The unfamiliar phrase "throughout the playoffs" is being uttered around here for the first time since the azure-clad and, for many years, blue-spirited Seattle Seahawks took the field in 1976. The saying applies to home-field advantage—throughout the playoffs. Sounds epic, as in "throughout history." In fact, it means two games, max. The Hawks ran their record to 12-2 Sunday, Dec. 18, with a struggle of a 28-24 road win against the Tennessee Titans. Even with two regular-season games remaining, Seattle gets a bye in the first round of the National Football League postseason, which starts Jan. 7. Then the Hawks will host a playoff game Jan. 14 or 15. A victory in the second round likely would mean another Qwest Field date the following weekend.
Road to Detroit
Dec. 24: Indianapolis at Seattle
Jan. 1: Seattle at Green Bay
Worst-case season record: 12-4. A 13-3 record or better, or 12-4 and a loss by the Chicago Bears, clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Jan. 78: Wild Card WeekendSeahawks get a bye as lesser teams struggle.
Jan. 1415: Divisional PlayoffsSeahawks host, regardless of regular-season outcome.
Jan. 22: Conference ChampionshipsSeahawks could host NFC game.
Feb. 5: Super Bowl XLFord Field, Detroit
Keep the focus here. Now, if they actually win this lousy pair of playoff games, then, yes, it would mean (a) the world as we know it can never be quite the same because (b) the Seattle Seahawks, they of greater futility than any sports franchise except the Seattle Mariners, would indeed proceed to . . .
The SUPER BOWL!
Make that SUPER BOWL XL!
XL could stand for "extra large," as in the size associated with the very idea that a Seattle franchise could have earned its way into a major-sports championship. But XL actually is 40 expressed with the majesty of Roman numerals, which are used nearly exclusively for spectacles of such kingly proportion as the Super Bowl. The game, to be played Feb. 5 in that perennial winter-break haven Detroit, practically has become a gift-giving occasion since the culture first embraced this ultimate event in 1967.
Even if Seattle loses X-mas Eve (pardon me, Bill O'Reilly, I mean the day before Boxing Day Eve) at home to the 13-1 Indianapolis Colts (a potential Super Bowl foe, by the way) and again New Year's Day at Green Bay, the 2005–06 Hawks will finish the season 12-4. Then, assuming a Chicago Bears loss along the way, Seattle would host the lowest-seeded surviving team from the National Football Conference's Jan. 7–8 first playoff round. A Hawks win Jan. 14 or 15 would leave them in the NFC championship game at Qwest Field the following weekend, Jan. 22. Then, two weeks later. . . .
The key to all this is Qwest Field. At home, the Hawks often play their best, bolstered by fans, many of whom seem not to have noticed that Halloween has been over for weeks. Their voices somehow are louder than their costumes and makeup. Even in the stadium press box, glassed off as though scribes are there to witness executions, the crowd noise can be heard through the inch-thick barrier. Imagine, then, how the decibel level works against opposing offenses on the field. You could ask the New York Giants' Eli Manning, but the quarterback might not be able to hear, what with the ear ringing that persists since his club's Nov. 27 loss at Qwest.
So it isn't the least bit unlikely that the Hawks will play Feb. 5 in Motown. This is a team that can and should win a pair of playoff games, something not done by the franchise since the early Krieg-Largent-Easley era.
But we are several steps ahead here. Hawk mentor Mike Holmgren has been careful to remind reporters and team personnel that his club hasn't won anything yet. Some (especially those of us who were in attendance for that maiden game in 1976) would debate the point. Securing first seed of the NFC playoffs would be a big deal, not unlike the Mariners' 116-win season in 2001. True, neither accomplishment has yet to relieve Seattle of a dubious distinction: It's the only city with pro football and baseball teams that have not won a championship.
Playoff success or not, the team's regular-season feat of finishing at 12-4 or better should have considerable impact as far as cementing fan loyalty, which is to say: selling season tickets. Fans are savvy enough to know that a successful NFL franchise often has a limited number of years to keep winning before the league's salary cap and the ravages of aging conspire to send a top-end team back to the bottom of the pack. (Witness the 4-10 Tennessee Titans, aka the Nashville 'Nomes, who played in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, losing to St. Louis.)
The Hawks' younger and midcareer players, as observed yet again in Tennessee, are certainly good enough to keep Seattle in playoff contention for another year or so. Past Seattle teams surely would have let the Titans finish them off after the Hawks blew an early 14-0 lead and trailed 24-14 late in the third quarter. Matt Hasselbeck, who had one of his most impressive days with a nearing-perfection quarterback rating of 147.7, wouldn't let it happen. The steady QB took command when his defense wouldn't. His receivers, including the recovered Darrell Jackson, made superb grabs when the team needed them, and Shaun Alexander got critical yards late.
After the come-from-behind W, few Seahawk skeptics remain. All that may be left to accomplish is convincing fans that, aside from the game, they could have a good time in Detroit in February.