Numbers went up like the cash-register readout the first time you went to Costco. With 2:28 left in the first quarter of the home opener Sunday, Sept. 26, it was 17-0, and the Seattle Seahawks had 17 more points to go, along with a fumble recovery, an interception, and a 60-yard pass play. Shaun Alexander, designated touchdown guy, already had a pair (his total would be three), and the Hawks were making the San Francisco 49ers look almost as inept as the University of Washington Huskies (and there are Bacon Bowl teams that play better than UW). The 17 first-quarter points might have been some subtle tribute to Dave Krieg. The franchise's best-ever quarterback, who wore No. 17 the last time the Hawks were any good, was honored at halftime as the club's eighth winner of "Ring of Honor" recognition. By the end of the game, Seattle had mercifully let the former class of the National Football League's NFC West division limp back to the Bay Area with a 34-0 loss to consider. The Seahawks, matching last year's 3-0 start, go into an idle weekend one of just three undefeated teams in the National Conference.
Last year is a key phrase. Despite the praise the 2004 Hawks have been afforded, observers can't help but recall how the 3-zip start last season led to edging into the playoffs and losing in the first round. But, in several ways, this edition looks significantly different from last year's. A confident attitude is the intangible. It stems, no doubt, from the players' belief that the defense is markedly improved and promises to get even better. It isn't just the fact that opponents have only put up 13 points during the early three games. It's just as important that the addition of Grant Wistrom at defensive end has anchored the defensive front and further emboldened an already cracking, cocky secondary to bounce around with abandon and make big plays.
Matt Hasselbeck, perhaps destined to become the best QB in team history, seems so confident that you wondered Sunday whether he ever broke a sweat. He's obviously encouraged by fewer screwups among his receiving corps. On several occasions Sunday, Hasselbeck drilled passes that looked like Roger Clemens fastballs. Targets Darrell Jackson and Jerramy Stevens muffed such passes last season, but now they're making the plays. Imagine you're Hasselbeck in the third quarter with second-and-goal at the one, a two tight-end set, and Shaun Alexander in your backfield. The result: Backup tight end Itula Mili is alone on the left side of the end zone for a cheap TD and a 31-0 third-quarter lead.
It ain't going to be this easy every game, and you'd think the coaches would know it. The Hawks come back to Qwest Field Oct. 10 against 1-2 St. Louis, the only credible competitor in the division. Then it's another cross-country trek, this time to play Super Bowl champ New England on Oct. 17. The Hawks will log more regular-season air miles than any NFL club this season. If only for that wearying reality (to say nothing of a lopsided score), you'd think Coach Mike Holmgren might have sat Alexander the entire second half after the featured running back favored his bum leg coming off the field before halftime. But the starting offense stayed on the field well into the fourth quarter, leading irreverent press-box observers to wonder whether Holmgren was trying to pad individual stats for his buddies' fantasy-league teams. With big leads, able backup QB Trent Dilfer should be brought in for fourth-quarter mop-up duty. Holmgren finally sensed the efficacy of such a move with about eight minutes left Sunday. He said after the game that a main challenge now would be to hose down his suddenly hot players and remind them about the challenges of the next few weeks.
Few pro jocks ever maximized their skills the way Dave Krieg did. Most know the mythology: His minuscule alma mater went defunct while Hawk walk-on Krieg was still putting up his NFL Pro Bowl numbers. He eventually played for what seemed to be every other club in the league, giving his best seasons to a Seattle franchise and leading the Hawks to an AFC championship game. He met with reporters Sunday, asserting that another overachiever, lineman Joe Nash, ought to be the next Ring of Honor member (fullback John L. Williams is also a good choice).
Anyway, the stingy Hawk defense left San Francisco with its worst shutout loss of all time. Such a thumping might be hard to believe when you figure Seattle didn't get its 100th rushing yard until two minutes remained. In the air, however, Hasselbeck found seven receivers for 254 yards (21 for 30) and a pair of touchdowns, earning an astounding 117.9 quarterback rating. Perhaps the rabid fans watching the numbers go up could be forgiven for seeming to forget that last year's 3-0 team wound up 10-6.