I’m sorry to begin with what will be a very meta approach to Pearls of Faux this week. And by meta I mean self-referential. But I’m really not sure where else to begin.
On Sunday, I tweeted something that – judging from how much more wildly popular it was than anything else I’ve ever tweeted – resonated with some people. It was true, but true in a way that’s very specific, and not intended in the way I suspect a lot of people took it.
Actually, this needs to begin before that. Let’s go back, hop in a Dumbledorian pensieve, almost a decade ago. Everyone deserves an origin story, and this is mine. Or rather my fandom’s.
As a kid, I was big into sports. Loved playing and watching them all, with equal abandon. I was a freakish hybrid pitcher-point guard-midfielder. There was nothing else that my child’s mind associated quite so much with unbridled joy. I wasn’t a Seattle native, and so had different local favorites – though, incidentally, the companionship of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp made the Sonics one of my favorite teams. I was never lost to the oddly compelling notion that it was just as much fun watching great players play; it was one of the first times in my life that aspiration made any kind of sense to me.
As a not-kid, these things faded, as things are wont to do. I was seduced by nothing so immersively as power chords and fast lyrics, and these in turn led to other more tawdry, more illicit seductions – don’t ask, I won’t tell. I got older and the world seemed to want to teach me that my mind didn’t make sense in traditional frameworks, that looking elsewhere was to some extent needful for my own survival. Other kids’ taunts, then fists, reiterated this message.
It was so uncanny, almost dizzying, how quickly that joy reversed, turned into its own opposite: sports were terrible, its players truly horrifying human beings. If they elicited any sense of aspiration in me, it was to be all that they weren’t. Sports seemed less about cooperation and more about competition, less rooted in teams and more rooted in aggression; sports were great for people for whom things like independent thought, freedom from authority, being alone were terrifying.
I got older, learned patience, came to understand that who I was was something I had some control over. The games that had once begun as a joy, only to turn into a hatred, eventually cooled to an agnostic temperature.
In 2011, a friend had acquired nosebleed tickets to a Seahawks game, and invited me. It was a newish friend – and since moving to Seattle a few years prior I hadn’t made many of those – and I both understood how significant the invitation was and didn’t want to disappoint. The team had a new head coach, someone whose way of coaching was different, originated in notions that seemed to be antagonistic to all of the many dumbnesses that made sports not worth my time. Over the past two off-seasons, the team had added players whose names are now iconic, the ignorance of which is impossible to even the casual fan.
The game awakened something. It sounds so laughable, a product of the worst comedy, but it’s true. Something that was still there after all this time. A reminder of what the world looked like, before the skies became veiled, to the eyes of a mere child. If 2011 was a fun season, then 2012 was so much better; about 2013, absolutely nothing needs to be written. Pete Carroll seemed to want his players to be themselves first, players second. And his players in turn played with a manic fury, meteoric-sized chips on their shoulders, a screaming into every void that the ways football were supposed to be played were about to die, an extinction-event of which those Seahawks were harbingers. I could wax eternally about those players, those years, but I won’t – I’m so confident that everyone who’s a fan of this dumb team knows these things so deeply, so intuitively, that I absolutely don’t need to do so, so powerful is that shared communion, but I will summarize these thoughts as well as I can: there’s very good reason that I write so often and endlessly about this team. Writing may be the constant, but it’s the this team part that’s operative.
This team now isn’t that team then. Obviously. But by some strange alchemy, in each successive year, somehow that hope and joy and excitement from the first iteration of this team has been transubstantiated to the next, to such a degree that it feels the same, even when it isn’t. I don’t know or understand what agency causes that transubstantiation, and there’s a part of me, perhaps significant, that doesn’t want to know, because sometimes knowing is what dulls edges, blurs colors, diminishes what sure feels like magic. And so that desperate, fierce yearning for this team – not just laundered uniforms but this coach and these players – to cast wrath and ruin on their opponents each and every week has never really gone away.
