if you know it, you know; if you don’t, you can’t. He’d remind me that, yes, of course, obviously, while the game is just a game, it’s also something more than that, something communal.
On the one hand, a hand as powerful as any Titan, this game we love is terrible. We know that every player who plays it is risking his body on every single play, make it or not, good or bad, and that they are all dooming themselves to afterlives of pain and head trauma. We know that the game rewards the most horrifying aspects of capitalism, with some players getting nothing for the sole and simple reason that they aren’t good enough, with a structure of compensation that pits the players against one other, and all the while lets billionaire owners reap record profits year after year after year while almost never affecting them in any conceivably negative way. It’s a violent and unfair game, ruled by brutality both in play and business dealings, a game that time and time again makes clear how little it cares about sexual assault or domestic violence, even while it pays the barest lip-service to social justice with one hand, while the other offers the greatest of salutes to its military hero-worship, with devastating consequences.
We all still watch anyways. We do so while wishing that it would be better — I say this confidently, because I can’t imagine anyone taking the time to read this who doesn’t agree on some level, at least — but still knowing that those wishes are overruled by wanting to see it nonetheless. Because in that wanting, there’s a community, a kind of normalcy, whose power is so vast that it amazes me, even as it sometimes scares me. The way in which I just sense, instinctively without always being able to understand, that there’s a community out there, a menagerie of other fans of this dumb game who absolutely love our dumb team, is in my mind so reminiscent of how Cole knew things, a faith that I’ll never forget being mirrored in those big adorable brown eyes.
For three hours Sunday evening, I was able to watch a game, experience genuine joy, and grief that had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of one of my closest friends, and there’s a solace in that. Whatever else football does for or gives us, we can’t lose sight of that.
Pearls of Faux may be taking an extended break; it’s just impossible to say. In the interim, now and always, Go Hawks.