Had a guy nodded off on the Barcalounger the afternoon of Jan. 4 and awakened Monday night, Aug. 16, he might have concluded that the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers were in the 500th overtime of a playoff game. He'd also have desperately needed a shave.
But not even a narcoleptic could have fallen asleep during the superb 33-27 January game, in which an overtime touchdown from a Pack pickoff eliminated the Hawks and ended their most promising season since the Stan Gelbaugh era. Slumber was a little easier to come by on Monday, at least when the Pack had the ball during the nationally televised exhibition, a "rematch" at Green Bay. The score (21-3 Seattle) was a secondary consideration. The object of the first couple of practice games, after all, is to try to make it look less like a JV scrimmage and keep everybody from getting bunged up. To the latter imperative: Few limped, crawled, or were wheeled off the field in Green Bay. On the other hand, a number of frontline players didn't even make the trip to Wisconsin. (Designated "franchise player" Walter Jones again is too cool to sign and show up until the week before the season starts.) That meant the "first-string" players starting the game weren't the same 22 coach Mike Holmgren hopes will be available when the Hawks launch the regular season Sept. 12 in New Orleans.
Most on both sides of the ball in Green Bay had denied that there was a "playoff- rematch" element. Fans might have drawn the opposite conclusion. The first quarter featured uncommon intensity, given what we know about preseason games. Hawks Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck found Bobby Engram, Jerramy Stevens (two early possession grabs), and Darrell (or "Darren," as the broadcast crew knew him) Jackson to keep drives alive, leaving Seattle up 7-3 when the scrubs went in. Maurice Morris, who hits holes as well as any running back in the National Football League, looked less like Shaun Alexander's backup and more like he was auditioning to play Gale Sayers in the movies. During the third quarter, in the most entertaining play of the game, Morris reversed direction and drew a block from Seneca Wallace on his way to a big gain.
Seneca Wallace? With sub QBs Trent Dilfer and Brock Huard home with injuries, it fell upon Wallace to throttle the long, often smelly haul of practice-game garbage time. The acquisition from Iowa State played all three quarters of mop-up time, looking poised pushing a second-quarter scoring drive, for example, that left Seattle up 14-3 at halftime. Based on his performance, Wallace might have sent Huard to fourth on the Hawk QB depth chart. (In contrast, Green Bay's celebrated backup Tim Couch looked, well, like Stan Gelbaugh by comparison.)
The 2004 schedule favors a Hawk team that should get better as the regular season progresses. The club (as far as games that count go) doesn't show itself to the home fans until Sept. 26, against San Francisco, and five of the final seven on the schedule are in the friendly confines of what we now call Qwest Field. If the team has matured in the manner many expect, it should be 3-0 going into a bye week Oct. 3. The first test (assuming Seattle can beat New Orleans and Tampa Bay on the road during a pair of wearying cross-country trips, then handle the 49ers at home) would be the St. Louis Rams at Qwest on Oct. 10.
If Holmgren could count on late-season road wins against the Vikings and Jets, he'd probably be plotting postseason strategy already. Instead, he probably dreads the December schedule like the lump of yuletide coal it resembles. Seattle's greatest weakness last season was giving away winnable games on the road, including a nearly unfathomable disaster against Baltimore. The exception was the convincing season finale at San Francisco that won the playoff berth.
For now, little can be ascertained about the 2004 Seahawks except the team's stature as the best hope amid a local sports scene that has become the sorriest among every major population center except Phoenix. The Mariners obviously aren't darlings anymore. The Sonics kind of make you wish November would never arrive. The University of Washington men's basketball team probably could beat the Sonics and should be a top draw in town later this year. Not much is known about the latest version of Husky football, but West Coast scribes call the Dawgs a cinch for seventh place (and no bowl game) in the Pac-10 conference. On the other hand, Washington State has gone to the Rose Bowl when picked dead last, so who knows? Maybe after the Hawks-Broncos practice session at Qwest this Saturday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m., the season's NFL fortunes will be sorted out a little.
Stay awake, then, unless you're inclined to dream of, say, a January postseason replay with the Green Bay Packers—in Seattle this time.