Optimism is my most pleasant failing: I’ll start with the bad news, so that I can end with the good. Something about this team is broken. You can see it in their hesitation, their unease. It isn’t just that they aren’t winning; they have lost games before against better teams that were still fun, though certainly winning helps. I don’t know what it is, but there are some likely culprits. Pete Carroll, all these years later, still makes infuriatingly bad in-game decisions, and weirdly seems to trust his bad defense more than his good offense. (Disclaimer: perhaps this last was a game in which his trust was better justified than before.) On defense, the Seahawks seem to have abandoned any pretense at identity, cycling through coverage schemes and fronts and approaches seemingly at random. Injuries are, of course, a big part of it, and some years-long rostering decisions haven’t helped, but it’s almost as if they just don’t trust each other. And this was a game where they gave the offense some actual chances to win, instead of trying to tear up those chances, a la Aaron Donald training with knives. And speaking of that offense, I’ll repeat what everyone is already saying, or thinking if they don’t trust their own words: something is not right with Russell Wilson. His play has been so bad that you’re forgiven for hoping he’s been hurt, because a purely physical impediment would be easier to overcome than something psychical, more sinister. Indeed, for the first time this season, we’re seeing his efficiency and accuracy even on early down opportunities diminish, and his skittishness reminds of those seasons when his OL was about as protective as an army of cardboard cutouts. He’s been pressured so much that he’s seeing, reacting to, phantom pressure even when it isn’t there. He seems to trust his arm more than he should, and whether he’s forcing things because he doesn’t trust the rest of the team, or making bad decisions for some other reason, he is ravaging any chance he has at finally being voted the league’s MVP and, with it, any hope this team has of postseason success. Even moving to a more quick-paced, up-tempo style scheme didn’t settle him, as it has done in the past. This is the same team that up until this week boasted a nearly 40% pass offense DVOA, a feat they’ve managed surprisingly often since they drafted Russell Wilson, and they’re still smartly passing more on early downs, but there is now enough film on what they like to do that opposing teams are better able to figure that out and counter it.
What good is there left? Let’s begin with the measurables. The team is 6-3 in the face of incredibly stiff NFCW competition. They have beaten all of the teams they should have beaten, including both Patriots and Cowboys teams before they suffered QB injuries, unlike the Cardinals and Rams, respectively. And who knows, maybe the Rams and Cardinals are both better teams this year? But those teams’ records have been boosted by victories over the Eagles (Rams), Giants (Rams), Washington football team (both), and Jets, none of whom the Seahawks have yet faced, all of which are winnable games that could well catapult them to 10-6, if not better. The Rams and Cardinals still play each other two times, and both teams suffer a limitation – for the Rams, Goff is still bad, dependent on both scheme and OL success; for the Cardinals, it’s a porous defense whose capacity for exploitation is identifiable, the path as clear as if it were marked on a map, even if difficult. We’re still not sure what the playoff picture will look like, or what anything will look like in 2021.
But the future isn’t supposed to be measurable, and intangibles have always demanded some measure of faith. I’ve witnessed broken before, a reductive hopelessness somewhere at the bottom of a spiral so confused and itinerant that upwards can’t be discerned, let alone seen, and this team isn’t so broken that they can’t be fixed. It may take a game, or even multiple games, before we see it, or even begin to see it. And even so, the question of what you want to see lurks, hidden, somewhere in the background: our expectations require us to define them, or at least understand them. For me, being as clear as possible: I’m not predicting some level of success, any certain number of postseason appearances or victories; I’m hoping that this team can be fun again. That’s all I have the energy to care about now.
And who knows. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m so wrong that the word takes on the guise of facetiousness, a Halloween costume parody of itself. Maybe this team is so broken that they will never win another game again, that the resilience immutably baked into Pete Carroll’s coaching will fail, that Russell Wilson will retreat or fall into the terrifying abyss that many claim awaits a certain kind of mobile QB, that these players will lose all faith and trust in one another, and fail endlessly, again and again and again. But, and this is critical: I hope not.